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The Costco Question

Let’s get this conversation started...

It’s no joke when nearly every news outlet in the area, save for the television stations, turn out at the regular Inland Wetlands Committee meeting for an “informal presentation of Bittersweet Master Plan Development.”

The “informal” presentation, without stating it specifically, is a plan to develop a small portion of 135 acres for Costco. However, the word Costco was never brought up, instead, Civil Engineer John Mancini of Meriden-based BL Companies presented a large-scale development plan which includes a “wholesale retail club.” Though not ready to commit to such a name, the proposed “wholesale retail club” is Costco.

Bittersweet LLC is owned by Michael Belfonti and Alfred Secondino who charged Mancini and his partner, Civil Engineer Raymond Gradwell with presenting the proposed development before the commission on Thursday night. BL Companies has represented such clients as the developers of Wal-Mart, Stop & Shop, Big Y (route 80), Hoyt Cinemas, the ongoing project on Cedar Street where Coastal Wine and Spirits is, In-Shape and Staples.

In presenting, a fairly relaxed Mancini said, “We are familiar with Branford.” He asked for feedback from the commission, stating, “We welcome comments good and bad.” He got more than earful of feedback when the group discussed that the two-acres of fill needed to transform the property was an unprecedented amount for the town.

Mancini’s reply was that the town had also never dealt with developing 135 acres. The property, which spans from route 1 just north of the town solid waste and recycling center, east to I-95 near the Travel Centers of America truck stop (see map), is comprised of 65 percent wetlands, steep slopes and upland review area. The property to be filled, two acres, would be about 1.48 percent of the area. The commission said they have only seen about half an acre filled before, but Mancini added again, that the scale of the project was also the largest the town has seen.

The “wholesale retail club” has shown interest in the Bittersweet property and Mancini stated that they were adamant about being located next to I-95. “There is a specific user that wants to be in this lot,” stated Mancini, “…that’s where this user has to go.”

The commission was troubled by the plans placing the “wholesale retail club” on the lowest part of the wetlands. They stated that wetlands are just that: wetlands; the drainage would become an issue. Mancini stated that the club would be placed in a plateau, which has an elevation of 110 feet.

Additionally, Mancini asked for right to build within 25 feet of wetlands and the commission was more in favor of building within 100 feet.

The property development team is looking at an $18 million expenditure to produce infrastructure like roads ­to connect the entire property, which could be home to a medical center on the route 1 side, eight one story office buildings (upper and lower), 34 single-family age-target residential homes, 20,000 square-feet of retail, three-story apartments (like AvalonBay in North Haven), and a wholesale retail club.

Rejecting the idea of one box, store and proposing several little boxes, Wesley Vietzke, Inland Wetlands member said, “There are ways to develop this land without destroying this land.”

Other concerns about tree removal on the upper portion became a topic of discussion in addition to the proposed wholesale club being the biggest issue on the lowest part of the property.

Inland Wetlands member, John Rusatsky, was concerned that the area would need to be devoid of many trees to meet the grading needs of the project. “It looks like an intense development plan for the site,” said Rusatsky. “I think that would have a great impact to the wetlands. There are a lot of options that could be talked about.”

Also brought up, was the fact that some of the property owned by Bittersweet fingers into Guilford on the northern boarder. When asked if he would submit a request for a presentation to Guilford, Mancini said he would not unless Guilford asked them to.

Placing the name Guilford and Costco in the same sentence brings up many feelings, as Costco recently withdrew their application to build on the “Rock Pile.”

Following the meeting Mancini said, “I think they were very understanding and very open. It’s a lot to put in front of the commission.”

The plans to develop Bittersweet as presented on Thursday night may take years or may not happen at all. “That’s why this is complicated,” said Mancini. “We don’t know when we are coming back.”

There are a lot of questions to ask here:

Does the town want a wholesale retail club?

If the Bittersweet property isn't the right place for a wholesale club, where is?

