Cumberland Farms Tweaks, Tries Again

Thomas MacMillan photoIn their quest to raze seven buildings and put up a gas station on Upper Whalley Avenue, developers met with skeptical neighbors to unveil their new and improved plan—which looks a lot like the old plan.

That unveiling occurred at a community meeting at Mauro-Sheridan school in Westville.

For months, Cumberland Farms has been working on a plan to put up the 4,500-square-foot convenience store and 12 gas pumps at the corner of Whalley and Dayton. The proposal calls for tearing down a liquor store and six other buildings. It would require special zoning approval, since a gas station is not normally allowed in a BA zone.

Cumberland Farms put the plan on hold after the City Plan Department advised the Board of Zoning Appeals (BZA) to deny the approval. City Plan’s Tom Talbot said the new store would create light, noise, and traffic problems for neighbors and would be unnecessary since a 24-hour gas station exists right across the street.

The plan is nevertheless back on the agenda for Tuesday’s BZA meeting. Cumberland Farms submitted a supplement to its original application, in response to the City Plan report. Click here to read it.

Chuck Meek and Patrick O’Leary, a development consultant and an engineer who are working on the project, met with neighbors Thursday evening to explain what has changed.

Turns out: Not much.

Among the changes: The store would no longer be open 24 hours per day; it would close between midnight and 5 a.m. It would not have outdoor seating or shrubbery, so as to discourage loitering and hiding places. And, as part of the construction, a new turning lane would be added to the northern half of Dayton Street, to prevent a back-up of cars.

Cumberland Farms’ supplemental letter to the BZA states that the store would have more surveillance cameras and a 6-foot tall ornamental fence to buffer light and sound.

None of those tweaks were met with rave reviews at the Thursday evening’s meeting. Neighbors continued to ask tough questions about the new store’s impact on the neighborhood, particularly on what the new lane of traffic would mean for pedestrians and drivers.

O’Leary said the new lane would go on the northbound side of Dayton. The northbound side of the street would then have a left-turn-only lane and a combined right-and-left-turn lane. That would allow for two lanes of cars to turn left, so that more cars could move through the light, O’Leary said.

The project would also create a curb-cut on Dayton for access to the new gas station.

That would exacerbate traffic problems, argued one neighbor.

Other types of commercial ventures besides gas stations could be built at the corner without special zoning permission, O’Leary (pictured) said. “We’re trying to make the traffic go away.”

“I come out of Fairfield Street every day,” said Paul Chambers, referring to the street that connects with Dayton mid-block. “I don’t see any benefit that lane will give to me.” Chambers said he’s never been delayed at the light more than one cycle.

Cumberland Farms doesn’t need to build the lane if it’s not wanted, O’Leary said.

Bird In The Hand

Laura Pirie (pictured), who lives in Westville, wasn’t won over by the tweaks to the plan. What about density and noise pollution? she asked. How does the plan support the city’s comprehensive plan?

A new Cumberland Farms would be much better than what’s there now, said O’Leary. The site has “limited potential” for redevelopment. While the community might want a three-story mixed-use building put up right on the street, “nobody’s seen a proposal for that,” O’Leary said.

Pirie said a mixed-use development would add to the walkability of the neighborhood, “as opposed to the suburban style” gas station that’s proposed.

“We have absolutely zero other uses” proposed, O’Leary said.

To be approved, Cumberland Farms has to prove that it’s plan is the “highest and best use” of the property, Pirie said. The street already has gas stations and convenience stores nearby. Why would the BZA approve this?

“We think the overall proposal is good for the community,” O’Leary said. It “refreshes a very tired streetscape.” 

O’Leary said the Cumberland Farms would build on an another recent improvement: The McDonald’s restaurant nearby was just rebuilt.

Pirie interrupted to note that the new McDonald’s was “pulled up to the street,” not set back behind a parking lot.

“We couldn’t do that,” O’Leary said. The site wouldn’t allow the store to be right on the street while still allowing access to the gas pumps.

