During Thursday night's Planning & Zoning Commission hearing representatives of Kimball Land Holdings LLC, commissioners and supporters of the plan were all mum on the name. Then architect Gabriel Massa said "Walmart" before quickly catching himself.
Mary Orsillo of Stanley Road later spoke against the application, saying, "I believe there's an elephant in this room and it's called Walmart. It may bring in jobs and increase our tax base, but I think there is a risk/benefit. I think we'll lose whatever little businesses we have left."
Jamie Brätt, director of Planning & Development for the neighboring town of Trumbull, estimates about 19,000 cars would travel to the location — off of Route 25 — every week and called for an independent traffic study.
"This is bad for the environment. Bad for existing businesses. Bad for both towns' health, safety and welfare," Brätt said.
She added the burden of any traffic improvements would be on the public, rather than the store that would reap the benefit from it.Lee Hossler of Stanley Road, the former Economic Development Commission chairman in Monroe, spoke in favor of the proposal, expressing his hope that the store would be a catalyst toward empty commercial properties along Main Street being filled by new businesses.
Alluding to Trumbull's history of building along its borders and increasing traffic for Monroe on routes 111 and 25, Hossler said, "I find it interesting that someone from Trumbull comes up here and talks about big box stores on their rear door. It seems like the fox hunting the rabbit, then the rabbit hunting the fox."
Held in the Council Chambers of Monroe Town Hall, the public hearing for a special exception permit was continued to Dec. 5. The property is in an Industrial 3 zone.
Kimball Land Holdings is proposing a store in which 154,000-square-feet of the building would be used for retail, in addition to an enclosed garden center and seasonal sales areas outside the main facility. It would have 621 parking spaces with room for 41 additional spaces if needed.
The store would have a 24/7 operation, according to Kevin Solli, the engineer for the application.
The site — across from Victorinox Swiss Army's headquarters — would have its own onsite water treatment plant.
There would be a 31.5-foot-high acoustical wall to muffle noise from trucks at the loading dock behind the store. But Solli said the applicant would agree to reduce it to 15-feet-high with cover and sought guidance from the commission. Mitigation walls around air handling units on the roof are also be meant to reduce noise.
The property would have hydrants for fire protection, a marked crosswalk where the Rail Trail goes through the property and sidewalks in front of the building. Solli said talks with the Greater Bridgeport Transit Authority about bringing a bus route there are ongoing.
A landscape plan is meant to enhance the natural buffers between neighboring property owners and beautify the property with plantings of junipers, spruces, American Elm, cherry trees and native plants to promote wildlife habitats.
Solli said intersection improvements at routes 25 and 111, Purdy Hill and Judd roads and Spring Hill and Tashua roads, as well as improving the timing of traffic signals, will lead to no adverse impact on traffic.
Solli also said Kimball Land Holdings is looking at ways to improve its own driveway and is proposing to widen the intersection of Victoria Drive with Main Street with two through lanes northbound.
"We're working with the owners of Vishay to expand the right-of-way in this area with the capacity for future widening if needed," he said of a neighboring commercial property on Route 25.A traffic study by Solli Engineering estimates the store would generate 210 (190 entering and 20 exiting) new trips on Route 25 during the p.m. peak hour and 659 (336 entering and 323 exiting) new trips during the Saturday midday peak hour.
Putting Monroe on the Map
Thomas Peete of Countryside Drive spoke in favor of the development.
"I think we need this in Monroe," he said. "It's economic development that
we’ve lacked. Trumbull has plenty of development along 111 and 25 up to Monroe. This is something we need in
town to spark economic development, so I'm all for it."
Davinder Heslin of the Monroe Economic Development Commission expressed support on behalf of the EDC.
"We are here tonight supporting the project on 2 Victoria Drive pending approval of all other boards and commissions," she said.
Heslin said the EDC believes the project could spur more economic growth five, 10 years down the road.
"Hopefully this will put Monroe on the map," she said.'Monroe For Sale'
Sally Lundy of Little Fox Lane expressed concerns over impacts on traffic, small businesses and over services from police, fire and EMS being stretched too far. She noted how town fire companies and the EMS are run by volunteers, adding there should be a study on it.
James Romaniello of Pheasant Lane showed photos of his property from the last time Kimball prepared his land for development.
"My first concern is no one talked about the process," Romaniello said. "Walmart is gonna come in here and bulldoze and neither you or I have a say in this. The last time construction work was done, there was no consideration for people [living nearby]."
Romaniello said explosions from dynamite cracked sheetrock in his house, broke windows, popped nails, led to dirt collecting in his gutters and mud in his swimming pool. When he complained to state officials, he said he was told the work crews had water trucks — though Romaniello said he didn't see any. He also claims no lawyers would take his case.
Now he said dynamite would be used again after he paid $5,000 to fix his home.
"I know this is coming," Romaniello said. "My rights are as important as Walmart’s rights, and what I'm asking from you is to protect my rights and the rights of my neighbors."
Romaniello also said neighboring property values would go down and showed video of Walmart employees complaining about work conditions. It ended with a photo of the Town Gazebo and the words: "Monroe For Sale".
A Space Landing
Ronald Bunovsky said in order for a business like the one described in the application to survive with Monroe and Trumbulls' combined population would be to "completely consume and dominate" both.Others worried about nearby wells and the character of the small New England town being compromised.
Lois Spence noted how every 60 feet of the store's roof — which some elevated properties would look down upon — would have a skylight for a total of about 150 to 160.
"No matter how opaque you make it, there's gonna be a glow," she said. "It's gonna look like a spaceship landed in this town."