Jen Alexander's post generated a lot of interest about the possibility of a mini-mall on Washington Street. It also generated a lot of comments (17 and counting), some of which included statements that are either premature or incorrect. This post is an attempt to clarify what is publicly known about the proposal, and to describe the approval and public input processes for developments in our city.
Centerplan Companies developed the Landmark Square building, which houses the Rite Aid Pharmacy near the south end of Main Street, and the dialysis center on Main Street. Landino is also the owner of Greenskies, which recently entered into a contract with the City to install solar panels on City property and sell the resulting electricity to the City.
According to Wesleyan's public blog about the Washington Street project, "Centerplan Companies ... approached Wesleyan more than a month ago regarding their plans to build a bookstore on Washington Street." According to the blog, "[Centerplan] indicated that they were finalizing leases with two additional tenants that are popular with college communities." This is consistent with reports that Chipotle and Starbucks are in discussions with Centerplan.
Based on the available information, it is likely that Centerplan has already invested considerable effort towards making this development a reality.
Developers typically start with an initial sketch or concept plan. In its later stages, this would include an artistic rendition of the development, and a calculation of costs and potential revenues. During this process, the developer would negotiate the right to purchase the necessary land, and they may line up tenants for the future building. The developer would likely have discussions with the City Planning Office, and frequently other important people in city hall, including the Mayor and influential Councilmen. Some developers also choose to discuss their concepts with neighbors, especially if there is an active neighborhood association, in order to at least gauge support and opposition before proceeding with more costly plans. Developers of commercial projects usually try to gain the support of the Chamber of Commerce, and if it might impact downtown, the Downtown Business District.
If the developer is comfortable with the concept plan and the informal reaction from City Hall is positive, their next step is the creation of a well-developed site plan and design. These are quite expensive, requiring not only architects, but also surveyors, designers, landscapers, engineers, traffic studies, etc. Once these plans are finished, they are formally submitted to the office of Planning, Conservation, and Economic Development for review by the relevant city departments, including Fire, Police, Public Works, and Water and Sewer. The proposal is then considered by the Planning and Zoning Commission, an elected city body. Any significant development requires a public hearing at P&Z, at which residents can comment on the plans. After the public hearing, P&Z will consider the plans, city department comments, and public hearing comments before voting to approve or deny the application.
The final stage of a development would be the preparation of construction documents, which translate the design into bricks and mortar.
Meaningful community input can be given at several stages. During the initial phase, when the developer is having informal discussions with City Hall, letters and phone calls from residents can influence whether the Mayor's office and the City Council members encourage the developer. Responsible developers will also be attuned to feedback from city residents, especially ones who live in the neighborhood of the proposal. In this case, Centerplan has encouraged Wesleyan feedback, Nathan Peters, Associate Vice-President for Finance wrote on the Wesleyan blog, "During this planning phase of the development, CENTERPLAN is inviting the Wesleyan community to comment on the proposal."
After the site plan and design are completed, residents can scrutinize these plans at City Hall, and then submit written and/or oral comments to the Planning and Zoning Commission on any its features.
Relationship clarification: I am a professor at Wesleyan and terrified of crossing Washington Street. I love old houses, Chipotle's, Klekolo Coffee, and Fusion Bakery.