Cumberland Farms has returned to the drawing board after a city zoner panned its plan to raze seven buildings and put up a 24-hour gas station on upper Whalley.
The city should not allow the company to proceed with its submitted $3 million plan, concluded Deputy Director of Zoning Tom Talbot.
Talbot made his case in an advisory report submitted last month to the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA). He said the Cumberland Farms plan would create light, noise, and traffic problems for neighbors, and the new store is not needed, since a 24-hour gas station stands just across the street.
In response to Talbot’s report, Cumberland Farms postponed its appearance before the BZA, in order to revise its application for zoning relief, said Chuck Meek, a spokesman for the developer.
Cumberland Farms needs a special zoning exception to build a gas station and a 24-hour convenience store at the corner of Whalley Avenue and Dayton Street. City Plan Department advisory reports, like Talbot’s, are not binding. They serve as official advice for members of the BZA, who have the final say on what exceptions are allowed.
Click here to read the report.
The Cumberland Farms plan calls for the construction of a new 4,560-square-foot store on a site currently occupied by “seven principal structures and four accessory structures,” according to Talbot’s report. The new store would sit 50 feet from Whalley Avenue and 150 feet from Dayton Street and would have 12 fuel pumps and 15 parking spots. The gas station and store would be open 24 hours a day.
Cumberland Farms has been working on the plan for months, meeting with Beaver Hills/West Hills/Westville Alder Angela Russell and with neighbors, collecting feedback on the plan.
Russell (pictured above at an October community meeting on the subject) came out in support of the plan. She said it would bring “great value to the community” and “help ease the tax burden.”
Russell said Thursday that she hasn’t read Talbot’s report, but plans to hold more meetings with neighbors to discuss the Cumberland Farms proposal.
Talbot’s report finds the Cumberland Farms plan doesn’t meet the criteria required for the granting of a special exception.
Taking out sidewalk-fronting buildings and replacing them with a parking lot and fuel pumps will mean more noise and light pollution for neighbors, “regardless of landscaping and other buffering,” he wrote.
While the level of parking seems “adequate,” Talbot said he’s concerned “about the impact of the relatively large number of additional traffic movements (to and from this site) upon the existing intersection.”
Perhaps most problematic is the presence of a 24-hour Hess filling station right across the street. The proximity of two gas stations, combined with the traffic impact, “will ultimately impair both present and future development in this area,” Talbot wrote.
With a gas station across the street, and two convenience store within a half-mile, the developer hasn’t demonstrated that the neighborhood needs a Cumberland Farms at the corner, Talbot said.
Talbot concludes his report by recommending the BZA deny the application for zoning relief.
Meek (at left in photo, presenting the original plan to Westville neighbors at an October community meeting) said Cumberland Farms is looking at ways to revise the application to address Talbot’s concerns: “We are going through that process right now.”
Meek declined to comment on what specific changes Cumberland Farms might make to its proposal. He said the plan is to present the revised version at the next BZA meeting, which is in February.
State Rep. Gary Holder-Winfield, who’s running to represent Westville in the state Senate, said he doesn’t know enough about the Cumberland Farms proposal to comment on it. “The honest thing to say right now is that I haven’t been involved in that. I haven’t interacted with the community to see what they think,” he said. “I’m not at that point yet.”
posted by: Atticus Shrugged on January 9, 2014 1:24pm
Unless the BZA is looking for a developer to do new construction apartments or a condo association on that corner, the plan should go through. It should not be the role of the BZA to prevent private entities from competing. Indeed, the BZA has more or less stated that it thinks Hess will take business from other businesses, driving them to either have to reinvest and perhaps reinvent themselves or potentially go out of business. That is otherwise known as forcing something to evolve or die. And that is in the best interest of the community.
With regard to the Board, I’m in favor a complete overhaul of the zoning for New Haven to give developers a more legitimate chance of moving New Haven into the 21st century. This project, like Jordan’s Furniture, should be a no-brainer. But apparently, the BZA has found another way to mess things up by worrying about business “competition.” Great guys! Keep up the good work.
posted by: Stephen Harris on January 9, 2014 1:50pm
Who cares what the neighbors think! Zoning relief isn’t a democracy. The standards for approval are spelled out in the regulations and statues.
Director Talbot’s analysis is well thought out and well stated. The BZA should have no problem denying this thing.
posted by: alex on January 9, 2014 1:52pm
ATTICUS, to be clear, the BZA has done nothing here. City Plan has issued its advice saying that it shouldn’t be approved. Mr. Talbot may be wrong but the BZA (and by extension, the BOA) is not involved.
posted by: robn on January 9, 2014 3:18pm
That’s not really true. The BZA is empowered to grant a variance if a hardship exists for the applicant and if granting the variance supports the general spirit of the zoning regulations; promoting “health and the general welfare” etc etc. That’s why the BZA takes public testimony; to determine the latter.
posted by: elmcityresident on January 9, 2014 4:25pm
makes no sense to me…Hess gas station is right across the street
posted by: citoyen on January 9, 2014 6:04pm
I’m going to repeat what I said in November:
If I remember correctly, when the Walgreen’s was built at the corner of Whalley and Ellsworth, the neighborhood absolutely insisted that the building be sited so that it forms street walls at the intersection’s corners, with the parking lot moved to the side. Rather than having the parking lot at the corner itself. Something like that.
The same should be demanded—AT THE VERY LEAST—in this Whalley / Dayton location. The building should be at the corner, with the parking at the side and in the rear somewhere.
But I concur with others that this whole concept is exactly the wrong thing to build at all. It is utterly backward urban design thinking. A forward-looking approach (as currently defined, not as defined in the 1960s) would be to take advantage of the multiplicity of buildings currently on the site and to develop further the mixed uses they are already being used for.
The critics of widening Whalley Avenue are being proved correct. If you built it, they will come. Build a traffic highway, and more strip malls will surely come.
The Board of Zoning Appeals *should turn this proposal down.*
posted by: Stephen Harris on January 9, 2014 7:32pm
I don’t understand your comment. My point was that the statutes set forth the criteria for granting zoning relief. Neighborhood group blessing isn’t one of them. This is something that happens all too often in New Haven.
The criteria for granting a variance is grounded in the statutes and very well vetted by the court. The criteria is set forth in State Statute Sec. 8-6(a)(3) powers of Zoning Boards of Appeal:
“to…vary the application of the zoning…regulations in harmony with their general purpose and intent…solely with respect to a parcel of land where, owing to conditions especially affecting such parcel but not affecting generally the district in which it is situated, a literal enforcement of such…regulations would result in exceptional difficulty or unusual hardship…”.
The granting of a variance using the general welfare argument, to my knowledge, has not passed the scrutiny of the court. Neither has a “neighborhood veto” argument.
And just to reiterate, this proposal should be denied.