Can the town support more office and residential buildings?

Would the integrity of our wetlands be sacrificed?

Would surrounding businesses be helped or hurt by the new development?

What are your questions?

Wayne Cooke February 15, 2011 at 10:18 PM
No, R. Barba, we're not out of our minds. While Exit 53 is well-suited for a certain amount of retail--after the bridge is done--that area of town can't hold everything. In fact, I could give you a ten-page analysis of why Exit 56 is far better suited for such growth than 53 ever will be, but I have neither the space nor the time right now to do so. First hint though...5-way interchange vs. 2-way interchange.
Wayne Cooke February 15, 2011 at 11:40 PM
RE: How about turning the 135 acres into a for profit park with trails for ATVs, dirt bikes, snowmobiles. Reply: How about the liability insurance alone.
Bob F February 23, 2011 at 11:55 AM
While Having a warehouse club in town would be great, I think the eastern end of town would be a good fit. East Industrial is convienient to the highway, Theres other business in the immediate area, I'm in full support. Lets not be like Guilford and let a good property tax opportunity slip away. What also concerns me is Mr Cookes anxiety. Did this man not fight like anything to keep his families land zoned as farm land? Why destroy it? Better yet. Why not farm it again. If he's interested in doing something different, than get it re-zoned. But I do feel the people of Branford should fight to keep as much Farm Land (open Land) as possible.
Wayne Cooke February 23, 2011 at 02:35 PM
RE: What also concerns me is Mr Cookes anxiety. Did this man not fight like anything to keep his families land zoned as farm land? Why destroy it? Better yet. Why not farm it again. If he's interested in doing something different, than get it re-zoned. But I do feel the people of Branford should fight to keep as much Farm Land (open Land) as possible. REPLY: Not anxious at all. My family and other property owners at Exit 56 just want (as you would also) a fair shake at developing our property, free of DaRos' political favors to elitist political supporters in Stony Creek and free of his fraudulent political methods that have cost taxpayers over twenty million dollars and the Town's reputation at Tabor. DaRos’ unjustified and vindictive removal of our family’s farm status was simply mean-spirited and ignorant retaliation for us revealing him doing the same thing to prevent development at Exit 56 that led to him and his administration being found guilty of abuse of power, civil rights violations, and acting in bad faith at Tabor. Not to mention, being called “dishonest” by the Connecticut Supreme Court.
Bob F February 23, 2011 at 11:38 PM
Mr. Cooke. I'm 100% behind Costco coming to town. Your apparent loathe towards Mr. DaRos isn't really a factor in my comment. In fact it's not even on my radar. I would suggest you either sit down and have coffee with the man and resolve your differences, or save your anger for the voting booth in November. I had initially thought that the property out east where Costco was looking was yours. My error. It would seem that you'd be encouraging this type of proposal. Once completed it would give you a basis for wanting to develop the orchards. Costco = increased grand list for the town. Costco = Savings for the residents of town (on products they sell and fuel).
Wayne Cooke February 23, 2011 at 11:47 PM
RE: I had initially thought that the property out east where Costco was looking was yours. My error. REPLY: Since you apparently missed my first post on this issue, here it is again: DaRos steering Costco to the middle of a wetland on his pal Al Secondino's property, and away from other--more viable--sites, is such a disgusting display of abuse of power I'm not even going to comment. Then again, I just did. Need I say more?
Wayne Cooke February 24, 2011 at 12:26 AM
RE: I would suggest you either sit down and have coffee with the man and resolve your differences, or save your anger for the voting booth in November. REPLY: More important than any one-time resolution of differences, or my own personal anger, is the fundamental responsibility of every citizen to demand accountability and honesty from our public officials. From that--and ultimately from an informed electorate--everything else follows.
Alana Joli Abbott April 07, 2011 at 02:50 PM
