Highway Garage Planning Continues

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Photo by Lester Smith

This recent photo shows the rear end of the big warehouse at 1160 South Street (Route 75), which would be reconfigured with different doors if adapted to become the Suffield highway garage.

The plan for moving the town highway garage to South Street and allow apartments on its old  Ffyler Place location has hit something of a speed bump, but continues to surge forward. It’s been a complicated administrative process, involving many Town boards and commissions, all of which have shown strong, though not entirely unanimous support. By mid-August, the effort had paused to await the outcome of a certified engineering evaluation of whether the existing building at 1160 South Street, with promised repairs and adaptations, would be satisfactory for its proposed use as the relocated garage.

In a straw vote on May 28, the Board of Finance had voted 5 – 1 to support sending the plan to a Town Meeting. After considerable discussion on June 10, they authorized the acquisition of the South Street property for $2.4M and the transfer of the old garage, conditioned on its evaluated suitability and final approval by the Selectmen, the Finance Board again, and a Town Meeting. This vote was 4 – 2.

The Planning and Zoning Commission had held a May 6 workshop on the plan as it affected Ffyler Place, then voted unanimously on June 17 to approve an amendment to the Suffield Zoning Regulations to allow apartments as a primary use on a handful of parcels in the Town Center Village District, which still allows residential use only as accessory to commercial use.

The Economic Development Commission’s official approval was not required by Town regulations, but the Commission issued a message to the residents of Suffield giving its unanimous support to the highway garage’s relocation and the proposed apartments on Ffyler Place.

In response to the requirement for an engineering evaluation of the South Street building, the Board of Selectmen, in a special meeting on June 24, rescinded the previous call for a Town Meeting on June 27, which had been planned to ask the Town’s approval for the project.

Two days later on the 26th, the Selectmen’s June meeting in the Middle School auditorium included a public information session with a new PowerPoint presentation providing data on the financial benefit of the project and new details on the adaptation of the existing building, including its substantial office space. The office space could house public works and building officials of the Town as well as provide “swing space” for Town Hall employees during the planned renovation of that building. (See Page 6.) An interesting detail was the proposed new access driveway through Town property north of the new warehouse next door at 1150 South Street. This driveway would loop behind the neighboring warehouse to access the main truck doors on the east end of the highway garage as well as a new fueling station and salt shed, both on the existing Town property.

First Selectman Melissa Mack began a long public hearing that followed, commenting that moving the highway garage had been a Town goal since 2004, costing $148,000 so far. She said the present plan was a good solution. Developer Kevin Casey spoke, as well, describing the planned renovations he would make to the South Street building before delivering it to the Town. The question and comment period that followed concerned details of the finances and the proposed Tax Incentive Funding. The interior space for truck maneuvering and parking was questioned, along with roof leaks, north wall issues, and much more. There were indications of both skepticism and support from the citizens present. Several people recommended that the issue should go to referendum, not just to a Town Meeting.

The issue of a referendum on the garage/Ffyler project was discussed by the Selectmen the following month at their July 17 meeting. First Selectman Mack said she would put the matter on the agenda of a future meeting after a Town Meeting on the project had been held.

In the meantime, “due diligence” has been under way, with various tests and evaluations.  First Selectman Mack told the Observer that a report from the Town’s consultant and another from developer Casey have addressed the building’s problems and the required corrections.  

Most significantly, borings showed that the concrete floor was too thin to support the required loads.  Adding a thick overlay would correct that problem, as well as simplify installation of underfloor piping. The ceiling height is sufficient to allow the raised floor.

Issues of who would pay the cost of the needed work are being negotiated with the developer.  First Selectman Mack said that when that is done, she will call a tri-board  meeting of Finance, Selectmen, and the Permanent Building Commission to consider the new offer. 

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