Avon Commission continues public hearing for 'Shake Shack' application
By John Fitts
AVON – On Feb. 20, the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission will continue a public hearing related to plans for locating a Shake Shack on Route 44 between the Nod Brook Mall and Walmart Plaza.
The application for the 9.8-acre site at 275/279 West Main Street, from Branford-based Atlas Construction Services, seeks a special exception for the construction of a 3,023-square-foot restaurant, a planned Shake Shack according to both public statements and application materials on file. (In the meeting a member of the development team estimated the Shake Shack as closer to 3,200 square feet). The application drawings show 36 parking spaces around the planned Shake Shack.
The site plan application also includes two additional pad sites for future uses, and related infrastructure improvements such as parking areas, landscaping, exterior lighting, and a stormwater management system.
Per the application, on-site structures, including a garage and existing home as well as the long-time Rotondo Pizza House, would be demolished. According to a family obituary, Rotondo Pizza House was opened by Giuseppe and Lucia (Longhi) Rotondo in 1948 and ran until 1972. In ensuing years, the site was home to several other restaurants, including Little Mark’s Big BBQ, and, for a brief time, a limited buying operation by a jewelry store. An approved application for a display and office for Atlas Outdoor’s outdoor sheds and other structures was never pursued.
The Shake Shack building would sit close to where the current vacant restaurant building is located. The two other pad sites would be for a 3,960-square-foot building near Route 44 to the west of the planned Shake Shack building and a 2,400-square-foot building to the rear of the site, according to statements at the hearing.
The special exception for the restaurant requires a public hearing, which the Planning and Zoning Commission opened on Jan. 30. The commission is considering both the special exception and the site plan applications together.
Michael Ott of Madison-based Summer Hill Civil Engineers & Land Surveyors spoke at the meeting on behalf of the developer and detailed the application.
“The plan is to demolish all the buildings, remove all the pavement … And construct a new building in the east-front corner and that would be the Shake Shack restaurant,” said Ott. “The other two buildings that we show, we show them as pad sites because the applicant doesn’t have tenants yet for those two buildings. So, we laid out the buildings, assumed they would have a use that’s allowed in this zoning district, and laid out driveways and parking for the entire site so that someday in the future buildings could be built on these two pad sites."
He spoke of the plan to extend public water to the site, an “extensive” stormwater management plan and other details of the application
Earlier in the meeting, attorney Robert M. Meyers said the Walmart and Nod Brook Mall properties were developed before the commission required frontage sidewalks. He said the developer does not think it should build sidewalks now but is willing to when the time is right.
“If we were to put in a sidewalk right now, it would be sort of a sidewalk to nowhere … If you were to put a condition that we build a sidewalk when the town is able to secure the rights from the abutters and then tells us to build it and the state’s on board with it, we’ll commit to building it,” Meyers said.
Another aspect discussed in some length was traffic patterns.
David Sullivan, US Manager of Traffic & Transportation Planning for SLR Consulting, reviewed some details of a traffic study done for the site, which he said used projections based on all three businesses being open and operating.
“We did our analysis based on trip generation for the three uses: fast food for the Shake Shack, a casual sit-down restaurant for what we call B but is the larger of the other two parcels, and a general shopping center or retail for the smaller one,” Sullivan said.
He said projections show 150 additional trips to and from the plaza during weekday peak hours and 223 on Saturday. Accounting for “pass-by” traffic could lower those numbers, meaning some of the draw could be people who are already on the road that would now go into the plaza.
He also asserted that “levels of service” at the two nearest intersections would “essentially be status quo.”
Expanding on some information provided by Ott, Sullivan also noted that the plan involved leaving the westerly curb cut as a full access to enter and exit the site. The eastern access closest to the Walmart Plaza would be for right turns only out of the site, he added, also noting the plan to “flatten” the curb cuts, bringing them more in line with Route 44. He reiterated that topography made it unfeasible to connect to adjacent sites.
