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Canton commission closes hearing on proposed apartment project at 115 Albany

A commission vote will come at a future meeting

Posted sometime in the wee hours of June 6. Updated on June 7.

By John Fitts 

Staff Writer 


CANTON - The town's Planning and Zoning Commission on June 5 closed a public hearing on a proposed 100-unit apartment project at 115 Albany Turnpike along Lawton Road behind the CVS building. The commission, however, did not vote on the plan that evening and is expected to discuss the application - or deliberate - at its July 17 meeting and possibly vote that evening.


Apartments are a hot topic in town and early in the meeting, Commission chairman Michel Vogel noted some of the topics in the staff report from Neil Pade, the town’s director of planning and community development, including examinations of the economic benefits of multi-family projects. Vogel also pointed out that the commission must vote according to town and state regulations and cannot arbitrarily limit the number of apartments in town, although they are only allowed in certain areas under the town’s zoning.


The staff report from Neil Pade, the town’s director of planning and community development, also addresses that point, stating “Just like any other use, Zoning does not have the authority to determine what the proper number of something is. The Commission cannot determine the maximum number of restaurants or retail stores the community needs and set a cap for that number. It cannot set a cap on the number of single-family homes. State legislation specifically restricts municipalities from setting a cap on the number of multi-family homes. Securing property and proposing development is not inexpensive. Developers perform market analysis determining whether there is demand or if the market is saturated. At the same time the inventory of available land that can support such uses is limited and diminishing.”


For this project, Pennsylvania company A.R. Building is looking to develop 100 units in two, four-story buildings on the 4.35-acre parcel and is seeking the commission's approval on a Type 2 site plan and a special permit for earthwork and grading.  The commission votes on land-use applications, judging their conformity to town and state regulations.


In a matter that took four hours, the commission heard the proposal from A.R. and its team of professionals, as well as from several town residents, most of whom opposed the project.


According to the application, "The proposed project includes the construction of two four-story market rate multi-family residential apartment buildings. One building will contain 57 units, and one building will contain 43 units for a total of 100 units. Community amenities will be provided within each building, including a fitness center, and a proposed inground pool adjacent to the larger building. A total of 144 parking spaces are proposed. Additionally, sidewalks are proposed throughout the development and provide pedestrian access to adjacent uses and to the street and bike path."

The latest plan is for 64 one-bedroom units and 36 2-bedroom. Site disturbance would be about 3 acres and total impervious surface about 2.2 acres, according to the application


According to the development team, the proposed development is projected to generate approximately 37 trips in the a.m. peak hour (9 in/enter, 28 out/exit), approximately 39 trips in the p.m. peak hour (24 in/enter, 15 out/exit), and approximately 39 trips in the weekend peak hour (20 in/enter, 19 out/exit). As a comparison, the previously approved 15,750 SF of retail space was projected to generate approximately 37 trips in the a.m. peak hour (22 in/enter, 15 out/exit), approximately 104 trips in the PM peak hour (52 in/enter, 52 out/exit), and approximately 103 trips in the weekend peak hour (53 in/enter, 50 out).


As part of the application narrative Geoff Campbell, Principal at Rothschild Doyno Collaborative, notes the study of architecture character at nearby UConn Health and CVS, as well as Canton Gateway Office Park at 50 Albany Turnpike in Canton.  For Four-story character, the firm looked at The Valley House at 130 Main St. in Collinsville as well as buildings at 68 and 72 Main St. in Winsted, according to the application.


A letter to the commission stated, “These six precedent buildings present a varied range in design guidance for the project. The most immediate buildings, which are directed noted in the design standards are of a significantly different scale from the proposed project. The four-story precedent are remote from the site, and created at a time where detailing and construction methods very different from now.”


“That stated there are some clear features that begin to imply some clear direction for the apartment design. They are primarily tied together through simple roof forms, with a few cross-gable accents. Building facades are simple, rectilinear, and characterized by brick or horizontal siding, usually carrying to the upper stories, windows are typically double-hung and repetitive throughout the façade."


The letter also states that several techniques are used to reduce the size of the façade.


“Red Brick would be used extensively on the first three stories and brought down of the side elevations – which will further “reduce the scale of the building," according to the application.


Remaining façade of white horizontal fiber-cement siding ties into nearby building, the application also says.


The architectural letter also addresses several other points, including outdoor spaces.


“One of the notable features of A.R. Development buildings is the commitment to outdoor living space for every unit wherever possible,” it states. “These porches are typically six feet deep to make them more functional for tenants. In keeping with the characteristics of the precedent buildings, which do not have any outdoor space, these porches are most recessed into the façade. This lets the full façade read more planar, and simpler."


At the June 5 meeting, Jason Kambitsis, president of A.R. Development Co. touted the firm’s use of brick, extensive siding, AZEK trim, Trex decking and other materials he said were of high quality.


