In a 4-3 vote, the Town Council approved a plan to relocate New Britain Avenue in an attempt to relieve Unionville traffic. The vote followed a public hearing in which about a dozen residents spoke against the project because of potential damage to businesses and the neighborhood, with only one voice in favor.
The plan will relocate New Britain Avenue down Wall Street to Burnham Avenue, intersecting with Plainville Avenue about where Nina’s Tailor Shop is. Several buildings including two houses, the tailor shop and a rental building, Liquor Square, Airtool Sales & Service and LA Styles Salon will be demolished. The end of the existing New Britain Avenue will be blocked off, cutting down on traffic to businesses there like JW Florist and Edward Motor Service.
“I came to this town five years ago because of the traffic and visibility of New Britain Avenue,” said John Walsh, who owns JW Florist near the end of New Britain Avenue. “You cut that off on me and you’re cutting my throat as far as a business man. A lot of my business is impulse and seeing the plants reminds people… of what I’ve got.”
The Unionville Traffic Committee created, vetted and supported the plan unanimously. But at the hearing, committee member Bernie Erickson said he had changed his mind and couldn’t go forward supporting the plan.
“I had three phone calls tonight… one said ‘this is crazy,’ ‘it won’t work’ and the other person said ‘I don’t have a choice… they’re going to take my house,’” Erickson said.
Town Plan and Zoning Commission Chairman Skip Pogson said the $10 million price tag on the project is too high, with too little return, even if the money comes from state and federal funding.
Charlie Keniston, a council member and chairman of the traffic committee, said the money will be spent somewhere in the state and might as well be spent here, improving the situation for residents.
Both Keniston and John Vibert, a council member and traffic committee spokesman, stressed that doing nothing is detrimental to existing businesses throughout the region.
Council Chairman Mike Clark, at his next to last meeting on the council, said he worried that funding would disappear and the town would be left with a blighted property, as it was with the old Parsons Chevrolet lot on Route 4.
Democrat Mike Demicco requested five minutes to caucus with Vibert before a passing vote, 4-3. Clark, CJ Thomas and Nancy Nickerson voted against the plan.
The project will take between three and five years, Keniston said. A year of that will include the design phase, then the right of way phase when the DOT works out prices with property owners. The actual work will be done probably in two ‘construction cycles.’
During that time the Unionville Traffic Committee will work on a village improvement design to capitalize on the opportunity.
“We’ll be able to carefully consider the best uses of the space in the neighborhood and create what we’d like it to be,” Vibert said. “The improvement plan is about making sure the neighborhood is not left in pieces.”
With the specifics of the DOT’s plan not complete and the design plan not even begun, those affected by the project will have at least a few years to make their plans. The DOT is charged with helping displaced businesses relocate and Farmington Economic Development Coordinator Courtney Hendricson has also offered her help.