CLINTON – The developers behind the planned reuse of the shuttered Unilever factory pitched the idea of an expanded mixed-use village around Clinton’s new train station at Monday’s Planning and Zoning meeting. The plan would include 155 apartments and 53 townhouses.
Despite opposition from neighbors on John Street concerned that the development would turn their short, residential street into a thoroughfare, the Clinton Planning and Zoning Commission approved including the two properties in the town’s Transit Oriented Development Overlay – adding 29 townhouses and a total of 73 bedrooms to the master plan for the development.
With the first phase of The Station redevelopment – 47 apartments at 9-15 John Street – expected to be completed soon, the change will allow Branford developer Michael Massimino to seek approval for more additional residential complexes
The master plan also includes developing much of the former Unilever headquarters at 1 John Street into a 136,495 square feet indoor sports facility – a plan Massimino first proposed in 2019. He said he’s in negotiations with a tenant to fill that space with turf fields, pickleball, golf simulators, a gym and activities for children.
The building would also include a restaurant and brewery, though Massimino said he doesn’t have a brewer lined up yet.
Massimino told the commission that his market studies have shown there is demand for the mix of apartments and townhouses he is proposing. He said he didn’t intend to offer age-restricted units, but would have age-targeted units, including first-floor master bedrooms.
He said he initially didn’t intend to include any affordable-restricted units, but is now considering including some affordable units when he comes back to seek further approval of different pieces of the development.
“We do not intend on doing it under statute 8-30g,” Massimino said, referencing the state affordable housing law that allows housing developers to bypass most local zoning restrictions if they include some affordable units. “It would be something where we would propose some percentage of affordable units, and when we come up for our special permits in the future, we will definitely address that.”
Massimino said that they will be seeking approval over the coming year for “phase II” of their plans, which includes redevelopment of the Unilever site, including the sports complex and 48 apartments in the original Chesebrough-Pond’s building. It also includes a block of five townhouses on Central Avenue, next to where the first set of apartments are being completed.
That set of townhouses, which sits at the edge of the proposed developments, is meant to serve as a sort of gateway or transition into The Station, he said.
Realistically, he said, they have an 18-24 month window to complete phase II. In about three years, they intend to start “phase three,” which is the block of 24 townhouses along North High Street that the commission agreed to add to the master plan on Monday.
John Street neighbors ask for traffic relief
The proposed development would fit in a stretch of land between Main Street, North High Street and John Street, with an internal roadway connecting John and North High Streets to enter and exit the complex, a conceptual map of the master plan showed.
Several neighbors of the proposed development said that they felt the additional housing and redevelopment of the Unilever site, which shuttered in 2011, was positive for the town. But they worried that the additional traffic from more than 200 new housing units would be dangerous for the people living on John Street, with people driving recklessly through their residential neighborhood.
Neighbor Taylor Boucher told the committee that the neighborhood did not want their street to become a “thoroughfare” into the development, and said that the street should be turned into a dead end.
He also pressed the commission to extend the public hearing to an in-person meeting, to give residents more of an opportunity to consider the new master plan and how it would impact their neighborhood.
“I have young children, I have animals, and I’m not willing to sacrifice either of those – as well as the neighbors on my road who are in similar circumstances, I’m not willing to sacrifice any of our children, our animals, our lives, for inflow of new traffic into this development,” Boucher said. “We’ve been here first, before this development has been proposed. And we pay our taxes. Our voices deserve to be heard.”
Massimino said he would be in favor of working with the neighborhood to turn John Street into a dead end. But Boucher said he has spoken to Clinton Police Chief Vincent DeMaio, who told him that the change needs to wait until the development is completed and a new traffic study has been completed. He urged the commission to act.
“Who’s going to console me when one of my kids gets killed by somebody that’s driving recklessly into this development, when you could have put an end to this at this point?” Boucher said.
Planning consultant John Guszkowski said that approving the zone change was the first of two steps to approving Massimino’s proposed developments. He said there will be more public hearings when the developer comes back for special exception approvals, which will also give the commission “significant discretion.”
“It appeared to me throughout this process that both the residents of John Street and Mr. Massimino are on the same page – that they would be happy to see John Street turned into, essentially a cul-de-sac, a non-through street,” Guszkowski said. “There is actually no debate about this, and [those concerns] really would be better directed to the Traffic Authority, which is headed by the Police Chief and Town Council.”
“Unlike Planning and Zoning, [the Traffic Authority] actually has the authority to change traffic on John Street,” Guszkowski said.
The commission approved the zone change by a 5-1 vote, with Alan Kravitz the lone vote against, and Jay Mandel abstaining from the vote.