“So, really the whole theme here is we want to make sure that we have buildings that they look good they’re long lasting and that they’re very well maintained,” said Kambitsis, who also asserted that the company generally does not sell their properties.


He also asserted that amenities like the pools and fitness center are very popular, and that private decks, quartz countertops, master suites, stainless steel appliances and natural lighting are quality features tenants prefer.


William R. Sweeney, a New London based attorney, and former Canton resident, discussed some of the past appearances by A.R. before the commission as it presented informally last year and came back for some zoning modifications to allow multi-family at the site and tweaks to the 15 percent affordability requirement for the East Gateway Design Village District. He also spoke to the application and its use of “Main frontage standards” to fit in with the character of Route 44 and allow the buildings to be moved away from the frontage on Lawton Road.


“We're certainly excited about the project. We think it's an opportunity for a superior transitional land use between the more rural residential areas to the north of the project site and the more active commercial areas along Albany Turnpike. We also think the project is wholly consistent with your plan of conservation development it certainly will diversify or help diversify Canton’s housing stock. It will add additional affordable housing; it encourages infill development where infrastructure is already built and in place and we believe it ….will support economic development that improves your tax base.”


Sweeney also reviewed past proposals for the property, as well as the master plan of development on the corner that included the CVS project, UConn Health and the interior pad where the apartments are proposed. He noted reciprocal easements for access, utilities, and an existing stormwater management plan.


Members of the development team then spoke individual going into much more detail on traffic, architecture and more.


Members touted the orientation and location of the buildings, the oblique angles, as well as the planned planting of 94 new trees and continuation of a stone wall on the edge of the property – along the Farmington River Trail.  There was even a “fly by” video showing how the development would look while driving west up on Route 44 and on to Lawton Road.


Following a time of question from commissioners, members of the public addressed the commission.


While the public hearing was technically only for the earthwork and grading, and the site approval is administrative in nature under the town's form-based code – provided the application meets the standards, residents raised concerns about matters such as traffic and infrastructure the amount of parking and internal open space. Some who spoke or wrote to the commission feel the town should not allow more apartment projects.

Questions ranged from the highly technical to the emotional.


Jean Mix spoke against the proposal raising several concerns, including traffic and projected peak-hour trips.


“You say in your study that you have 146 spots but only anticipate 37 people leaving at rush hour in the morning and coming back. Well, I guess they are luxury apartments aren't they? Everybody's rich enough that they don't have to go to work. I'm sorry I think there's going to be 146 cars leaving at 9 O’clock and coming back at 4 O’clock. So, think about Christmas every single day.”


She also said traffic issues will cause backups, and therefore more pollution and touched on other aspects, such as design, contending it was not in keeping with town character.


Representatives from Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion were among the speakers and the group said it supports multi-family uses on site but not at the size and scale proposed.  The group also submitted a letter.


"C.A.R.E. would like to support this application...but we can’t," the group wrote to the commission. "We think that apartments are an appropriate use of this parcel. We’re pleased that, thanks to your recently adopted regulation, 15 percent of them will be priced at the “affordable” rate. And we agree that balancing density with open space for the benefit of those who will live here makes multi-story buildings suitable. However, our support for this proposal stops at the third story and the amount of impervious surface."


Alan Weiner a C.A.R.E. member spoke to some concerns the group has

"It was stated during the applicant’s presentation that four story buildings are allowed in the zone   - absolutely true," he said. "They’re not required, and the applicant isn’t entitled to them.  I think that’s an important point. It doesn’t mean you can’t approve them buy they’re not required, and the applicant is not entitled to them, they’re allowed only if you allow them.”


Weiner also said the four-story buildings A.R. used for its local example are in urban context. C.A.R.E. also showed examples of three-story buildings it says A.R. has built.


“Clearly, they can build three- story buildings if they want to or if they have to. The record clearly shows that,” he said also asserted that the canton building looks just like others the company has built. To somehow suggest that they considered the built environment in the immediate area and beyond.. I think is disingenuous.  It’s simply not the case.”


Later in the meeting, C.A.R.E. president Jane Latus addressed the issue the size of the project, stating, in part, “To put it simply, these enormous buildings stick out like a sore thumb. They’re too tall and they’re too big for Canton. As proposed, the scale of this project is more fitting for a city like New London, where this applicant has built these buildings. New London has a population of 28,000; it’s about three times the size of Canton. The size is our overriding objection to this application.”


Other residents spoke to overall building trends in town and on Lawton Road.


“I’ve lived here 37 years plus and I no longer recognize the town I moved to, and I no longer recognize the neighborhood I moved into,” said Randy Carrin, who noted the process of how he and his wife chose to live in Canton – “a sleepy little town in our eyes” - over other towns.


Carrin also referenced school bus patterns and the development at the former Applegate farm location at Lawton and Washburn, saying the town should wait and see how that will impact traffic before moving forward with a project he said looked like a “Hilton Garden Inn.”


