Norwich planning commission delays action on Cumberland Farms plan

Norwich — A new Cumberland Farms store proposed at the corner of West Main Street and New London Turnpike would have a “classic New England farmhouse” appearance, with six gasoline pumps with a covered canopy, officials representing the developers told the city planning commission Tuesday.

And the $4 million project would be designed to avoid being affected by a controversial state Department of Transportation plan to restructure West Main Street-Route 82 with six roundabouts and a median divider.

One of the largest proposed roundabouts would be at the New London Turnpike intersection, but Cumberland Farms project attorney Joseph Williams told the Commission on the City Plan on Tuesday that if the DOT project goes forward, only a few of the 37 proposed parking spaces might be lost. The Cumberland Farms project was designed with more than the minimum required parking, Williams said, and the company did not want to wait to see if the DOT project goes forward.

“We know about the DOT project that is proposed for the Route 82 corridor, and we have accommodated the DOT plan,” Williams said.

After two hours of presentations by Cumberland Farms’ project officials and opponents representing a Mobil gasoline station-convenience store across West Main Street, the commission continued the public hearing to its June 19 meeting. Commission members also said they want input from the DOT on the project.

The Cumberland Farms would replace a long-vacant, abandoned former auto service station at 684 W. Main St. at the corner. That building would be demolished, along with the existing neighboring Universal Package Store building. The project engineer said existing old pavement and most of the existing utilities connections also would be demolished and replaced.

The Cumberland Farms developers worked with package store property owner Agranovitch Real Estate Holding Co. LLC, owned by Paul and Linda Agranovitch, to revise the property boundary, demolish the existing liquor store building and replace that with a new 4,906-square-foot Universal Package Store. The elongated rectangle package store, with the long portion facing the gasoline pumps and one narrow side facing West Main Street, would have 22 parking spaces along the front and side.

The package store site development plan, which did not require a public hearing, also was tabled by the commission after a brief review.

The two stores would share two entrances, one on New London Turnpike and one on West Main Street, that would replace six existing curb cuts now on the two properties and would be located as far back from the corner as possible, improving traffic safety, officials said.

The Cumberland Farms project has faced stiff opposition over the past two years from the owner of the Mobil station across West Main Street on the diagonal corner of the intersection. Three lawsuits are pending in New London Superior Court filed by owners of nearby gasoline stations challenging city zoning permits for the project and a vote by the City Council last fall to eliminate a zoning regulation that had prohibited a new gas station from being located within 1,000 feet of another station.

Attorney Harry Heller, representing Mobil station owner Savin Properties, told the commission Tuesday that while the lawsuits would not prevent the commission from approving the project, an approval could be nullified if the court challenge prevails.

Heller and technical experts speaking against the project reviewed numerous technical aspects they said were deficient in the application. Heller said the plan was submitted under the wrong section of city regulations, and said an archaeological study should have been done based on the “high sensitivity of this area.” Heller said the project would have adverse effects on residential properties to the rear of the project.

Heller also argued that the combined convenience store, gas-filling area and liquor store would be unsafe at the busy intersection. Traffic engineer David Spear, representing the opponents, said the Cumberland Farms and new package store building would generate about twice the traffic that the developers estimated.

“The real problem is the applicant is trying to put too much activity on too small a site at a very busy intersection,” Heller said.

Attorney Williams countered that the only opposition to the project was coming from paid experts hired by the owner of a “potentially competing” business across the street.

c.bessette@theday.com

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