I love the idea of a Costco in town, but want to make sure that all the environmental concerns are taken well into account. Wetlands have this funny tendency to cause the buildings above them to slip, slide, leak, or have all sorts of other problems -- and buildings tend to undermine wetland ecosystems. I'm glad the Inland Wetlands are paying attention to this whole process, and I hope their recommendations are taken seriously.
Wayne Cooke April 07, 2011 at 11:04 PM
RE: NO more commercial development on the East side of town. RESPONSE: Which leaves two other development options: residential and industrial. And, since there is no longer any industry coming, exactly what kind of housing should the town allow--affordable, single-family, condos, low-income?
Wayne Cooke April 08, 2011 at 12:33 AM
RE: Since you want to hang on every word, no development at all. No affordable, low income housing, condos or muti house developments, mansions, hotels or age restricted housing. No shopping centers. Did I cover every thing? RESPONSE: LOL...Since you're so against housing and shopping areas, should we all assume you live in a cave and hunt for your food?
Wayne Cooke April 08, 2011 at 01:23 AM
I've explained our position in earlier posts and would encourage you to attend town meetings and voice your opinion . Nothing wrong with a healthy exchange of ideas. In fact, after looking at blank stares from the first selectman and RTM for three years, it would be a nice change.
Wayne Cooke April 08, 2011 at 01:30 AM
RE: I just want to save what little undeveloped areas we have left in town. I don't want to see Branford become a mini city. RESPONSE: Branford has 35% of its land area as open space, even though the state recommends only 22%. Over three hundred acres of industrial (IG-2) land remain undeveloped, most of it on the east side along Route 1. Again, come to some meetings. Your voice would be appreciated.
lynn fitzgerald April 09, 2011 at 01:00 AM
AS A CONDO OWNER, I'M OFFENDED. GUESS WHAT? YOU'VE MANAGED TO INSULT A VERY LARGE PERCENTAGE OF BRANFORD'S TAX-PAYING RESIDENTS BY LUMPING US CONDO OWNERS IN WITH YOUR NEGATIVE COMMENTS ABOUT LOW INCOME HOUSING. CONDO OWNERS CONTRIBUTE BY VOLUNTEERING AND WE PAY EXTRA FEES ON TOP OF OUR TAXES FOR THINGS YOU TAKE FOR GRANTED. OPEN SPACE IS DESIRABLE, OUR TAX RATE IS LOWER THAN SURROUNDING TOWNS AND OUR SCHOOL SYSTEM IS ONE OF THE BEST. WHY ARE YOU AGAINST LOW INCOME HOUSING? NO MONEY TO BE MADE?
Wayne Cooke April 09, 2011 at 11:18 AM
Welcome to the elitist--and ignorant--side of Branford, Lynn. What most people don't know, including RB here, is that, without condominiums, taxes in this town would be significantly higher, and programs and services significantly less, than they are today. To say nothing of the essential role which a wide selection of housing contributes to the cultural and economic diversity which has always been Branford's--and this country's--greatest strength.
Meredith April 09, 2011 at 01:11 PM
I am new to the community so I guess I do not have the generations of history/ memories (apple picking and pies). We moved to Branford in 2010 for the open areas and great schools for our kids. I love it here! That being said, Branford should find a healthy way to evolve from it's traditional agricultural economy to a prosperous family community. Let's admit it, we all pay taxes and the economy has been rough for all of us. For the record, I am a tree hugger and I support local business. Nevertheless, I admit I drive a bit further for better prices on many staple items. Although I do not want a mall down the road from my house, I do think there are viable green options that are being overlooked. Green development takes into consideration the enhancement of community development, the surrounding ecology/ environmental planning, and creative achitecture. Should we distroy the beautiful shoreline? NO! We just need to think out of the box a bit...
Meredith April 09, 2011 at 01:21 PM
Oh, I am interested in these meeting. Where/ when are they?
Wayne Cooke April 09, 2011 at 01:36 PM
Well put, Meredith. However, with a dishonest and inept first selectman--and his cult of sycophants--currently running things, don't expect much innovation and creativity from Town Hall. DaRos and his followers know one thing, and that's control, and they don't care who they hurt to keep it. As a concerned new resident, come to a Board of Selectmen or RTM meeting and ask how Town Hall lost twenty million dollars of taxpayer money and why Branford was called "dishonest" by the Connecticut Supreme Court. When all you get in return are blank stares, you'll begin to understand why your suggestion of "thinking outside the box" will fall on deaf ears well.