“The question to me that I pose to you – at a macro level – is how does this development benefit the town and at a more micro level, how does this development help and benefit the neighborhood? I don’t see it doing either of those things but maybe I’m just blind. Maybe yes, time moves forward, Carrin said. “For years I heard about development in this town is that we need to increase the tax base so let’s build more. Put up that building; let that business do business in our town. But every time the tax base increases somehow taxes are going up we need more police we need more school teachers we need more this we need tax money to pay for all this stuff.

"So, we’re in the same position 37 years later than we were back then we need to increase the tax base. I just don’t see how this benefits anybody except the developers. That’s my comments. I’m sorry I’m so emotional about it.  I don’t want to move away but I’m going to. This is not the town it was," Carrin added.


Several other residents spoke, most also opposed to the project, although some were more informational


Matt Dingee, resident, and chairman of the Canton Economic Development Agency, offered a different perspective and talked of the agency’s research showing that population has been stagnant over 15 years and negative over the last three, five and 10 years. He also said Canton has fewer people in their 20s and more over 60 compared to other area towns.


“So, apartments, particularly if they’re targeting a younger demographic could help kind of close some of those imbalances relative to other towns. And also if we can increase our town population even at the margins, it may help fill in some of the empty storefronts that we have in town.”

Dingee also noted studies, some of which are referenced in the town’s staff report for the project, contending apartments are generally tax positive.


“So, given everything I’ve just mentioned I think we need to try and embrace development, so long as it is in the spirit and honoring of the Plan of Conservation and Development

And then specifically if you look at multi-family residential apartment projects. We looked at numerous studies in Connecticut from towns that have pursued apartment projects and they’ve actually been a proven net economic benefit to municipalities. But there’s a caveat to that – so long as the town exercises fiscal restraint in terms of the money that’s coming in - that we essentially don’t get overzealous in terms of spending. So, with that I’d like to voice the economic development Agency’s endorsement of the project. But with that said I do recognize and acknowledge many of the comments that came before me from members of the community.”


The commission then allowed the development team to address the questions and issues that came up.


Mike Dion, of BL Companies, addressed several traffic questions, several that had to do with technical details, guidelines, and access for fire vehicles. He, for example said the peak hour numbers represent the highest projected counts for a one-hour period – roughly 8 or 9 percent of daily traffic. Trips during other hours take place, he said, but at numbers typically less than that busiest hour.


 Sweeney also spoke on several points and sharply disagreed with a contention from Weiner that the zoning language was still ambiguous when it came to multi-family being allowed at the site. While Sweeney said he knows and respects Weiner, as they both come from a planning background, Sweeney offered a much different interpretation of the four-story issue.


“I believe that we are entitled to four stories,” he said to the commission. “When you drafted your main frontage building form, you specifically said in the east gateway you can have four stories. You said it’s acceptable, but you have to meet the architectural and other building form standards, one of which are somewhat qualitative in analysis…. You can’t just say ‘well we know we said four stories, but we changed our mind, we don’t want you to have four stories.’ We have the burden to show we are compliant with all those other standards, and we believe we’ve done that tonight.”


 The development team also spoke to design and said that while there are similar materials and design aesthetics throughout the company’s work, the team contended strongly that this building is unique in many ways.


 Campbell said that while the company has design values and some often-used materials and building softening techniques, he asserted that each project is individualized.  He noted for example, the recessed decks and use of smaller, more frequent windows. Canton does not allow the larger windows the company often uses.


“I recognize the thought that these are similar they do come from similar design aesthetics, but I ask that you judge this based on your town and what’s appropriate here and not necessarily whether or not it looks like something in another town,” he said.


Kambitsis also said projects are individualized and modified to conform with local standards. He also said he didn’t agree with opinions to use much more siding and look more like the CVS building. That, he asserted, would create kind of a one-color look.


“We spend time on these and take pride in them and I think it does fit in with what’s going on out there and what’s going on this the community,” Kambitsis said.


At the end of the question section, residents were given the chance to speak again. Mix stood up and said A.R. is not considering what Canton wants.


“I just want to implore the board to really think about what the town residents want,” Mix said.  “These gentlemen, very eloquently, told you what they want and what their company wants. And when you asked the question about the four stories and then the façade, they talk about their policies, what they like what they want for longevity. They’re not considering Canton….  Michael (Vogel) you said, ‘I like the clapboard.’ I like clapboard. Clapboard would be better. C.A.R.E. – they’d like it to be three stories, but you know Mr.  Sweeney says we’re entitled to four stories and the other gentleman said we need to have brick because [of] it's longevity but they’re not asking us.”


For application materials and other documents on the project, including written input, visit here. Please note that with the hearing closed, new information or letters, will not be added to the record.

See some of the renderings and maps for the application below.





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