Thursday, March 26, 2009
Planning and Zoning Approves Community Health Center Exception
Representatives of the Community Health Center hoping to build a new headquarters on the corner of Main and Grand Street won approval to construct the building without retail on the ground floor level.
The new CHC will consolidate administrative offices and medical examination rooms from several Middletown buildings into the new headquarters.
Attorney Ralph Wilson, representing CHC, claimed that the Planning and Zoning Board had no authority to rule on parking, since the building is in a B1 zone, where parking does not have to be a part of a development package. Still he, and traffic and parking consulting engineer, Joseph Balskus spent an hour demonstrating how the CHC would be providing a net increase in parking in the North End, though the current lot of 55 spaces would be reduced to 29. Additional parking would be accessed by employees and patrons at a new lot next to the former trolley barn on Kings Avenue, and in the Liberty Square parking lot.
Mark Masselli, CEO of the Community Health Center, arrived to the meeting late as a result of meeting with Connecticut representaties in Washington DC today. Masselli addressed concerns of commission member Deborah Kleckowski who worried that approving an exception for a property which is not yet owned by CHC, and is, in fact, until April 1, out on RFP (Request For Proposal). Masselli explained that in the search for federal economic stimulus dollars, the process of vetting by municipal agencies has been compressed. He apologized for the need for haste, and city planner Bill Warner explained that CHC had accepted all responsibilities for liability if their plans were not approved.
"The building is another star for the North End," Masselli said. "We're hoping to do something our forefathers dreamed of for the North End. But we're in competition with 10,000 other applicants for stimulus dollars."
Eli Cannons owner Phil Ouellette appeared and spoke in favor of the development.
"We were in the North End before anybody wanted to be in the North End," Ouellette said. "And parking is important to our business. If the parking issue is to be solved as it was described, with better lighting, safer, and more aesthetically pleasing then it is now, I support it. This would connect us to the flow of Main Street."
Neighbors living in the homes at 12 and 16 Grand Street which will be demolished to make way for new parking worried about displacement.
"I would hate to see my home destroyed," said Brenda Stassola who lives at 16 Grand. "It would be a good idea if you could find me a place to move."
"I 'm hearing that this is a stimulus project," Patrick Young of 12 Grand Street said. "I'm a laid off construction worker, and I'd love to have a job working on this project."
For his part Masselli was open to helping in the relocation of families, hiring local workers and accepting design modifications for the building, including suggestions that a ground level brick wall on Grand Street include windows.
"We have a responsibility to the community. We have a responsibility regarding housing," Masselli said. "We don't throw people out onto the street. And it's been our mission to employ local people."
The commission also approved plans for a food manufacturing plant for Norpaco Gourmet Foods in the Liberty Commerce commercial park on Bysiewicz Drive.