Walgreens got the green light to develop a proposal for a new building at 50 Mill St. Monday night when the Town Plan and Zoning Commission approved a zoning amendment.
The amendment – to allow a building of a greater than 5,000 square footprint – doesn’t approve the , rather it just gives the national pharmacy the okay to continue in the process of seeking submitting an application and seeking approval for a new pharmacy on Mill Street.
Though the amendment overrides the carefully crafted zoning plan for Unionville, designed to guide development in bringing back a pedestrian-friendly, old mill style village, support for the amendment and Walgreens’ arrival, stemmed from a desire to get that development moving again after years of inactivity.
The parcel at the corner of Mill Street and South Main Street, like adjacent properties on Mill Street, had been approved for development by owner Regis Collins in 2004. But economic troubles got in the way and the plan to construct a retail and residential building, never got started.
Instead, as Commission Chairman Phil Dunn described it, the community was left to look at an empty lot and a pile of rocks.
Daniel Kleinman, of Levy and Droney, attorney for Sound Development, said as a 42-year resident of Farmington, he is tired of looking at the site.
“Anyone who drives by this site, as I do almost every day, would close their eyes if they were not concerned about getting into accident,” he said. “This and the adjacent site have not been developed in all these years, with no prospects for development.”
Walgreens’ plan, though, to , incorporating its staff and pharmacist C.J. Griffin, gets Unionville development moving again, Kleinman said.
Sound Development representative Gary Eucalitto explained.
“We met with the property owner, who had had some difficulty lately. If this transaction goes through, he will complete the project. Regis [Collins] agreed to submit a letter promising to convert that building to the apartments it’s supposed to be,” Eucalitto said, referring to the brick building standing adjacent to the vacant Mill Street lot.
Community leaders, including Unionville Village Improvement Association President Timothy LeBouthillier and Town Council member John Vibert also spoke in favor of the amendment, in light of the great commitment Sound Development has shown to working with the community to realize the vision of Unionville’s future.
“I’m encouraged that what stood on the site we’re talking about was a three-story mill and the project we see has an advantage: it’ going to have a depth and height to it. And for all of us who might have gone to the pet store that was in there or run through the tunnel or the toy store that was there … it’s a building that stood and had a presence before and I think this might have a presence as well,” LeBouthillier said, reminiscing of the old Unionville that stood before redevelopment cleared many of the village’s buildings in the 1970s.
“This moves forward our vision of having a vibrant downtown streetscape, addresses our concerns for our friends at New Horizons and also through a river access plan may see us have a better access to the river we all love so much,” he said.
Dunn gave the amendment his support because of the support expressed by local organizations.
“With the support of the UVIA and their stewardship of Unioniville center, their comfort with the amendment, I am comfortable with the amendment and would support it on that basis,” Dunn said.
The vote passed unanimously.
However, Dunn told Gary Eucalitto, representing Sound Development, that the project would have to meet many other standards before it would win the final approval. He pointed specifically to traffic and noted that the old Ryan Pharmacy space would eventually be filled with another business with its own traffic.
“This is one of the worst traffic pinchpoints in town. The pharmacy already has certain established traffic, and that’s not going to change. But something will go into the Ryan space that will generate traffic - this isn’t a traffic-neutral proposal that you’re putting before us,” Dunn said.
“We’ve had many traffic studies go before us I think they tend to go to their industry standards. You would have to go well beyond the industry standard, show us not just one day of study but several and show you‘ve studied other similar-sized Walgreens in other cities, show us what’s going to happen to the Ryan building, what it’s going to be used for before you could convince me and many others who pass through Unionville every day. You would have to pass through some very small hoops that are held very high.”