Wayne Cooke April 09, 2011 at 01:44 PM
For the meeting schedule, check out the calendar on the town website: http://www.branford-ct.gov Hope to see you there.
Bob F April 09, 2011 at 01:47 PM
Mr Cooke. I gather from your last post that you no longer want RB to attend any BOS meetings any more. Seems like you need to sit down and have coffee with a lot of folks. My memory was jogged by RB's comment regarding Laurel Street. While I agree with your right to save old structures. What I recalled and remembered to be extremely annoying was your request before the town that the tax payers help you pay for your legal expenses in that quest. I believe it was something to the tune of $3.00 per citizen. I also seem to recall that it was shortly after that that the Store seemed to start going down hill and eventually closed. If I may be allowed to make a suggestion. It seems that you've become a lightning rod for controversy. Why not step back and let another family member take up the pursuit of land development on the family estate. Someone who hasn't managed to annoy a fraction of the town, doesn't speak at every town meetings (and get saluted with Birds of wisdom along the way), Someone who doesn't tow an (Sanford and son era) eyesore around the green with music blaring thru roof speakers. Than maybe something constructive can become of the old orchards.
Meredith April 09, 2011 at 02:26 PM
Ahhhhh, that's your truck right by the YMCA? Just last week my 6 year old daughter asked me about that.... Without knowing all of the background, I explained to her that we live in the greatest country in the world that respects the "freedom of speech" of all of its citizens. I salute your passion. That said, I am sure we can manage some type of compromise/ Green Development plan that will keep the entire community satisfied with future of the area.
Wayne Cooke April 09, 2011 at 02:53 PM
RE: Thanks for the invite however, you don't want me at the meetings. RESPONSE: Actually, I really do, RB...and bring Bob with you. After three years of hearing "I'm not answering that" from the first selectman, and staring at the blank and clueless faces of (most) RTM members, your voices would be appreciated. And, for the record, Bob, remember that much of the Laurel Street School legal expense was incurred restoring a fair and legal referendum process in Branford, which, being the town’s responsibility, it should have paid for. As for Hilltop closing, let’s just say it was for a lot of reasons, some my fault--or at least my responsibility--and some simply because it was time to move to other things. (Yes, like going to town meetings and driving a trailer around the green).
joewee April 10, 2011 at 03:50 AM
joewee-- wayne....what is your problem????your family was loved by this town and you have discraced them...why??? for self gain???? please go away..you are destroying all of my childhood memories and you are making yourself look like the village idiot!!!!!
Wayne Cooke April 10, 2011 at 10:09 AM
LOL...Actually, my family is quite supportive, but if you feel so strongly about what I say and do, come to a meeting and prove me wrong. Your voice would be a welcome addition. As for your childhood memories, Joe, did they ever include a first selectman who was found guilty of abuse of power, acting in bad faith, and civil rights violations; who was called "dishonest" by the Connecticut Supreme Court; and who has cost the taxpayers over twenty million dollars? With all respect, if those things are OK with you, perhaps you should rethink who the "village idiot" really is.
Bob F April 10, 2011 at 03:30 PM
It's actually kind of interesting how the original issue issue at hand in this article had somehow managed to Morph into a discussion about a village idiot. My beliefs are such A) I'd love to see COSTCO come into town would support it regardless of where they want to build it. B) Wayne. I do honestly believe your actions are only making your case worse. I listed to peoples remarks as you were driving the heap around town , and I have to tell you...... They weren't flattering at all. And I don't think your problems are going to easily fade when Unk DaRos leaves office. With regard to going to town meetings. Not likely. Please realize how nuts this has become when it's gotten to the point that an elder politico got annoyed enough to flip you off. While I agree that it wasn't the place or time. I'd also be willing to wager that there were more than a few others in the room who wish they had the nerve to beat her to the punch. I sincerely wish you'd take my thoughts to heart and drop back for a bit and work on plan B,C,D,E or F. Cause what your doing now is destroying your cause. Folks tend to shy away from the Wing-Nut in the crowd. Costco.... Bring em on. Don't care if it's your families property, the old Bittersweet land or Cherry Hill. I say bring them on.
