Apartment Plan would need supermajority approval
By Ted Glanzer
FARMINGTON – The controversial apartment complex proposed near UConn Health would need to be approved by a supermajority of Plan and Zoning Commission when it ultimately closes its public hearing and takes up a vote.
According to the town’s zoning regulations, buildings in a special innovation zone, where the property is located, that are four stories, or 45 feet, tall that are “contiguous to a single-family residential zone” require the approval of at least five out of the commission’s six members.
The 217,000-square-foot development proposed by Metro Realty Group would be a 146-unit complex that is four stories and 46-feet high, located in the town’s science, medical and technology corridor across the street from UConn Health. The number of stories and the overall height would trigger the supermajority requirement in the town’s zoning regulations.
Metro Realty is seeking a zone change from residential to a special innovation zone to construct the apartment complex.
The public hearing on the project, which has drawn fierce opposition from town residents, particularly those who live on Prattling Pond Road, is set to continue on Monday.
At the commission’s last meeting on April 12, residents continued to assail the project as “a monstrosity” that would have a deleterious impact on, among other things, the character of the neighborhood, the environment and traffic.
Dr. Richard Fichman, a Prattling Pond resident, said he chose to live in that neighborhood because of its quietude and to be in harmony with nature.
Fichman said the development will have noise that comes with it, which will disrupt the character of the tranquil neighborhood behind the parcel.
In addition, the traffic in the area is already bad, Fichman, an ophthalmologist, said. Adding another 300 residents to the area will make it even worse.
“To tell me that traffic is already bad, so it’s not a big deal would be like me saying to someone who has lost some vision in their eye, ‘Don’t worry if you lose more vision. It’s not a big deal because you already lost some vision.’”
He noted a proposal to build apartments was rejected by the Farmington Plan and Zoning Commission in the late 1960s.
Fichman went on to say the current proposed housing, which Metro said would be marketed toward employees and students of UConn Health and neighboring medical offices, wasn’t walkable given the traffic and the location of the project, which is situated on a hill. Specifically, Fichman said it would take residents a half an hour to walk to UConn Health from the proposed building.
“It’s not for the faint of heart,” he said.
He said another Metro-owned property - the former Loehmann’s Plaza at 230 Farm Ave. - is better suited for the proposed development.
Fichman then presented a question to the commission. “If this was your house and your family lived in, would you want a 217,000-square-foot building, 46 feet high and 300 feet long, built behind your house because someone decided that the zoning you relied on when you moved there and lived there for decades is going to be changed? I don’t think you would.”
Prattling Pond resident Kimberly Zeytoonjian said the commission should decline the proposed zone change.
“We are counting on our current zoning regulations for a reason,” she said. “We bought this home … based on our confidence the zoning boards would uphold the zoning regulations that have been in place. Why should the zoning be changed to meet Metro’s needs? The zoning regulations are in place for a reason. … If passed, what’s to stop other zones from being changed in our lovely town?”
Noting what appeared to be overwhelming opposition to the project (other than local area businesses such as Black & Decker, UConn Health and Carrier), Dave Austin of Wentworth Park said he was “waiting for any comment in favor of the property.”
“It seems overwhelming to me the town has spoken,” Austin said. “It sounds very simple. The commission, if they truly represents the citizens of Farmington have an easy job here. … I’m confused why developer feels this is appropriate location to build this project.”
Austin noted the more than 300 letters the commission had received in opposition to the project.
“There aren’t a lot of people in town who want this,” he said. “It’s an easy decision for commission to make.”
But Jeff Sager, president of Metro Realty Group, presented consultants who said there would be little if any impact to traffic and the environment.
Sager also noted the state over the past 20 years had invested millions of dollars in infrastructure – including widening Farmington Avenue, Munson Road and Middle Road and an improved ramp off I-84’s Exit 39 - to accommodate increased development in that area.
He also countered that the area was indeed walkable and that the project includes installing sidewalks where there is a gap on Farm Avenue in front of Farmington Glen.
For those who do not want to walk – he said it would take residents of the development, the average age of whom would be in their 30s, about 15 minutes to walk to UConn Health, not a half an hour – there is a shuttle bus at UConn that runs from 6:15 a.m. to midnight, Monday through Friday.
Sager said 230 Farmington Ave. was not a better location, as that parcel, due to its visibility and access, was better suited to recruit a life science company.
“230 Farmington Avenue is land we need to recruit major new or expanding life science companies into this neighborhood,” Sager said, adding the town is “heavily invested in the neighborhood” and using the former Loehmann’s Plaza for that purpose would represent responsible grand list growth and would provide high-paying jobs.
Turning his attention to the proposed development’s proximity to Prattling Pond, Sager described the history of how Farmington was planned.
In the 1960s and ‘70s, Sager said, the town created four major commercial clusters on the edges of town, including West Farms, the health center and Batterson Park. That has resulted in commercial comprising about 1/3 of Farmington’s tax base. By comparison, commercial taxes account for between 11 and 14.2% of Avon, Simsbury and West Hartford taxes, Sager said.
Farmington, Sager said, has created a way to have commercial and residential development to not only coexist, but to thrive.
“The community we are proposing will have zero interaction with the Prattling Pond community,” Sager said, adding the building will not be visible from Farmington Avenue and would only be visible to a small number of the 25 homes on Prattling Pond Road.
“Our land is not part of Prattling Pond, will not send cars into the Prattling Pond neighborhood; it will not send pedestrians into Prattling Pond,” Sager said. “While it will be in proximity of three backyards of Prattling Pond, we are not part of that neighborhood; we aren’t creating traffic or sending pedestrian in that neighborhood. It will only be seen, depending on the season, by between two and five [Prattling Pond] homes. We are going to do everything possible to minimize the view of this building.”
The hearing was continued to Monday, which is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m.