More Objections to East St. Plan

Proposed Landscaping Plan
Proposed Landscaping Plan

More of the same objec­tions from neighbors to the Barton House being razed and replaced with a medical building and 60-space park­ing lot on East Street took up the first portion of Tuesday night’s Zoning Commission meeting, with concerns rang­ing from traffic congestion to the preservation of the village center’s historic and architec­tural character.

The project, proposed by 34 East St. LLC, was designed by Paul Szymanski, an engi­neer with Arthur Howland Associates in New Milford. The plan would include demol­ishing the old Barton House — most recently operated as a bed and breakfast by its for­mer owners, Ray and Rachel Barton —and constructing a medical office building with 10 to 12 office with a parking lot. The building’s footprint is 5,567 square feet, with a base­ment, a main and second floor of offices for a total of more than 15,000 square feet.

Two weeks ago, residents of Whittlesey Avenue, East Street and other nearby neighborhoods voiced their concerns about the impact of the newest addition to East Street/Route 202 on the area. Two years ago, the old Morey’s IGA supermarket was sold to CVS drugstore, which tore it down and built a new pharmacy in its place. CVS was formerly located on Main Street next to the New Milford Post Office.

Although the use of the East Street property is the same—a retail establishment served by a parking lot—resi­dents living in the area say that traffic has increased on this area of Route 202 to the point where crossing the street is nearly impossible at certain times of the day, that traffic accidents are more of a hazard, and that the character of the village center—which includes the village green and its side streets—is being destroyed by commercial development on Route 202. The idea of having a medical building, with 10 to 12 offices serving patients throughout the day, is not a good fit for the neighborhood, residents say.

Rendering from North
Rendering from North

“The traffic study shows volume will change —that’s true, it already has,” he said. “The state says 14,000 cars use [Route 202], and that most accidents happen north or south of it … when Grove Street’s construction begins, what will happen then?”

Mr. Burkhart, who walks his dog around the neighborhood regularly, watches residents try to cope ‘with the increased traffic volume, speeding driv­ers who ignore the crosswalk signs, and the changing face of the neighborhood with increasing concern. “This traf­fic study makes it look like nothing’s happening,” he said. “It makes it look as if noth­ing will change [if the medi­cal building is constructed]. Amazing! That’s amazing.”
Other residents spoke up again about the difficulty they have crossing from Whittlesey Avenue to CVS, including Frank Schwartz, Melanie Ukraine and John Connor.

“Will there be any changes in speed enforcement?” asked Mr. Connor, who lives on Poplar Street just up the road. “Getting out of my driveway is quite a challenge.”

Commission chairman Eleanor Florio tried to quell the fears of some of the speakers at the hearing. “If we aren’t satisfied with the study or the plans, it’s our discretion whether to approve or not,” she said.
Mrs. Florio also agreed with the complaints about speed­ing traffic on Route 202. “I have traveled from the library to CVS, wheeling my granddaughter, and I agree,” she said. “Traffic is terrible. I understand your concerns.”

At the last hearing the commission was still awaiting a traffic study from the applicant. On Tuesday, the traffic study was avail­able, though the commission members said they had not had time to review it yet. Whittlesey Avenue resident Bob Burkhart, who is also president of the town’s Trust for Historic Preservation, had reviewed the study and criti­cized it for being unrealistic.

Rendering from Northwest
Rendering from Northwest

Several people suggested that the applicant for the proj­ect reconsider its decision to raze the old building, and find a way to use it instead. But so far that idea isn’t being con­sidered, based on the age of the old Barton House and the expense to renovate it.

Lynn Baldwin, a property owner who with her husband renovated a building on the corner of Whittlesey Avenue across from the Union Savings Bank property, called the changes to the neighborhood “a travesty.”

“There’s no way you can maintain the integrity of a New England village by removing the Barton house,” she said. “People here have spent thousands and thou­sands of dollars to keep these old buildings just the way they are.”

The hearing, which was supposed to conclude on July 8 and set a 65-day deadline for the commission to vote on the project, was extended to July 29, at the request of the project’s engineer, Mr. Szymanski.

By Emily M. Olson – New Milford Times

Rendering from Whitlessey Ave.
Rendering from Whitlessey Ave.

 

 

 

 

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