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?