After the meeting, Pirie said the Cumberland Farms proposal doesn’t seem to have changed.

“I think there’s a higher and better use,” she said. “The community needs to look beyond the bird in the hand.”

Richard Furlow (pictured listening to neighborhood organizer Chris Heitmann), who lives one block from the site, disagreed. “What’s there now is an eyesore,” he said. “What are we going to do, wait 10 years” for the perfect proposal to come along?

At the end of the meeting, West Hills/Beaver HIlls/Upper Whalley/Beverly Hills Alder Angela Russell asked neighbors to consider a question, and bring their answers to the BZA meeting on Tuesday. Her question: “Is this proposal the right business mix for this community?”

Asked how she’d answer the question, Russell said she wants whatever the community wants.


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posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on February 10, 2014  6:27pm

This photo illustration of what the Cumberland Farms could look like is extremely misleading and is an innaccurate depiction of the proposed site plan.

The image shows 1144 Whalley Avenue (third property in from Dayton) still standing, when really they are proposing to tear that building down along with three others further down on Whalley (up to Pio’s of Italy barber shop). The image also shows the convenience store aligned with 1144 Whalley Ave when really the site plan shows that building set back far from the street. The convenience store looks rectangular in footprint in the image, but the plan shows it as square.

posted by: jim1 on February 10, 2014  6:40pm

Just one more gas station when there is one just across the street..  And a CVS 10 feet away.!!!!!!!!  No way..

posted by: IloveMYcity203 on February 10, 2014  7:59pm

I know people are saying there is a gas station (HESS) right across the street, but this would be good for the consumer, because it’ll will cause them to compete for the best (lowest) gas prices, so the consumer (us) wins. It’s a win win.

CT people (not all;most) make me laugh. They say, CT is boring and NYC is has everything and is so much fun, but yet when CT tries to do things and expand, all you hear is complaints. Make up your mind people. :)

I’d like to hear what other people who live in New Haven think. Stay warm everyone…

posted by: SLP on February 10, 2014  11:38pm

I live under a mile from this intersection, which I drive through daily. Yup, much of the property Cumberland Farms (CF) has targeted is rundown and unattractive. Having said that, replacing it with a gas station/convenience store makes no sense. We already have at least 5 stations within a one-mile radius (not to mention the one across the street), and at least 10 convenience or minimarts and fast-food stores. If a change is on the horizon for this corner (which is not inherently a bad idea), why not something to stabilize and enhance rather than detract from the neighborhood? CF can spin all they want about beautifying, unifying, and being “good for the community,” but most people don’t 1) find gas stations beautiful, 2) use gas stations as community centers, or 3) want to live next to gas stations. +++

Furthermore, this is a high-traffic area that already requires great caution on the part of drivers, bicyclists, and pedestrians thanks to multiple entrances and exits from businesses and residences at the confluence of very heavily traveled narrow side and high-speed main streets. The immediate neighborhood is partly residential, and struggling mightily to hold on to its character. CF’s claims that of minimal traffic impact make no sense. “We’re trying to make the traffic go away”—what?! It’s a gas station. For cars. People will drive their cars there—and surely, as a business, they are intending that many, many people will drive their cars there. +++

If the standard is “highest and best use,” CF’s case is weak. The claim of no other proposal is irrelevant: where is the deadline, and who knew these properties were on the table? No For Sale signs are up. Now that people are aware of the site, proposals may appear. In the meantime, this is an attempt at a blatantly opportunistic real estate grab in an admittedly struggling, but nonetheless inappropriate, location that they thought we “urban folk” wouldn’t care enough about to notice or fight for. Well, we do.

posted by: citoyen on February 11, 2014  12:30am

Very good catch about the illustration being deceptive, J. Hopkins.

People of New Haven, and especially of Westville—and members of the Board of Zoning Appeals—please: just *look* at that illustration.  This proposal wants to turn Whalley Avenue into the Boston Post Road.

