Monday, August 14, 2006

Small Town News - Walgreens Pharmacy - Public Hearing Part 1

Per the local news paper, about 90 residents were still in attendance as the Planning and Zoning meeting continued from the application to the public hearing after a break at 8:40 PM. Correspondence was read into the record. The local architect who is a member of our citizens’ group wrote a letter which reminded the P&Z that as guardians of our town’s future they should set their sights a bit higher. It further described the building as dwarfing those nearby with oversized 34 foot tall corner towers, undersized portals, cheap looking materials and skimpy details. This design is fit for a Route 1 commercial strip next to a gas station, not small scale Main Street of down town adjacent to town hall. Also, it breaks the zoning requirement for no greater than 30 foot length of façade next to town hall. The letter then eloquently ripped the design to shreds architecturally for its crass insensitivity to the times, as the designer slumped in his chair as if having just committed hari-kari. The letter also said that if we go at this negotiation with an, “uh oh, if we ask for that they may cut and run” attitude, we will never find out what they are willing to do for us. We need to find a strategy to preserve our small town character and charm.

Another citizen noted that he wondered how many parking spaces were needed. Would there be a second story addition to town hall. The shopping center and pharmacy across the street line up and will there be the need for another traffic light? What will happen if the shopping center expands and needs more parking? Will the pharmacy portico be used as outdoor retail space as it is across the street? The rental property next to the pharmacy, will it become a bank? Will Turnpike Properties landscape town hall?

Yet another citizen noted that the land swap is very restrictive to town hall expansion and the land should be retained.

Another citizen noted that he has no problem traveling to out of town pharmacies. If parking in town is such a problem, then pave the town’s lot; no swap or building is needed.

A member of the local citizens group stood and made a motion that all citizens be heard and have their questions answered since they were not at the Cumberland Farms hearing. Applause sounded from wall to wall. The chair mentioned that two hearing dates had been set for just this purpose.

He also said that he is 100% opposed to approval. He agreed that we do not need a pharmacy in town. He also thought that only 2 handicapped parking spaces were not adequate. He also wanted to know who would be liable for accidents on the shared property of the parking lot and why the Cumberland Farms traffic was not taken into account in the traffic study. He also wanted access to the land swap documents and he wanted to know where parking for town hall would be in 20 years.

Another citizen shared that we are losing green space in the town center and increasing traffic and cars and emissions. Would an environmental impact study be conducted?

One of the town’s selectmen indicated as a citizen that he thought the town needs a pharmacy.

An elderly female citizen said that some folks need a pharmacy in town for their emergent health conditions when they don’t have a spouse to go for them.

The lawyer from the citizens’ group said that he was hoping that there could be mediation with Walgreens, as they have worked with other towns, to get it right.

Sean read his letter into the record which was signed by three other citizens including myself. The points made in the letter include:

  1. A completed and approved Comprehensive Plan for Development for the Town Center must be present. It was begun in 1999 and worked on until 2004, but never finished. It was initially designed to preserve the historical nature of the town.
  2. The town’s Plan of Conservation and Development is out of date (required by law to be updated every 10 years).
  3. A new vote is needed on the Land Swap. Many things have changed since the original vote in 2004. Details are not currently available to citizens of the town as I found when I went to town hall recently. (Will be covered in a separate post.)
  4. Please use the full 60 days allotted to approve this permit and allow the public to respond. A single night disenfranchises the public.

An elderly resident said that the shopping center across the street was using two handicap parking spaces to sell plants (the whole front of the store’s parking is filled with plants this time of year) and that just should not be allowed. There was a round of applause for that sentiment. He mentioned that Veterans’ Memorial Way should be preserved to honor the veterans (the alley next to town hall). He went on to say that our town hall was one of only 6 flatiron town halls in the country, and the only one with an upstairs auditorium. Thus, we should not ruin it by expanding the original design. We should buy the Swan's funeral home for sale down on Main Street and create the offices there. Applause sounded loudly for that.

A former resident of a nearby town, who had just moved to our town, said that there was a similar pharmacy in her old town (see photo below) and come to see it because it is an eyesore and does not fit in with anything else in town. She opposed the building, not the pharmacy and felt that we were owed a better plan.

Another resident, who had just moved in, was worried because she saw so many boarded up windows in town of failed businesses. She worried about her property values and was thinking of moving out. “If we scare away Turnpike Properties, will anybody come?”

Another elderly resident, who is a member of our citizens’ group stood and said that he thinks we need a pharmacy. He would like to know the details of the land swap before we agree and that traffic needs further study as regards Cumberland Farms.

Yet another elderly resident, who is a member of our citizens’ group, stood and said that he established the Brooklyn Heights Historic District and that then the money poured in. The P&Z has the power to decide the fate of downtown going forward into the future and he hoped that they understood the gravity of this task as they considered each decision. He mentioned each project for perspective: Cumberland Farms, Walgreens (He said, “Walgreens store, and I call it that because it is 90% store and not pharmacy.”), and Swans funeral home. “Consideration should be given to preservation of design. It would be a win-win for the town. The project outlined today would result in a net loss for the town. The town’s greatest assets are older buildings and houses and tree lined streets.”

Another resident who is a member of our citizens’ group indicated that a town is people and land. She is not against a pharmacy, but against a big box store across from Cumberland Farms which will increase lights, traffic and noise.

An elderly citizen who is also a veteran really lit up the room when he said that what was on the town’s property used to be a saloon with a whore house upstairs. An elderly woman in the audience screamed, “No it wasn’t!” But the rest of us wondered how he knew it was. [Hmmmm.] Anyhow, he continued to say that historically our town had many pharmacies, stores, movie theaters, until 1968 when the local highway was completed and was nowthe town is at its smallest ever. Development was needed in the center of town to generate business.

A citizen who is a member of our citizens’ group spoke against the proposal calling the new pharmacy a “big box” store at 10,000 square feet of retail space. the P&Z took issue with calling the design a big box store.

Another resident spoke of her concern for children walking in town to and from school through traffic from the new pharmacy’s drive through adjacent to the town hall.

The first selectman spoke as a citizen in favor of the proposal and submitted a petition in favor of the pharmacy project with 200 signatures.

A final citizen spoke about why Cumberland Farms was ignored in the traffic study as well as lack of attention paid to stopping for pedestrians in crosswalks, even when a constable is present.

The chair then noted the late hour and the meeting was adjourned at 11:15 PM. The P&Z instructed that the second day of hearing would not allow a rehash of ideas expressed at this hearing. Stay tuned...

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