OLD SAYBROOK – The aesthetical appearance of a proposed shopping center was on the minds of members of the Planning Commission while some of the residents concerns centered more on traffic and sedimentation.
The proposal by Max’s Place, LLC calls for 135,000 square feet of retail space with seven buildings at the junction of Spencer Plains Road and Boston Post Road.
While the 63,400 square-foot Big Y Supermarket and three other buildings, including a 21,000 square foot Borders Books, Music and Café, would be in the rear of the site, four small buildings would directly abut a road.
According to Roberta Smith, Vice Chair of the Chalker Beach Association, the project will only add more traffic to an area of town already quite congested in the summer and increase drainage to the Chalker Beach area which already has flooding problems.
The traffic congestion caused by a shopping center with 771 parking spaces will “degrade and impede access to town,” Smith said.
Smith said currently “driving in the summer (near the proposed site) is almost impossible” when existing Chalker Beach Road onto Route 1 and said “an 18-wheeler tractor trailer going down Center Road is a very dangerous situation that will tie up traffic.”
“It is not worth the safety of Chalker Beach residents and Old Saybrook residents to save 10 cents on a head of lettuce,” Smith said.
Attorney Mark Shipman representing the Smith and the Chalker Beach Association warned the commission to look at the “maximum potential development of the site.”
Shipman said the commission needs to “consider the impact to tidal wetlands located next to my client’s property.”
Increased traffic is another factor Shipman advised the committee to seriously consider especially in “avoiding congestion on streets and highways.”
Congestion may not be totally realized, however, when Big Y opens its doors. Attorney David Royston, representing the applicant, said while the developer would like to build all the buildings in one phase, it is possible the project will be done in stages.
“Phase 1 would be Big Y, the parking lot, and roadway with the rest of the area left in the same stage as it is now,” Royston said, adding phase two would require a building fronting a street to be built simultaneously with one at the rear of the plaza and the possibility of a similar phase three regarding remaining buildings.
“There will not be more than three phases,” Royston said.
“I have a discomfort with phasing because I feel phase two or three could never get done,” Aresco said, adding that he challenges Big Y and other supermarkets to break away from conventional design involving a fully visible storefront behind a “sea of parking.”
Planning Commission Chair Robert McIntyre said the construction of the Big Y building alone would leave a gap since no front building would block the parking lot.
To solve this problem, commission member Salvatore Aresco suggested Big Y be built closer to the street and that the building should “look like four buildings”, each highlighting different aspects of the store.
“The facades should be joined together,” Aresco said.
As an example, Aresco pointed to the Saybrook Country Barn expansion being built at the junction of Main Street and Boston Post Road.
“The Saybrook Country Barn is one building but the architecture created jogs and different types of materials making it look like three buildings,” Aersco said, adding in contrast the Big Y store would be “one big flat building.”
In terms of something he does not want to see, McIntyre pointed to the Big Y in Groton which has “huge Big Y arches” and is “text book branding.”
Site plans done by F.A. Hesketh and Associates show that the exterior of the store would have a similar appearance to the Groton store with the inclusion of glass elements near the entrances and brick columns.
McIntyre said he would like to see buildings similar to the architecture of Freeport, Maine where buildings uniquely blend in with the town.
“A supermarket looking like Anytown, USA doesn’t do anything for the town of Old Saybrook,” Aresco said, calling the proposed design “plain vanilla.”
Site plans show the exterior of Borders and other proposed retail buildings will include copulas, architectural round windows near the roof, architectural shingles, and signage lettering over a shingle background.
The commission agreed that the Big Y “lacks in detail contrasting with the details of the other buildings.”
“I expect and hope Big Y can do a better job,” Aresco said.
McIntyre said the consensus of the Planning Commission is to “get the best product possible.”
To reach that goal, the commission made several recommendations for the Zoning Commission to consider including creating a “strong streetscape” in the project’s first phase, break up facades, create more architecturally detailed features, and meet the vision of the Yale Urban Design Study Report.