Redevelopment plan for Vitti/Cross area could include post office
Calling Vitti and Cross streets the most neglected part of New Canaan, town officials and a local developer are turning their attention -- and money -- to this downtown area in what is the first effort to follow recommendations outlined in the latest Plan of Conservation and Development.
As the Planning and Zoning Commission studies how to improve that area, 3M Capital Trust LLC has wasted no time in taking advantage of the "relaxation" of zoning regulations suggested in the Plan of Conservation and Development, which took effect in August.
The application filed Oct. 6 proposes a 3.5-story, mixed-use building at 16 Cross St. What's more, the applicant, who quotes the plan throughout his letter, is currently negotiating with the United States Postal Service to have the local post office as its anchor tenant.
"In summary, the development will represent a significant improvement over existing conditions, enhance the character and beauty of the downtown area, provide needed residential units for downtown, provide office space for the post office and/or other commercial uses, and provide for a diversity of housing options in a mixed-use building," attorney Stephen Finn wrote in the application on behalf of the developer.
Among many recommendations outlined in the Plan of Conservation and Development, a state-mandated 10-year plan that's meant to guide local growth and development, is one to re-evaluate appropriate uses, density and appearance of the Vitti and Cross area. At a Planning and Zoning Commission subcommittee meeting Sept. 23, Town Planner Steve Kleppin said increasing the presence of mixed-use developments there would make the area "more attractive."
"I think it makes more sense to start with Cross and Vitti streets than anywhere else," he said of the tasks outlined in the plan.
The area largely comprises service-oriented businesses, such as a car wash, a car rental office and an auto-repair shop. Kleppin called it an underappreciated part of the town, where there are large sidewalks and the distance to the train station is fairly short.
At the meeting, he announced he would hire a design consultant to reshape the vision of the area. "It's probably been neglected from folks like us in the past," he said. "I don't think there's anything there that couldn't change at some point in time. ... I think it's a good idea for us to be out front and decide how we want this area to look in the future."
Although Karp did not return calls for comment and a postal service spokesman declined to discuss ongoing negotiations, the special permit application states if a deal is reached, the developer would lease a significant portion of the building for the New Canaan post office.
Since January, when it left its location of more than 50 years on Pine Street, the post office has been operating at a temporary space at 90 Main St. through a month-to-month lease. The interim facility is much smaller than the old location and does not have a parking lot.
Karp, however, is seeking to obtain multiple text changes for this project. His property, which is in a Business B zone, is the home of Lawn Equipment Inc. and Lisa's Classic Cuts.
The proposed building would have underground parking and would comprise about 7,000 square feet of commercial space on the first floor and about 8,000 square feet of residential units on the second, third and fourth floors.
Karp's application notes that mixed-use developments are specifically mentioned in the Plan of Conservation and Development as an appropriate use for the downtown area. The document promotes "multi-story, moderate density, mixed-use development" and states that residential and/or office uses on upper floors combined with retail shops or other active uses at street level "would reflect the pattern of much of the existing development in the downtown."
The project application states that "the proposed building is attractive, will enhance the character of the downtown, provides additional green space for the downtown area, and is an appropriate development for the location."
Among the various requests in the application, Finn is asking for a special permit in order to build special residential units in the Business B zone, permission to increase the building height and the number of stories for that zone and a relaxation of the landscape standards. Additionally, the applicant seeks text changes in the zoning regulations to allow the project to be exempt from floor area ratio requirements, to allow a reduction of up to 25 percent of the required parking spaces for "an anchor use," to authorize the commission to reduce the minimum vehicular aisle width for parking spaces for two-way circulation and minimum stall depth by special permit.
"Relaxation of the Zoning Regulations is specifically contemplated by the 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development," Finn wrote in support of the application. "More specifically, pursuant to the 2014 Plan of Conservation and Development, the location for the use is appropriate, the design elements, location and nature and height of buildings and landscaping are appropriate for this site."
Although it is unusual to receive so many text change requests at once, Kleppin said the "regulations for that area haven't been looked at in depth" for many years. A proponent of mixed-use developments, Kleppin also said that this potential new building could be a precursor for work the zoning commission and his department will be doing in the next year or so.
Kleppin said he would like to work on one neighborhood or one issue per year. Another neighborhood to be studied is the area around the New Canaan train station.
The commission is expected to have a public hearing on Karp's proposal at its Oct. 28 meeting.
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