Canton commission approves apartment complex off Daynard Drive
By John Fitts
CANTON – Despite vehement opposition from Daynard Drive residents, the Canton Planning and Zoning Commission on Aug. 17 unanimously approved a plan for a three-story apartment building along Route 44.
The latest plans filed for the Mount Laurel Apartments call for 32 units – 14 one bedroom and 18 two bedroom – at 401 Albany Turnpike with access from Daynard Drive. The plans call for two, three-story buildings – each 199.66 feet in length – with a central connecting atrium. The collective apartment unit area would total nearly 31,000 square feet with a building footprint of 15,601 square feet. Those numbers, and the unit configuration, however, could change slightly as the commission did deny a request for an adjustment in the standard 20 percent of “private” open space – the green space within the development area of a site, which had been proposed at 17.34 percent.
During the first public hearing installment at the July 20 Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, developers asserted the plan conformed to the town’s form-based code regulations, and documents that denote the site as a potential area for housing diversity.
“We think it’s a great adaptive use. It fills a need for housing stock, a different variety of housing stock in town,” said Landscape Architect Robert C. Schechinger, Jr. who filed an application, on behalf of 401 Albany Turnpike, LLC., which has an option to purchase the property. 401 Albany Turnpike, LLC managing member Guy LaPlante is also a principal at L Jackson Construction.
In July, Hans Winkel of Don Hammerberg Associates Architects in Farmington talked of the design aspects in the form-based code and said the building fits in well as a three-story colonial style rowhouse, with architectural features that fit the town well and break up the look. As listed, those include a staggered façade, varying colors and textures, single pitched roofs with gabled ends, standing seam metal roof accents, porches with simple columns, double hung windows, variation of wall treatments and decorative railings with brackets.
“Those design elements have been used to create a building that is both cohesive and one that blends well within the neighborhood,” he said.
Several residents of Daynard Drive also spoke the evening of July 20 strongly objecting to the size of development, the Daynard Drive access, and contended the project would bring a myriad of safety issues, such as parking overflow, lack of adequate play areas and more.
The property has been the subject of many potential projects over the years. Until 2018 it was zoned as a Business District Zoning and a 2004 approval allowed uses such as retail, banks, office and double drive-through facilities, according to a staff report from Neil S. Pade, Canton’s director of Planning and Community Development.
In 2017, another plan for commercial uses was approved but that expired in 2020.
During those years, Daynard Drive residents also fought various proposals for the property, including a 2011 application for a restaurant.
The property now sits in the Hart’s Corner Design Village District under Canton’s formed-based code, which is designed to establish clear standards for development and “places greatest emphasis on the design, or physical form, over density and uses, as it is of greatest importance when creating the pedestrian-oriented places that attract jobs and economic vitality.”
“During this process, it was understood and recognized that the Route 44 corridor is the economic spine the community relies on for a variety of reasons including tax positive grand list growth to support community services,” Pade wrote. “Many sites, including this one, were identified as being ‘Opportunity Locations’ in that they are intended to be developed to provide meaningful contribution to the grand list. At the same time, it was recognized that the commercial corridor is narrow and numerous single-family neighborhoods are located in close proximity to or adjacent to it. It was also identified that customary transitional uses were not allowed. The resultant regulations were developed and adopted allowing a range of uses as of right (subject to compliance with numerous standards). In addition to traditional commercial uses, a variety of residential uses and densities including mixed uses, are now allowed. It was anticipated that, in recognition of the current deficiency in housing options, the market would gravitate to multi-family uses in areas where residential uses are more context appropriate and serve as a transition between the commercial corridor and adjacent single-family neighborhoods.”
With standards more clearly laid out in the regulations, site plan reviews become more administrative in nature, officials have said.
Additionally, some standards, such as parking requirements, are based on state statute.
It was actually the earthwork and grading component of the application and the related special permit that triggered a public hearing. (Developers proposed an export of 9,300 cubic yards of material and import of 2,000 cubic yards for the project.) Additionally, the developer sought a handful of waivers in the code – which required the commission to weigh in on those requests – some of which were denied or altered.
But nearby residents contend the process, and related pre-application reviews, can leave them largely in the dark and without adequate input and collaboration.
During the hearing continuation Aug. 17, Peter Reynolds of MacDermid, Reynolds and Glissman, PC.. speaking on behalf of the developer, referenced some of the issues brought up by residents and said many were not relevant to purpose of the public hearing, which was related to a special permit request for earthwork and grading – and the request for a some waivers.
“The record shows the commission heard public comments on the entire proposal in July, as well as issues not part of the site plan review process –such as property value impact, school impact, play space and off-site traffic – even though only the special permit work called for a public hearing.”
Reynolds also noted that the applicant had filed additional material requested by the commission on July 20.
“Once the commission’s concerns are addressed regarding the specific matters identified at the July meeting, the applicant believes the commission will find that the application meets the required site plan requirements and all applicable zoning regulations. The applicant asks the commission to approve the proposed site plan as an as-of-right use, along with the associated waivers and the special permit application for the earthwork at this site,” Reynolds said.
