Monday, August 28, 2006

Small Town News - Walgreens Pharmacy - Public Hearing Part 2

The continuation of the public hearing was called to order at 7:12 pm by the P&Z Chair. The applicant, Turnpike Properties, presented some changes made in response to last week’s comments. These included removing parking from the town hall lawn, removing the four street parking spaces, widening the entrance from 15 feet to 25 feet to allow easier truck egress, and addition of handicap ramps.

Ten letters opposing the application for various reasons were read into the record. One of them was from the Town’s Merchants Association opposing the application.

Public Comments:

A professor from the University of Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis who had provided data for two major state projects made the following points:

1. A letter from the Merchants Association indicates that everything Walgreens will offer is already available in town except for prescription drugs. The new Walgreens will compete directly for sales with other stores in town, as well as with other towns. People often make a decision based of distance of travel.

2. Net impact needs to be calculated when bringing in new development. The need for government services, such as fire equipment will increase. If traffic on Elm Street is increased, it will reduce the property values of the residences there.

3. A decision would have long term implications if successful at the proposed scale. A 10,000 square foot building is a substantial size store. A pharmacy could be 7,000 square feet. The size would have a significant demand to the core area. Traffic controls may be increased. He noted that it was important for towns to have an updated plan of development.

A P&Z commissioner asked the professor if he was a resident of the town, if he was an expert, and if he was being paid and if so by whom. He responded that he was a resident of another town in the state; he was present as an expert witness on a pro bono basis by the request of one of the members of the citizens’ group.

The adjacent property owner on Elm Street mentioned some concerns along with saying that he thought that approval was in the best interest of the town. Specifically, his concern was for HVAC equipment noise and protection of property values.

Another town resident was in favor of a drug store, but did not feel that the design of the store as presented was a fit with our town or town hall.

One of the selectmen, and a former CVS pharmacist for 18 years, spoke in favor of the pharmacy and noted that it would be most profitable.

Another citizen spoke in favor of the pharmacy, but was concerned for the competition for the other mom and pop stores in town as well as the large parking lot.

Sean read a letter into the record and asked that the application be denied with prejudice.

One resident stood and commented that the streetscape as presented by the applicant did not represent the parking and was not to scale.

Another resident noted that he is in favor of the pharmacy, but questioned the legality of the land swap. The parking lot will be owned by the town and used by the pharmacy. A leasehold agreement should be in place for liability and taxes.

Bobby, a citizens’group member, stated that he is opposed to the plan presented. He read a letter to the commission asking that the application be denied and then submitted a Notice of Intervention (more on this in next week’s post) in connection with the application.

A resident who lives behind the grocery store plaza across from where the pharmacy is to built requested that the P&Z to require a sign regarding truck idling and also no dumpster pickup before 5 AM. He also asked that the P&Z reference state statute with regard to HVAC noise standards.

The architect member of the citizens’ group referenced his letter already read into the record and asked that the roof be lowered. [BTW – his letter was eloquent again, "dummy portals", gotta love it.]

Another selectman, who is a member of the merchants association, said that he did not know about the letter opposing the permit and does not agree with the letter.

Another resident noted that he opposes the big box store/chain harming the flavor of the downtown. The local stores would be impacted negatively such as the hardware store and card shops.

One of the members of the citizens’ group presented slides showing various Walgreens Pharmacies throughout the state illustrating the variations of quality in each town. The point was that our town could get better quality design and building if we bargained for it. Sean showed a photoshopped image of the streetscape as it would look with the Walgreens next to town hall.

The P&Z asked the applicant if two drive thrus were needed.

The attorney for the applicant responded that that was what was specified by the client. He also noted that the HVAC design be reviewed by the Commission engineer to reduce noise and the applicant would agree to meet state noise standards. He noted that the application is a plus for the town and would provide parking at no cost to the town.

The meeting was adjourned at 10:41 pm.

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