The empty building on the corner of Main and Williams Streets, which formerly housed Pelton Drugs, will soon house a dialysis center for patients with kidney disease. The Planning and Zoning Commission approved a special exception for this use at their meeting on Wednesday evening. The developer plans to use about 15% of the space for retail, 15% for office space, and the remainder for patient treatment.
Da Vita Dialysis
The Da Vita Corporation, which purchased the successful dialysis center in Riverview Plaza, decided that they wanted to operate in a larger space on Main Street. They turned to BL Companies, which built the Rite Aid Building on the other end of the same Main Street block as the Peltons building. When Rite Aid moved from the Pelton's store into this new building, it left the former Pelton's store empty. With the approval of the dialysis center, BL will purchase the building from the current owners, and then lease the building to Da Vita. Ralph Wilson represented the owner, in the application to use the building as a dialysis center.
Bob Landino, president of BL, talked about his company's
previous efforts to rent the empty Pelton's building, "It's very difficult to find tenants who would choose a large size building on Main Street versus one on Washington Street." He said even small retail spaces on Main Street were difficult to rent, pointing to one in their own Rite Aid Building, which has not yet been rented.
Landino said that after the Da Vita Corporation turned to them to develop the Pelton's building, they presented a design to the Planning Department with no retail space at all. After discussions with City Planner Bill Warner, they compromised and designed 2,000 square feet of the 14,000 square feet building as retail space. Landino said he was not optimistic that they would be able to rent even those smaller spaces, "We aren't counting on this retail to pay the mortgage."
The vice president of Da Vita explained that the corporation has 1600 dialysis centers nationwide, with 32 divisional offices. He said Da Vita would like to move the divisional office from Avon to the new center on Main Street because it is central, and provides easy walking to restaurants and other shopping on Main Street. He said the average spending by the corporation on public relations, meetings, and entertainment in cities with divisional offices is about $450,000 per year. The Inn at Middletown, the immediate neighbor of the dialysis center, will get business from Da Vita, and Wilson presented the commissioners a letter of support for the dialysis center from the manager of The Inn.
Public Comments and a Decision
Larry McHugh, president of the Chamber of Commerce, gave his strong support for the dialysis center. He spoke to the importance of having this medical care available in Middletown, "It's a quality of life issue." He also praised Da Vita for their size, and marveled over their desire to move to our city, "It's a Fortune 500 company that wants to relocate their headquarters from Avon to Middletown. From Avon to Middletown!" He also praised the work of BL Companies, calling their Rite Aid Drive-through pharmacy building "a home run."
Jennifer Alexander, who has worked for many years to vitalize downtown, spoke out against giving an exception to allow non-retail use of a Main Street building. She said that if an exception were granted because this developer was unable to find a tenant, other property owners might also look for exceptions allowing them to turn their Main Street retail space into offices. She also questioned why other properties, away from Main Street, were not being considered by Da Vita:
What benefit does this project bring to the property values of our Main Street, to the viability of our downtown district? It's simply not true that there is no other place that would make a suitable home for this tenant. The main benefit is to the developer, and that's not a good enough reason for a special exception.
Commissioner Catherine Johnson expressed concerns that the loss of retail space would create a 'gap' in the block, reducing the mutualism between retail and natural pedestrian flow. Other commissioners were more enthusiastic, and the special exception was approved by a vote of 6-1.
Commissioners Impervious to Walgreens' Request
The Walgreens Drive-through pharmacy on Main Street Extension, currently under construction, requested a change in the conditions under which they received approval. Through the CPH Engineering firm, represented by Herbert May, they asked to be relieved of the requirement that 10 parking spaces be on a pervious surface (this reduces storm run-off pollution). Their justification for the request was that they had reduced the impervious paving elsewhere on the parking lot and drive-through areas. The Commission unanimously guffawed, rejecting a change in conditions on an approval that was only granted earlier this year.