DEEP RIVER – Aesthetics, increased traffic, safety, and its impact on a small-town environment were the main concerns of about 90 residents who gathered for a July 19 public hearing.
The 9,900 square foot pharmacy will have a colonial style building with decorative railing on the roof, pillars in the front, architectural grade shingles, and windows facing north towards Town Hall and east toward Main Street.
A covered sidewalk is planned for the north and east sides while two drive-thru windows for prescriptions will be located on the west side.
Next to the town hall will be a proposed 49-space parking lot for used for visitors and employees to town hall and Walgreens employees and customers.
There is also a proposal for six additional street-side spaces on Main Street in front of the pharmacy.
Vehicles would enter the lot on Main Street directly across from the driveway near West Marine Express or could enter it off Elm Street next to town hall.
Residents cited concerns of vehicles driving across the street between Walgreens and the Deep River Shopping Center and how that would impact traffic flows on Main Street.
A traffic study performed by the applicant concluded the area’s general speed is 38 mph with an advisory speed of 25 mph.
Vehicles currently use Veteran’s Way to cut off the traffic light at Main Street but the project would discourage that movement since a proposed town hall expansion and parking lot would replace the Veteran’s Way area.
An increase of 90-100 more trips during peak periods is predicted by the applicant and they are hopeful trips would be combined to encourage Walgreens customers go downtown to shop.
Frank Santore cautioned the accuracy of the traffic study since it did not take into account the proposed expansion of the Cumberland Farms gas station and convenience store.
Santore expressed concern that if Main Street has too much traffic, drivers could use the side residential roads for relief thus causing a burden on nearby residents.
John Olson said he is not interested in hearing about an increase in traffic because Main Street used to act as the main north-south route until 1969 when Route 9 opened resulting in a large decrease of traffic.
“There is less development now than there ever was before…we must negotiate a deal that is within the law and time limits,” Olson said.
Fred Jordan cautioned “big box stores are community busters” and warns Walgreens could hurt local merchants who sell the same items such as greeting cards.
“Essex and Deep River guard their downtown districts jealously and we are selling ours short,” Jordan said.
Selectman Richard Foust disagreed stating “it will bring people to town and businesses want people to come to town.”
Foust said he believes the pharmacy will look nicer than the former LaPlace Furniture Store.
Torrance Downs, a Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency planner, wrote in a letter that the project is a “win-win situation” since it would allow a town hall expansion, more parking for town hall, and eliminates a structure inconsistent with the Route 154 streetscape.
The building’s architect stated sixteen different schemes have been submitted and the structure will represent a restoration of an 1893 building but stays away from Mason materials mimicking Town Hall.
The proposed design of Walgreens is similar to the store in Guilford on Boston Post Road, resident Rachelle Nelson said.
Nelson said their Walgreens “doesn’t fit into the area” and urged the committee to “get a plan to see what it would look like compared with other buildings (in downtown).”
Paul Gurda said he “doesn’t want to see a commercial building trying to match or liken itself to town hall” and explained the 34 foot tall entrance of the store is a “damn big entry these days for a modest size retail outlet.”
Santoro disagreed and believed the pharmacy should “mirror the architecture of the Town Hall” but cautioned “matters under consideration have the potential to affect the center of Deep River for 100 years and that it is important to get it right.”
Several residents questioned whether the town center could handle both an expanded Cumberland Farms and a Walgreens.
The Clinton Walgreens has a brick façade unlike the vinyl siding façade proposed for Deep River.
Jonathan Kastner, Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman, told the audience “you don’t want my taste dictating Main Street, that’s not how we work” and the commission must work within its regulations.
Kastner admitted there are many unanswered questions regarding the proposal from both commission members and residents and said four hours after the meeting started that “we cannot conclude tonight, we must continue” and that the commission is “asking for a streetscape view to see what it would look like.”
The public hearing will continue on July 26 at 7 p.m. in the town hall auditorium.