Developers tweak EV showroom design in advance of Jan. 19 meeting
Updated: Jan 20, 2021
Changes in convenience store/eatery store now include Nardelli's logo
Editor's Note: Jan. 15. In addition to previously published renderings at the end of this story, we have added one showing a proposed conservation easement for 4.7 acres of land in Canton.
By John Fitts
CANTON – Those proposing an EV showroom, fueling station and convenience store/eatery development at 9-15 Albany Turnpike have released revised design renderings in advancement of the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Jan. 19.
The plan for the property, which is to the east of the former La Trattoria site at the Simsbury town line, calls for a 23,500-square-foot EV (electric vehicle) showroom, a 20-pump fueling station and a convenience, coffee shop with drive through, ice cream shop with outdoor patio and covered pickup window and sandwich shop.
Developers, including Michael Frisbie, the person would act as owner/operator, have touted the proposal as one designed to adapt and even encourage the transition to electric vehicles, with features such as pumps designed to convert to rapid EV chargers. They’ve also highlighted amenities such as indoor and outdoor seating, an outdoor gathering area off the second floor of the EV showroom.
However, the plan, which seeks a number of special permits under the town’s old business zone regulations, has generated controversy with some residents, who have raised concerns such as the scale of the project, traffic and the amount and duration of proposed blasting.
Already the Planning and Zoning Commission, in addition to a recent site walk, has held its public hearing over three nights and Jan. 19 will consist of the fourth installment.
Design has also been at issue. At the most recent meeting on Dec. 16, some members of the commission and the public continued to press developers on the design of the EV showroom, which many said did not fit the town’s character. That evening, Frisbie, owner of Noble Gas and other Connecticut business ventures, indicated he was willing to modify it.
Those changes were recently submitted in advance of the next Planning and Zoning Commission meeting. On Jan. 12 Frisbie spoke to the town’s Economic Development Agency about those changes and the project overall, stating that he worked with the project architects, and town staff and regulations to change some materials for the EV showroom and move a little away from his futuristic “Apple store of EV showrooms” concept.
“With the feedback we got we said, ‘OK. It’s not in keeping with Canton so how can we do something to soften it and kind of fit in better?’” he said. “I think we did a pretty good job in using those types of materials to allow for that on the backside. I still have a little of my Noble look, but it’s not as drastic when you’re driving on Route 44,” he said. “I think the feedback we’ve gotten so far is that, ‘Yes, it’s a lot more in keeping with the regulations.’ I think we did a good job and hopefully the Planning and Zoning board will feel the same way next week.”
The building is designed to showcase electric vehicles while providing areas for service, charging and education.
The layout remains the same in the two-story building and a bamboo façade is still a prominent feature, but the new drawings show areas of darker color ledgestone in places that were previously concrete panels. Split-face CMU block is also now widely incorporated in the design. Overall, it’s designed to be a darker, more “subdued” look, developers said.
The design of the convenience store and eateries has also changed a bit and Frisbie noted he is a Nardelli’s Grinder Shop franchisee and the Connecticut-based business is now included in the renderings, as is Frisbie’s Dairy Barn, which Frisbie said is headquartered and makes its products in New Britain and Noble Brew Coffee and Breakfast Too.
Frisbie also reiterated some of his vision for the project to the EDA as he had to the Planning and Zoning Commission at the last meeting.
“It’s expensive to buy property, especially bigger properties. It’s easier to take an old gas station, renovate it, and try to make some money but I’m excited about building for the next 30 years, not just patching something up,” he said.
Frisbie also talked about the showroom and his plans for a place where people can come to learn and experience EV vehicles from smaller manufacturers - potentially brands like Rivian and Lucid.
“They’re going to come to the market because this is the demographic they want to serve,” he said.
State law currently prohibits vehicle manufacturers to sell directly, but even if that should change, this would not be a typical dealership with seas of cars, developers said.
Frisbie also touted a higher end convenience and eatery experience and inclusion of amenities and his desire to replicate the development in other parts of the state.
“I think you need some of these services,” he said. “I think it’s cool to be on the cutting edge of the future of transportation. We’re really proud and happy to be in Canton so we would look for any support that you might be able to give us in regard to our project.”
Reaction from the EDA was generally positive but chairman Katie Lukas noted that blasting remains a huge issue to many in town.
“I have and have had some ambivalence. On the one hand I would absolutely love to see a new business come to town, a new business owner come to town, a new business being added to the grand list. ... I could see an EV showroom being something that attracts people to town and then go on and spend their money in Collinsville and [along Route 44] and see parts of Canton maybe they wouldn’t have seen before so I definitely see that as a positive for me personally. I do still have ambivalence about the blasting and the traprock.”
“There’s a lot on both sides, but I absolutely do want to underscore what Neil started out saying there’s a human, business developer here on the line and we have to continue to take that into consideration and make sure that business owners and business developers do feel welcome in town regardless of what else is going on,” she added.
EDA member Steve Melniczek praised the project.
“We’re really starting to finally see some life in the town of Canton and I think, just like anything, change doesn’t come easy for anyone, especially for someone who has an idea that is outside the box and not falling into to the norm of want people want to see. I just want to say thanks for choosing Canton and coming here. And in terms of development I hope that if this all goes through it has a tremendous amount of success and that it’s a draw for other businesses to consider Canton as a place to relocate.”
EDA member Vince Columbia also praised the plan and suggested, if approved, the businesses carry brochures and signs to promote other areas of town.
EDA member Matthew Dingee noted that he liked the designed changes, saying they looked less “futuristic.”
“The images I’m seeing on the screen certainly fit in with Canton, and ... the new renderings of the showroom certainly look a lot better,” he said.
Dingee also changes in political landscape could be more conducive to electric vehicles but also noted blasting was still an issue in town.
