Commission approves apartment plan for Canton Barn site
By John Fitts
CANTON - The Canton Planning and Zoning Commission on Nov. 16 unanimously approved a plan for apartments at the Canton Barn site on Old Canton Road.
Simsbury Capital Partners proposed tearing down the existing building at 75 Old Canton Road and developing 55 apartment units on site – 29 of which would be one bedroom and 26 of which would be two-bedroom.
The apartment units would be spread out over three buildings, a smaller 2.5 story structure along Old Canton Road and two 3-story buildings near the rear of the 2.1- acre site.
A total of 81 parking spaces – one each for the 1-bedroom units and 2 for the two-bedroom ones - are included on the plan. Parking is planned as a combination of indoor and outdoor spaces spread out over the site with no garages visible from the road, developers said.
Todd Clark, of Terryville-based Blue Moon Design, described the architectural as consistent with a traditional row-house building.
The plan also includes a sidewalk along the property frontage on Old Canton Road as well as interior sidewalks, two benches and seven bicycle spaces.
Landscaping and downward facing LED lighting is part of the plan and developers contend there will be no light spillage to adjoining properties.
Primary access would be from Old Canton Road. A rear access to Canton Village area behind the old IGA building would be for emergency use only – at least initially.
For many years - as early as 1948 - Canton Barn, LLC operated its Saturday night auctions at the site. In recent decades, Richard Wacht served as the animated auctioneer until he retired in 2019. His business partner and ex-wife, Susan Wacht Goralski, carried on the homemade pie tradition at the barn that, arguably, was as much of a draw as the auctions. Many well-known Canton residents also pitched in at various roles at the auction barn, some for many years.
The site is in the Canton Village Design Village District as identified in the town’s form-based code, zoning intended to offer clear rules and design standards, emphasizing the physical form over specific uses.
The code was adopted after a public input process and moved the town away from the days when at least three separate land use boards would weigh in on projects (four if wetlands were involved) and impose what some contended were very subjective standards. The code, according to the town’s regulations is “designed to foster a setting for economic growth and development in a sustainable mixed-use pattern of diverse neighborhoods, integrating residential with employment, commercial, and recreation uses while preserving the existing neighborhoods and protecting the community character.”
During that process, the barn site was identified as a potential area for high-density residential.
“Subsequently through the implementation of the POCD (Plan of Conservation and Development), this area was specifically identified by the public, in the charrette process that resulted in the development of village districts and form-based design code, as an area for infill development and high-density residential uses,” Neil Pade, the town’s director of planning and community development, wrote in the staff report for the proposal. “This was identified as a benefit intended to support the town economically, to facilitate the evolution of the Canton Village area into an expanded village and to support the Canton village shopping area.”
Under the form-based code, approval of the project is largely administrative in nature, assuming it meets the numerous requirements in the town’s site plan regulations and the requirements of the form-based code. The code, for example has specific standards that dictate factors such as building heights, build-to-lines, property setbacks, floor levels , street façade, private open space and landscaping.
“As far as we know, there’s nothing within either the regular zooming regulations or form based code where we have run afoul of something,” said Phil Doyle of Simsbury based Landscape Architectural Design Associates, who acted as the agent for the applicant. “We meet all of the stipulations in the code and I think the site plan and the special exception is very well detailed in the narrative we put together.”
The special exception Doyle referred to was for the proposed movement of 10,000 cubic yards of soil for the project. Anything over 2,000 requires a special permit, triggering a public hearing.
Some residents at that hearing meeting spoke to issues such as water runoff, nearby wells and other concerns about the area. Developers, on the other hand, contended that all aspects of the plan were well thought out and the project would not result in any of those ill effects
But at that Nov. 16 hearing, the bulk of the comments were heavily focused on the additional traffic along the winding road that would be in place once the project is completed.
On behalf of the developer, Scott F. Hesketh, manager of transportation engineering for East Granby based F.A. Hesketh and Associates, inc. told the commission about the traffic report, including an automated traffic counter for 48 hours on Old Canton Road from Sept. 20 to Sept. 22, which registered 573 average daily vehicle movements, with morning (7 a.m.) peak hour volumes of 55 and afternoon peak hour (4 p.m.) movements of 71.
The apartment project, according to the report, will generate a projected 428 daily trips with 40 trips during peak morning hour and 44 in the afternoon peak hour.
It’s projected that 65 to 70 percent of that traffic would be to and from Route 44.
The report acknowledges a projected decrease in the level of service rating for the Old Canton Road approach to Route 44 during the morning peak hour taking average delays for motorists from 22 to 27 seconds
But Hesketh asserted that the roadway networks could handle the increase.
"It’s our professional opinion that the local roadway network has sufficient capacity to accommodate the additional traffic volumes form the proposed development,” Hesketh said.
Nearby resident Theresa Taylor was one of several who spoke, and said the traffic report failed to take into account the character and nature of the roadway and noted the town’s current struggles with driving issues and enforcement.
“We do not have enough police officers for traffic management and now you want to add more cars on a narrow, windy road? I mean, it makes absolutely no sense,” she said.
Dan Keating, who has lived on Old Canton Road for 54 years talked about some of the history of the road and traffic issues, including a horrific 1970s accident in which two teenagers were killed.
He noted the bikes, skateboards and pedestrians on the road and noted that while police have stepped up efforts, problems persist.
“Old Canton Road is a speed trap,” he said, later adding, “Now you’re talking about adding more traffic; I wish you’d re-think.”
Hesketh acknowledged the development would contribute to more traffic and said the roadway is 17 to 22 feet wide and can handle the traffic but also said the road should be driven as a rural country road. He said many of the roadway issues are from cut-through traffic.
“The people who are going to be using this roadway from this development will be residents of this neighborhood and I hope they’ll take as much care as all other residents in the neighborhood," he said.
Town officials also noted noted the concerns of traffic concerns.
"What’s unique about Old Canton Road - most of the characteristics that people describe there …It’s everything you can do to make a road traffic calming. You put in obscured sightlines, you put in the difficult movements and turns. But, people seem to embrace that and decide to make it a challenge and increase speed…. It's a conundrum,” said Pade, adding that the state Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, of which he is a member, has advised the legislature to study speeding and running of red lights as a systemic issue.
Pade did add that the town’s code has worked to address smart growth principals of putting people near services, employment and transit routes, in attempts to lessen vehicle dependency. He also noted that the town has secured grants to extend sidewalk infrastructure in the Canton Village area, including links to the Farmington River Trail, which, in turn, connects with shopping and other town amenities.
And while the commission unanimously approved the project, some members noted the concern of residents - but said they cannot deny a conforming application due to roadway conditions.
Chairman Jonathan Thiesse also noted that the possibility of business uses at the site would have likely been even more intensive and also encouraged residents to approach other town governing boards with their concerns about the roadway.
“What is being proposed here is certainly not any more intensive, and probably less intensive from a traffic standpoint, than if this were a business that was being operated throughout the day.
“I definitely hear the comments and the frustration from the residents,” he added. “Unfortunately, I think we are the wrong body to be bringing this to. The frustration needs to go to the Board of Selectmen and the Board of Finance… [Traffic calming is] a big issue in all towns. This road would be a relatively simple solution - that would probably be under $20,000 - to put four or five speed humps in on this road. It would be a perfect candidate for it, but that’s something that the Board of Selectmen and Board of Finance needs to look into through a capital project. I would love my tax dollars to go to that but it’s not really our concern here.”
For photos from one of Canton Barn's final auctions in 2019, visit https://johnfitts.smugmug.com/Canton-Barn/n-dVqGj6/