“Of course, the first thing we looked at with Mike, as he indicated, Is there any way to interconnect this with a nearby parcel? Which was a non-starter, so that went away,” Sullivan said. “Then we looked at the driveway configurations. We said, Well, the left turn out is the most difficult, and the options are to, number one, not let people do it, but we didn’t like that option because if you need to take a left turn, even though you may have to wait awhile during peak times, the alternative is to take a right turn, turn around somewhere else … and then come back the opposite direction. And essentially what you’re doing is adding more trips to the network because people have to go multiple times through the same sections of the road.
So, our recommendation was to leave the westerly driveway to allow all turns, left turns in and out, right turns in and out. That would be a full access driveway. And our recommendation was that the easterly driveway, which is the driveway closest to the signal, making that a right-turn-out only.”
While acknowledging it’s more of a question for the state Department of Transportation, which would need to issue an encroachment permit for the plan to move forward, some commissioners expressed concern about traffic safety, particularly with left turns in and out of the plaza.
“Should it be approved, the Shake Shack will be very popular with youth in town. I know for a fact that right now they hang out at the McDonalds. That is the thing to do after Friday night sports events - you go to McDonalds and hang out,” said Commission member Robin Baran. “So now if they’re shifting over to Shake Shack, the traffic pattern, or turning left out of there with 16, 17, 18-year-old drivers, I would just ask that would be something to consider.”
Another aspect that came up was architecture.
Ott said the owners are more than willing to work with town staff to deviate from the standard Shake Shack architecture shown in the application and make it more in line with other recent developments in Avon.
In his staff report, Hiram Peck, the town’s director of planning, addressed that issue as well as several others that came up during the meeting, writing, in part, “The application shows the new building to be a Class III restaurant with outdoor seating as permitting as an accessory use to the restaurant. The applicant will need to submit specific architectural plans for the proposed building as part of the building permit process. The applicant has submitted examples of the architecture of the proposed restaurant building. The application should be aware that any signage either on the building or detached will need to obtain zoning approval as required. The Commission should note that no drive-through window is proposed for this application.”
The application has obtained approval from the Avon Wetlands Agency. The Avon Engineering department has submitted several comments that will need to be addressed prior to the application for any building permit for this property. In addition, comments from the Farmington Valley Health District have also been submitted. Those too will need to be addressed prior to any building permit application.
In addition to the approval being sought at this time from the commission, the application will also need to obtain approval from CT DOT regarding access and egress to and from West Main Street. Typically, the DOT will not review of comment on an application unless local approval has been granted."
Early in the meeting, Meyers said the development team had no objection to any of the suggestions.
“Happily, there is nothing objectionable in any of those comments, so we think we can comply with all of them,” he said.
Peck also commented further on some aspects at the meeting.
"The fact of the matter is that the town cannot issue a building permit until DOT issues its final approval,” Peck said. Regarding the architecture, he added, "What I would recommend is putting those on the table this evening. If they can be addressed in a manner that the commission is satisfied with, staff can continue to work with the applicant to get those details straightened out. We’ve done the same thing with the development across the street on the corner of Lawrence Avenue with regard to the restaurants and the bank building there. We worked very hard on the architecture of those buildings as well.”
There were just a few comments from the public at the Jan. 30 meeting. One speaker asked that an invasive species be removed from the planting list. Abigail Adams, landscape architect and owner of A2 Land Consulting, said she is careful not to use invasives but would double check and ensure none would in fact be used. Ott said that could be a condition of approval.
The commission continued the hearing, in part to give commissioners the chance to review the traffic study, which commission members said they had not received prior to the meeting.
“At this time, I would like the commission to see the traffic report," said commission chair Lisa Levin. "We don’t have the final say on it, but I’m very reluctant to close the public hearing without having had a chance to look at that, so it would be my suggestion that we continue the public hearing to the next meeting and at that time we can take any other questions and then hopefully be in a position to vote on it."
Ott said it would be typical to close the hearing and then review any further information, and some commissioners seemed ready to close the hearing. However, after some discussion and the urging of a resident to keep it open, the commission did just that. Levin noted she felt the commission should have the complete record prior to voting.
That next meeting is set to take place at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 in Avon Town Hall Building #1. It will also be a hybrid meeting, giving people the chance to watch from home. That link will be posted on the town’s website as part of the agenda as the date gets closer.