The fast-moving drama of where to relocate the town highway garage, if indeed it is to be relocated, may well have passed a major milestone before this issue of the Observer is distributed. The events in the current chapter of that drama, centered on the existing building at 1160 South Street and the economic development of a garage-less Ffyler Place, have developed quickly since a new proposal was introduced by First Selectman Melissa Mack and developer Kevin Casey to the Selectmen and a few members of the public at the May 1 Selectmen’s meeting, as reported here last month. On May 15, the new proposal was explained in more detail to the Board of Selectmen and a small audience (fewer than two dozen) with a 44-page PowerPoint presentation, followed by audience questions and comments, both positive and negative.
It was clear from the May 15 presentation that this was not simply the garage move. Developer Casey, who had the South Street building under contract and would adapt it as required, offered to sell the adapted building to the Town for $2.4 million. He would also take possession of the old garage, demolish it, and remediate the known “brown field” contamination. On that land, he would begin the new development of Ffyler Place by building 45 attractive new apartments with market rate rents. The Selectmen approved the plan in a four-to-one vote.
The Planning and Zoning Commission liked the idea at their workshop on May 6 and is working on a text amendment to the Zoning Regulations that would allow apartments as a primary use in the Town Center zone. The Economic Development Commission supports the plan as well.
The adaptation and use of 1160 South Street for the highway garage is not without its critics. One citizen at the May 15 presentation saw no value in replacing the Ffyler Place garage, only 45 years-old. While the South Street building has 18,000 square feet of clear space, more than twice the space of the present garage, some critics have stressed that the side lot clearances wouldn’t allow the highway department trucks to turn in to a typical row of big doors on the side of the long, narrow building, whose end faces the street. The building may be wide enough to allow space for an interior passageway from a door in the end leading to perhaps diagonal bays for parking and repair, but the interior columns pose a potential problem.
The Board of Finance on June 10 approved the project pending the approval by a Town Meeting and pending the determination of the building’s suitability by an independent expert. The Board also authorized up to $50,000 for hiring such an expert, who was being sought at mid-month.
A public information session was planned for June 18, but canceled at the last minute. Still scheduled is a public hearing on June 26 (for officials to hear public comment, not vice versa). The scheduleed Town Meeting is now sometime in July.