Canton commission to consider development proposal this week
Updated: Oct 19, 2020
By John Fitts
A proposed electric vehicle showroom and related development on Route 44 along the Simsbury/Canton line is the “future of transportation,” those associated with the proposal said at a recent Simsbury Zoning Commission meeting.
The owners of 9-15 Albany Turnpike, LLC., managed by developer Mark Greenberg, are looking to develop a two-story 23,500-square-foot electric vehicle showroom with a one-story service center and charging area, along with an 8,384-square-foot foot gas station/convenience store that would include a sandwich shop, coffee shop, potentially an ice cream shop and perhaps even a fire pit area. The gas station would also be easily converted to electric vehicle charging stations.
Developers have also touted details such as a new kind of dealership, landscape islands, outdoor seating, multiple eateries, underground utilities and dark-sky-compliant lighting. The site would also include new concrete sidewalks and a total of 117 parking spaces.
A traffic light is also proposed on Route 44, approximately at the current eastern entrance of Brass Lantern Road.
The site is east of the former La Trattoria Restaurant site.
Much of the 26-acre site is in Simsbury, but most of the development would be in Canton.
The Simsbury Zoning Commission approved the site plan Oct. 5. Earlier that evening the Simsbury Design Review Board also gave a favorable recommendation.
The Canton Planning and Zoning Commission is due to consider site plan and special exception applications Oct. 21. Developers also have to work with the state Department of Transportation and are proposing a traffic signal at the eastern entrance to Brass Lantern Road, which formerly provided access to the now-closed La Trattoria restaurant, a neighboring site.
The development would involve much more than what people might perceive, according to Kevin Solli, founder and principal engineer of Solli Engineering.
Manufacturers of electric vehicles are already excited about the concept of a showroom that would host as many as four companies and demonstrate the availability of vehicles from smaller manufacturers, displaying them to the public. The showroom would offer electric vehicle models people could try, order and have delivered to their homes.
The service area would be one level in the rear of the showroom. The plan also shows charging stations.
Solli said there’s also great interest among EV manufacturers, some of which aren’t household names.
“There’s a tremendous amount of interest for this type of product which, again, I think is a really a benefit to the town of Simsbury and surrounding areas because this really is kind of a prototype for something that is more than your standard auto showroom,” Solli said.
The facility would also include a rooftop patio that could be used for gatherings and more, he added.
“The views from this roof patio are really going to be quite something,” said Solli, who also complimented the local firm that designed the electric vehicle showroom.
“I personally think that the team at Phase Zero did a fantastic job pulling together a really interesting concept here,” he said. “And again, we’re excited because this will really serve to be a prototype for something that we think is going to be a great addition to not only these communities but really is a benefit to the state and the region as a whole anywhere where we can provide these opportunities to get people into kind of a more renewable form of transportation. ... We’re really excited. … It was a fun one to be a part of on the design side because it really is focused on … the future of transportation, trying to be nimble and agile and create a product and a project that can be getting away from fossil fuels with that focus on sustainability.”
And the other part of the development would further the concept he said, by including gas pumps can easily be converted to rapid-speed EV charging stations.
“The gas station itself is being designed to accommodate and to be able to adapt to the future trends that we see happening with automobiles,” Solli said.
He also said the food-service components at that part of the development could dovetail with those shopping or charging EVs. Aspects such as the eateries and nice seating areas would appeal to those clients as well as community groups, such as local sports teams, he said.
While Solli said the development will highlight the rock face at the site, he acknowledged the project would take a fair amount of earth removal and blasting, one concern brought up by some Simsbury commissioners.
The approval would allow blasting six days a week with reduced hours on Saturdays and no work to be done on Sundays and holidays.
Solli said blasting is highly regulated and would be done with all the required technical surveys, inspections, reports, condition documentation, seismograph installation, and approvals. He also said the potential hours for blasting were spaced out to minimize disruption.
Still, Commissioner Donna L. Beinstein, while praising the project overall, was concerned for area residents in terms of noise and at least one commissioner expressed concern that things can sometimes go wrong despite the high level of regulation.