Just what one might expect as a result of the widening project from a few years ago—this is what happens when *automobiles* are considered the most important things in a city.

Why, this “revised” plan even ADDS a roadway lane, on Dayton Street, for—automobiles!

This proposal is 50 years out of date; it cannot be “improved,” as evidenced by how Mr. O’Leary clearly does not understand the objections to it at all.  It needs to be summarily *dismissed* by the BZA.  Dismissed and rejected.  Period.

posted by: NewHavenTaxTooHigh on February 11, 2014  2:25am

The corner is indeed an eyesore as it now stands, but a couple of the buildings they want to tear down have been renovated recently. This is not what the neighborhood or whalley avenue needs. Go away CB! I’d prefer to see an ACE Hardware store.

posted by: robn on February 11, 2014  8:21am

Actually the standard for a variance is a non financial and non self imposed hardship. Until CF has lept that hurdle, you can’t get to the next hurdle of proving a non compliant but beneficial use (a gas station across the street??? Seriously??!?).

posted by: alexey on February 11, 2014  10:03am

Let’s say this thing gets built; one improvement to traffic flow may be fewer inbound cars turning left into Hess, as it would be easier to pull into Cumberland Farms.  And, there could also be fewer cars turning left out of the Hess station.  None of that great for Hess, of course.  Hess already offers a pretty good price.  I could see the two stations offering basically the same price.  Strangely, it could also mean an increase in what Hess might otherwise charge, if Hess is conceding some inbound business to Cumberland and doesn’t think a penny or two less would entice drivers to turn across traffic.  So, Hess could just match whatever CF charges instead of trying to beat it. People exhibit what seems to me to be sometimes irrational behavior when it comes to gas prices—driving way out of the way to save a penny a gallon, or choosing to sit in a long gas line for saving maybe ten cents on the fill-up.  I know that money is tight, every penny counts and demand for gasoline is somewhat inelastic, but most people could save more money by making better decisions elsewhere.  That’s my two cents (per gallon).

posted by: LorcaNotOrca on February 11, 2014  11:55am

I’m one of those people who thinks New Haven and CT should be expanding and doing more things to be less boring, so I’m always on board. But I don’t see how a gas station/convenience store will do anything to make things more interesting. The property really should be used for something that’s, well, ACTUALLY more interesting and better for the neighborhood.

As for the gas prices… eh, I won’t hold my breath on that one!

posted by: anonymous on February 11, 2014  12:35pm

Governor Malloy says gas will hit $5 or $6 next year. That is a conservative estimate. A penny really doesn’t make a difference. 

What will matter to us when gas hits $6 a gallon is the fact that we turned our beautiful, walkable neighborhood main street into Route 80 or Universal Drive - even more apocalyptic than the original because children in these neighborhoods will still be forced to walk there.

posted by: Stephen Harris on February 11, 2014  1:43pm

The original plan hasn’t been voted on yet. CF can’t change the plan on the fly because that would run afoul of the legal noticing requirements.

If they want to change the plan they need to first withdraw the current one then petition the Board to hear a revised plan. If the Board feels the revised plan is substantially different they can vote to hear it again within the mandatory waiting period. If not CF has to wait the prescribed period of time which is either six months or a year.

posted by: everloved on February 11, 2014  3:43pm

great time to say no to gas.  there is one station across the street, with garbage streaming down from it into the river area.  great.  what are people going to do, save a penny or two on gas, which adds up to ten or twenty cents per tank?  there are also several other gas stations in a mile or less radius.  the buildings in my opinion are not ugly, but a place where people live and work, although the owners might just sell for a good price.  i wish people in westville spent a lot more time cleaning up the garbage and the river area and beg the town to turn much of that river into park.  there is a huge piece of land for sale right by there.  i wish i could afford it.  i wish everyone’s car was solar and the world was generally a friendly place.  i know the world is made for driving and it won’t change today.  i’d rather see a health food store there and maybe energy alternatives instead of another store full of junk.  i hope the town disapproves it.