Several Daynard Drive residents also spoke once again on Aug. 17. Lisa Coggins submitted three petitions from residents on the site alleging the project is disproportionate in size and incompatible with the neighborhood; that it infringes on neighborhood character and poses a traffic safety threat, especially to children; and that blasting related to building could pose environmental threats and other hazards.
Coggins also spoke at length during the meeting and raised several issues, referencing the town’s regulations and planning documents. One subject was rural character and conforming to the neighborhood.
“There’s nothing about a 278-foot, 32 unit apartment structure on a 1.5-acre parcel that is proportionate to the surrounding neighborhood of residential homes, which are all single family and set on a minimum of .75 acres,” she said. “It is completely out of character, unbalanced and inappropriate.”
Another point brought up by Coggins and others is the contention that the development should be accessed from Route 44. While Schechinger noted steep grades and ledge along the state highway, residents continued to push the idea and noted the previously cut area for what had been a planned expansion of Cantonbury Heights Condominiums.
Frank Fallon said referenced that and spoke to a comment from the previous meeting that the neighborhood pushback was simply another example of resisting change.
“We know that change is coming but change can be mitigated to have less of an effect on the neighborhood that is there and one of the things that is constantly being brought up by the neighborhood is the use of this alternate entrance,” he said. “In the last meeting when that was brought up the comment made from the developer wasn’t that it couldn’t be done, wasn’t that it was not an option. It was that it was inconvenient or potentially – you know how much blasting would be involved in that – but the fact of the matter is that entrance did exist. It’s already there and if it was used, we collectively think this project would have much less impact on our neighborhood than putting the entrance on Daynard.”
Current property owner Arthur Godbout, Jr. spoke to several issues on the property, including some of its history and past plans for a bank, but he also addressed the idea of a Route 44 entrance and said one reason it wouldn’t be feasible is the MDC line in Route 44 and the MDC’s resistance to blasting near it.
“That was going to be a stop right from the start, so we had to use the Daynard entrance,” he said.
Godbout also noted the town’s need for multi-family residences and that the property was identified as such an opportunity site.
“I understand nobody wants it in their back yard, but this has to be somewhere,” he said. “This is one of the places that was sighted, and it was discussed at great length back when we did the formed-based code.”
Sarah Faulkner was one of a few non-Daynard Drive residents who formally weighed in on the proposal.
“There were some comments made about the need for multi-family developments in town and it’s quite true. We do need to have a diversified stock of housing and it’s good to put it on 44 or near 44 where we have good access. That said, we want to make sure whatever’s developed is in keeping with the town Plan of Conservation and Development and with our zoning regulations,” she said. “This particular development has asked for a number of special permits and exceptions from our form-based code and whenever someone asks for exceptions you have to ask yourself, why are they not complying with the zoning regs as we currently have them? Well, in this particular case I think they’re trying to shoehorn in much too big of a development than the property really will hold.”
One waiver request that was discussed at length during the meeting was one for relief on sidewalks along street frontages.
The project plans include internal sidewalks but not along the roadways.
In her comments, Coggins said the project fails to meet standards for “pedestrians, bicycles or public transportation,” as she referenced safety, pushed for a traffic study and said connectivity measures should not be waived.
The application, argued that steep grades, ledge, the need to preserve wooded areas, and lack of a safe way to walk to town amenities made frontage sidewalks impractical.
Residents, however, noted that school buses do not come on to Daynard but stop on Route 44 to pick up kids. A lack of a sidewalk and the potential for additional kids with nowhere safe to wait or navigate the area adds liability and potential ADA issues, according to the residents.
While some of its members disagreed with some resident assertions, the commission ultimately directed the developer to work with town staff to see if a reasonable alternative could be reached to extend the sidewalk and approach the Board of Selectmen to see if it would accept a sidewalk for a portion of town right of way on Daynard Drive.
During their deliberations commission members also held firm on the private open space.
“I don’t see a compelling reason for the adjustment, based on this site. I think they can meet the 20 percent,” chairman Jonathan Thiesse said.
Lans Perry eventually accepted the commission’s consensus, but offered a different take.
“The difficulty here is this is a site that is delivering an enormous amount of residential possibilities to people who need a place to live and part of the way to avoid sprawl is to not require as much land,” he said. “This place was in a zone along the road that was found to be appropriate for highly developed, dense development.”
Commissioner Elizabeth Vinick was one strong advocate for requiring the development to conform to the standard, even though the regulations give developers a pathway to request variances based on individual sites.
“We also have to look at compatibly with the neighboring sites and I do think the density of this particular project is too great for this site and that the open space requirements should hold at the 20 percent,” she said.
The commission also set several other conditions,. Many are standard with such developments, such as posting bonds for aspects of the project and obtaining and submitting relevant approvals and/or permits from the Canton Water Pollution Control Authority, Connecticut Water Company and the state Department of Transportation.
The commission unanimously approved the project.