“I do share some of the concerns to the site specific to the blasting and whatnot, but I do hope that can be overcome one way or another.”
Member Russ Asklof also praised the project.
“I am not an aficionado of trap rock even though I understand why it may be a concern for a lot of people in town,” he said. “I do remember going through this when the [Shops at Farmington Valley] came too. There was huge backlash about taking away the golf course, which was this huge part of town and a lot of people have come to realize there’s other benefits that have come out of that development. I think it will be a rocky road for a while but after that I think things will kind of straighten put. People will understand that we need to keep the town solvent and some businesses have to come in. the downside is some traprock may have to go away but I think it’s great. I’ very excited.”
There were some questions about blasting and Kevin Solli, acknowledged that the project would involve approximately 50 feet of rock removal at the highest point.
Numerous residents have raised concerns about the noise, duration, effect on groundwater and the proximity of the former Swift Chemical site approximately 1,500 feet west of the site at 51 Albany. [Mitchell Volkswagen currently operates on the site but does not own it.]
In addition, the Metropolitan District Commission and Connecticut Water Company have also relayed concerns and requests in relation to blasting and while the commission does not specifically permit blasting it would approve aspects of earth removal and could set various conditions on the practice.
The recent hydrogeology report estimated the project would require the removal of 118,450 cubic yards “of bedrock from approximately 3.4 acres and a next export of 139,741 cubic yards of material from the site. Paperwork submitted by the developer estimates that as many as 7,570 trucks full of material would be removed for up to 600 days during a 2-year period.
And many have written the commission with numerous concerns, including rock removal.
“Trap rock ridges are unique, critical habitats within the State of Connecticut,” Jay Kaplan, Conservation Commission chairman wrote in one of at least two letters the group has forwarded to Planning and Zoning. “This and the adjoining Onion Mountain ridge are the easternmost of Connecticut’s/New England’s trap rock ridge formations, and the only ones situated within the town of Canton. The commission is unanimous in believing that it would be a real loss to Canton’s natural resources to see any part of this ridge destroyed.”
Other residents have suggested an emotional attachment to the feature.
“The trap rock ridge that greets residents and visitors alike as they enter Canton from the east on Rt. 44 is distinctive. It marks a transition from the suburban sprawl of the suburbs of Hartford to our unique community,” Alden Paye wrote to the commission
Kathleen Wood, who lives near the site noted several concerns about the project, including some related to blasting.
“I am concerned about my foundation and house being damaged due to the proposed blasting that will occur. The timeline for blasting will also create unnecessary noise, pollution, traffic congestion, and have a negative impact on quality of life,” she wrote, in part, later adding, “I am not opposed to developing the site, just this plan. I ask the Town of Canton to approve a use that is appropriate to the land, in accord with the Town Plan, does not require special permits, and protects the health and property values of residents. Blasting and removing this ridge threatens residents' and businesses' quality of life and the town's character.”
Blasting is not specifically permitted by the commission but it does issue an earthwork removal permit and can place conditions on the activity. Also, the special permits requested are subjected to “standards set forth in the regulations and to conditions necessary to protect the public health, safety, convenience and property values.”
Developers have contended that blasting is a highly regulated activity, includes numerous documentation efforts, highly technical tools and safeguards.
They also contend the activity would not be constant.
“Blasting will not occur daily for consecutive weeks, but rather as required, to include intermittent time for standard excavation and handling of materials such as sorting, stockpiling, and exporting,” the applications materials state. “For the purposes of this project, we assume two to three blasts will take place per month during rock removal activities.”
Developers recently hired a hydrogeologist to examine those concerns but the 19th will mark the first meeting where commissioners have had access to a “peer review” for that report, which makes some additional suggestions. Solli previously told Planning and Zoning that developers would take a deeper dive into the topic on the 19th but has told the commission and the EDA that the concerns of pollution and infrastructure damage are largely unfounded.
“We don’t see any potential evidence or real cause for concern that the activities here will really adversely impact wells or groundwater or certainly have anything to do with the environmental contamination at the Swift site,” he told the EDA.
Developers have also contended that rock face will be a prominent feature in the development.
Frisbie told the EDA that plans for the property prior to his involvement involved more rock removal and more fast food and other retail development.
“We’re not blowing up the mountain. We’re taking a significant amount of rock out of there. I don’t debate that, but we’re also trying to keep some of it too so it’s the character that folks are looking for and sometimes they get focused on other things so hopefully we can relay that as best possible at the next meeting.”
The EDA will also be forwarding a letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission, likely more positive than a previous one that expressed mixed feelings.
The EDA meeting also touched on other points, such as the overall feelings about development in town and the hope to likely utilize the 9-15 Albany property in plans to extended multi-use trail connectivity.
But there’s little doubt that the project in question will continue to be a hot topic.
Near the end of the meeting, Lukas reiterated that blasting will continue to be a huge issue for many residents moving forward, but also told Frisbie that she appreciated his flexibility and desire to do business in Canton.
“From my perspective I think there’s a lot of good here I do think that the blasting aspect is going to continue to be an uphill battle in town,” she said. “I do absolutely … appreciate the fact that’ you’ve amended the plans to be more in keeping with the nature of Canton and to take into consideration the tree line and the traffic pattern so I absolutely appreciate how amendable and flexible you guys have been. I think that’s fantastic and representative of the kind of people we want developing in town.”
Those looking to learn more can view documents, including the hydrogeology report and peer review under the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting packets in the drop-down menus at http://townofcantonct.org/agendas-minutes-meetings.
Information can be found at http://www.townofcantonct.org/filestorage/6662/17720/17722/50412/01-19-21_PZC_RM_Agenda.pdf.
Those wishing to submit comments for the record, can email them to email@example.com.
Below are more of the most recent renderings for the project.