Wayne Cooke April 10, 2011 at 04:08 PM
RE: Folks tend to shy away from the Wing-Nut in the crowd. RESPONSE: Like I said, Bob, if having a first selectman, who was found guilty of abuse of power, acting in bad faith, and civil rights violations; who was called "dishonest" by the Connecticut Supreme Court; who has cost the taxpayers over twenty million dollars; who continuously "misspeaks" about a missing legal report for a year-and-a-half, in order to obstruct justice and protect a former town attorney and political ally from a possible legal malpractice suit; who vindictively and vexatiously uses town counsel to attack political opponents; who attempts to sneak an ill-advised senior center swap by the town, and then--when the plan collapses--falsifies information and statements to the Board of Finance and Board of Education; who subverts and manipulates the zoning process to illegally steer development to his friends and associates; and who repeatedly lies to Branford citizens and public officials whenever it suits his agenda, is OK with you, perhaps you should reevaluate who the "wing-nut" really is. See you on the Green.
Nicole Ball April 10, 2011 at 04:26 PM
Greetings all. I just want to take some time to say thanks for engaging in dialogue here. While some issues have strayed from the heart of the matter, should a "big box store" come here, it's important to remember a lot of this conversation and tangential ones are based upon land, land use, preservation and property. The "big box store" is one example of the larger picture of how much those in town care about how their land is developed or how their tax dollars may be affected by land development or lack thereof. Again, I thank everyone for weighing in and I too believe the more people at public meetings, the better regardless of where you stand.
Wayne Cooke April 11, 2011 at 12:10 AM
RE: The "big box store" is one example of the larger picture of how much those in town care about how their land is developed or how their tax dollars may be affected by land development or lack thereof. RESPONSE: Actually, Nicole, beyond the larger issue of land development, is the even larger issue of good government . Not to repeat myself, but, when any of your readers--Bob, or Joe, or RB or anyone else--comes to a meeting and explains to us all why having a first selectman, who was found guilty of abuse of power, acting in bad faith, and civil rights violations; who was called "dishonest" by the Connecticut Supreme Court; who has cost the taxpayers over twenty million dollars; who continuously "misspeaks" about a missing legal report for a year-and-a-half, in order to obstruct justice and protect a former town attorney and political ally from a possible legal malpractice suit; who vindictively and vexatiously uses town counsel to attack political opponents; who attempts to sneak an ill-advised senior center swap by the town, and then--when the plan collapses--falsifies information and statements to the Board of Finance and Board of Education; who subverts and manipulates the zoning process to illegally steer development to his friends and associates; and who repeatedly lies to Branford citizens and public officials whenever it suits his agenda, is good for the Town of Branford, I, for one, will publicly stand corrected and no longer attend town meetings.
SolarPete September 25, 2011 at 02:48 AM
remove them must have had my glasses off blind as a Cooke
Wayne Cooke September 25, 2011 at 03:15 AM
RE: blind as a Cooke RESPONSE: Meaning what, dogbreath?
SolarPete September 25, 2011 at 12:02 PM
Now Wayne when my glasses are off I have hard time spelling and seeing. It is good to see that u are on the ball. Now toss it back so I can play fetch. It was suppose to be Cookie as in fig newtons!

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