By SHERIDAN CYR
The Southington Town Council had a chance to hear from the Economic Development and the Planning and Zoning Departments at their Oct. 9 meeting, continuing the council’s monthly town department presentations. Economic development director Lou Perillo and director of planning and community development Rob Phillips updated the council on ongoing projects within the departments and answered various questions.
“Anyone who is interested in coming to town, we are open for business,” said Town Council chair Chris Palmieri, “and they should contact one of you.”
Phillips shared the town’s land use review process, which he described as an “expedient” and “predictable and transparent” process in comparison to other towns. For starters, he pointed to the the land use handbook that is currently online on the home page of the town’s website, so perspective business owners can find some answers to their questions before they start reaching out to the department.
“Typically we receive an inquiry before an application, and the very first step is to involve multiple departments. Staff will visit the site biweekly, or at any time convenient to them to get staff there as necessary,” said Phillips. “We’ll go over plans, talk to them about additional information we need, and the process itself and what to expect.”
Phillips said if there is a site plan review, and no public hearing is required, it will appear on the next Planning and Zoning Commission agenda.
“It takes usually about two weeks for review, but if they’re prepared and have gone through that process, they can potentially get approval that night,” said Phillips. “That’s about as fast as it can go.”
Perillo said the town’s land use process is an effective and transparent tool.
“We’ve seen people use it and decide not to [go through with the process] because they were unaware of certain expenses or whatnot, and that’s OK,” he said. “We’d rather have that happen than have someone with their life savings invested fail.”
Officials welcomed prospective businesses to see what Southington has to offer. One of the issues councilors addressed with the department heads was the ongoing residential housing unit that has been approved on Eden Avenue, but has since stalled since the developer has backed out.
The approved site plan includes 64 residential units. A central three-story building would include 41 age-restricted units with one, two or three bedroom apartments. Around that building, three separate townhouse buildings would include 23 condominiums altogether.
“We did have a hiccup here. We’re looking for a new developer,” said Phillips. “I remain positive about that. Hopefully there’s not too much of a gap in downtime.”
In the meantime, though, councilors Dawn Miceli (D) and Victoria Triano (R) expressed concern that the unfinished plot of land is not only aesthetically unpleasant, but is a potential danger to residents.
“Quite frankly, it’s a mess back there,” said Miceli. “Is there any responsibility on the part of the past developer to do something while we wait for the next one? Because I can’t get over that it was just left that way.”
Triano called the property a “war zone,” pointing out that the adjacent plaza which features several storefronts is used every day.
“The past developer’s responsibility is to make sure the site is stabilized,” said Phillips. “That’s the minimum necessary. We are actively pursuing reconciliation.”
When a new developer commits to the project, they will have the ability to tweak certain details and come before the PZC with a site plan medication or a special permit modification, but ultimately, all developers must follow the town’s zoning regulations and policies.
Councilor Mike Riccio (R) said the proposed project should be encouraged.
“The project that was proposed before was kind of ugly, and the density was extreme,” he said, referring to the original proposal of 86 units. “This project before us now is actually aesthetically gorgeous in my personal opinion.”
He said the trend across the country is to move back to the center of the community where one can walk to shops, restaurants, the post office, the town hall, and have quick access to those amenities.
“That’s exactly what this project does, and the result is, it feeds our downtown,” said Riccio.
The project on Eden Ave. will be on hold until a new developer is secured.