Company presents concept of apartments on Route 44 parcel along Lawton Road
Avon project also contemplated
By John Fitts and Paul Palmer
Pennsylvania based AR Building Company is eyeing properties in Avon and Canton for potential apartment projects.
On June 21, the company presented the Canton Planning and Zoning Commission a pre-application review for a plan that would involve 102 units over two, four-story buildings at 115 Albany Turnpike along Lawton Road behind the UConn Medical and CVS buildings.
The plan, which is still being developed and is not yet a formal application, would likely involve a fairly even number of one and two-bedroom units, as well as a pool and green space.
The company would need a change in zoning for the project under the town's design district standards.
Jason Kambitsis, President of AR Development Co., told the commission that the 55-year-old company is currently working on several projects in Connecticut and throughout New England and is involved in all aspects of a project.
“We build the property, we entitle the land and then when it’s done, we manage it,” he said. “We don’t sell anything.”
Kambitsis said the Canton property is a perfect location due to the proximity of shopping and amenities such as the Farmington River trail, as well as infrastructure such as existing traffic lights.
“As far as having access to everything, as far as being able to live in Canton and be able to kind of get everything you need – we feel this is the most perfect place to do that,” he said. “It’s in a commercial district already. It has everything you would want.”
During his presentation, Kambitsis quickly acknowledged the proposed four-story buildings and how buildings of that size were discussed as part of another commission matter that evening.
The reason for four-story buildings is elevators, which, he said, you don’t generally see in a three-story building.
“We do four-story buildings so we can put the elevator in and what that does – it gives people of all age groups the ability to live there,” he said.
He also touted aspects of the company’s building such as the use of brick for much of the façade, Azex trim, large windows, full decks and stainless steel appliances.
At least two commission members clearly stated they felt the parcel was a good place for apartments, but several did have questions and suggestions.
Commissioner Michael Vogel asked Kambitsis about another aspect of multi-family projects the group had discussed that evening – affordable housing – and the potential barriers and the reluctance of developers of recent projects to include "affordable" units in their proposals. In fact, the commission will likely consider, in coming months, the idea of more strongly compelling or requiring an affordable component for future projects.
While Kambitsis said the company is not looking to do an “8-30g” project under the state’s affordability statute, he said it has done affordable units within projects and is willing to discuss the idea.
“We’re happy to talk about that; it’s not the end of it,” he said. “We’re not proposing it, but we’re happy to have that discussion.”
Following the presentation, the four-story aspect was another point of discussion between Kambitsis and commission members.
“I think it would be good to think about the project in terms of some of those concerns, so if an essential part of your business model is four stories, thinking about how that looks from the various directions that would be seen and how we could get comfortable with it – potentially – would be very helpful,” Vogel said.
Commissioner Jonathan Thiesse noted that the concept drawing places most of the building frontage facing toward Route 44.
“What’s facing Lawton Road is just the ends of the building so they’re not going to be imposing if they’re four stories,” he said.
Others did suggest further steps, however. David Evens and Thiesse advocated for more screening – including additional and larger trees – along Lawton Road.
Neil Pade, the town’s director of Planning and Community Development, encouraged Kambitsis to explore additional ways to soften the look of the top story, such as developers of the UConn medical building had done with their second-story through creative use of rooflines.
Pade and Commission members also implored the company to expand on its internal open space, another issue discussed more generally by the commission that evening. Some members pointed out that many residents have spoken about the lack of green space in some current multi-family projects and the commission could increase its internal open space requirements for future projects.
“Any way you can maximize green space and reduce asphalt would be beneficial,” Pade said.
Kambitsis said the project would have to work with the existing developments on shared parking, noting that there is currently an overflow parking lot on the parcel.
He, however, said the company is very interested in working with the town and is not looking to talk about one concept and then present another.
“It will only get better,” he said.
Some residents expressed concern about the project as proposed. During a public comment period early in the evening Theresa Sullivan Barger spoke on another proposal but referenced this potential project as well.
"That looks like something that belongs in a city, not something that belongs in a town of 10,000 people," she said. "The scale of some of these projects is out of line with the town. I understand we need apartments and we need affordable housing. I’m all for affordable housing, but we should have the development fit the character of the town."
Following the meeting, Kambitsis said the company will work with Pade and to plans to forward a proposal in the coming months this year.
On June 27, AR spoke with Avon commissioners about its desire to build 151 new apartment units at 135 Darling Drive in Avon. AR Development has held informal talks with the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission to unveil what it would build and get feedback from the Commission. It came after a similar meeting with representatives in Canton. When asked if this was an “either/or” situation, Kambitsis said he is not hedging his bets and would build in both towns if approved.
The development would consist of three 5-unit buildings of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments with balconies plus a clubhouse, and an outdoor pool and one and a half parking spaces allotted for each apartment. “We are looking at people who don’t want to own a home, or no longer wish to own a home,” Kambitsis said.
The buildings would be four stories high, and that drew the interest of Commission members. If the plan were to be approved the zoning ordinances that limit these constructions to three stories would have to be changed. There was also a concern raised if the Avon Volunteer Fire Department had the equipment needed to fight a fire or perform a rescue in a four-story building.
Fire Chief Bruce Appell later told the Valley Press that his department does have the equipment on hand, will be getting more in the next 18 months, and could bring in mutual aid from nearby departments if needed.
Avon Commission members were also eager to see some kind of affordable housing units as part of any new buildings that might get approved.
“We have done that before,” said Kambitsis. “We are happy to discuss that with anyone.” He estimated the market rate units would go for about $1,700 for a one bedroom, and $2,000-$2,200 for a two-bedroom apartment. No plans have been submitted yet and AR Development has not closed on the Darling Drive Property. After hearing from Kambitsis, the Commission members said they are interested in hearing more on the potential project that developer said would be built “ as soon as possible” after all approvals were given once a proposal was filed.