A couple of Simsbury commissioners also pressed Solli on the amount of material that would be excavated. The figure was being refined since the site plan had been slightly revised since it was first submitted in Canton (which resulted in a delay of Canton’s hearing), he said, adding that it would be approximately 80,000 yards of material.
He also said part of the “knob” in front of the former La Trattoria site would be removed and the developers are looking for the town of Canton to convey the Brass Lantern Road right away to the property owners.
Commissioner Bruce Elliott, who voted in favor of the site plan, expressed a few reservations, including the idea of the gas station overall, but acknowledged that part would be in Canton.
He said, “I’m willing to support this proposal although I wish it wasn’t another gas station, but that’s for the people of Canton to wrestle with.”
The Simsbury commission unanimously approved the plan and several members complimented the design. Commissioner Michael Doyle said, as an EV owner, he was excited about the idea.
Canton’s commission is set to host a hearing on the project Oct. 21
Already there has been some public feedback to the commission. In an email, resident Tim Kendzia wrote in part, “This site is currently a big component of the town’s character for me. Driving past the mall of Simsbury, and all the shops of Avon, this site is a natural break dividing the towns. The rock ledge, over 100,000 cubic yards, is a significant barrier. Combined with the vegetation here, it buffers road noise and serves as a great visual divide, highlighting the town’s rural character. Removing this ridge and developing the land would irreversibly impact our town’s character, and for that reason I oppose this development.”
The project does fall into an area that was long identified as having commercial potential and the commission has included in a mixed-use design village district, a fact that developers touted in the application.
On Oct. 5, Solli told members of Canton’s Conservation Commission that the development team realizes the importance of the ridge.
“One of the biggest components of the site is the rock face, the traprock, that is exposed along the project frontage so when we were charged at looking at how to redevelop this property, we knew and recognized that this was an important resource for the town of Canton,” he said. “We wanted to try and preserve as much of that as possible and enhance the resource and build it into the design of our project.”
But Canton Conservation Commission members, who will forward an advisory opinion to the Canton Planning and Zoning Commission, noted that planning documents speak to the value of traprock for habitat as well as visuals.
“I’ll make a motion the commission write a letter to Planning and Zoning expressing the fact that we are impressed as to what went into developing this proposal,” chairman Jay Kaplan said. “We think it’s quite stunning and impressive and that there’s nothing like it in the Farmington Valley … or perhaps the state. However, we do have reservations about the demolition of a portion of the traprock ridge, which is considered a critical habitat and that is a concern we have.”
According to testimony to the Conservation Commission, owners are looking to eventually put residential development on other portions of the property and potentially an additional 20-acre parcel, which also generated some unease among commission members.
When it comes to the current commercial proposal, it is also at least possible that the Canton Planning and Zoning Commission might choose to seek some outside opinions before making a decision.
Neil Pade, director of planning and community development, in staff comments to the commission has noted it might want to seek outside opinions such as an engineering review for stormwater management and a North Central Conservation District review of sediment control plan, excavation and grading plans at the site.
Traffic is another area in which Pade noted the commission could request a review.
In addressing the Simsbury commission, Solli said the study conformed to all standards and, in part, involved analyzing of 11 intersections along the Route 44 corridor, documented existing conditions and volumes and used trip generation to estimate future traffic with and without the project.
“I think what we’ve been able to demonstrate is that the project will retain acceptable service levels throughout the corridor,” he said, adding that the traffic issue will receive and additional layer of review through the state Department of Transportation.
If all goes well, the hope is to start the project by mid 2021, Solli said during the Simsbury meeting. While he acknowledged the project would be phased with the gas station likely first, he said the EV showroom being looked as a model that will be replicated throughout the state.
One can also look further at the documents on the Simsbury Zoning page
From there look for 10-5 agendas on the right-hand column. That link includes pdf files related to the project.
See the Oct. 21 meeting agenda at http://www.townofcantonct.org/filestorage/6662/17720/17722/47108/10-21-20_P%26Z_RM_Agenda.pdf The packet can be seen at http://www.townofcantonct.org/filestorage/6662/17720/26104/47278/10-21-20_P%26Z_Meeting_Packet.pdf
This who wish to submit comments to the Canton commission can do so via NPade@TownofCantonCT.org