Apartment plan at Trumbull mall nears vote

TRUMBULL — The Planning and Zoning Commission could rule on a proposed 260-unit apartment complex at Westfield Trumbull mall as soon as next week as developers wrapped up their four-part presentation Thursday.

The commission has scheduled an Oct. 1 special meeting to deliberate and possibly vote on the project.

Thursday’s meeting, conducted via a hybrid of in-person and Zoom, was also the public’s chance to speak out about the proposed project, known as The Residences at Main.

About two dozen residents took the opportunity to do so.

“We received 13 letters from residents opposed to the development,” commission Secretary Tony Silber reported during the meeting, before listing the names of the writers. “We also received eight letters in support.”

While Silber did not read the complaints, critics have been concerned about traffic, the number of children who would enter the school district and saying the proposal would change the character of the neighborhood.

In addition, 34 of Westfield’s retail tenants submitted a petition in support of the development, Silber reported.

The support of the mall’s current tenants for the proposed development is part of a general thought that mixed use developments were key to revitalize shopping malls, according to Trumbull Economic and Community Development Director Rina Bakalar.

“It creates an opportunity to make this property vibrant into the future,” Bakalar told the commission. She went on to call the plans “extremely solid” and described the development group as “folks that care about the community.”

If approved, she said, the development would enhance the southern gateway into town and provide far-reaching benefits.

“Investment brings other investment,” she said.

Before concluding the presentation, Attorney John Knuff, representing the development group, described a series of changes to the proposal that had been made in response to questions and concerns from the commission and town staff.

One of the concerns was the placement of crosswalks between the apartments, proposed for north of the Main Street mall entrance, and the mall itself. Town Planner Rob Librandi said the commission was seeking easy pedestrian access to the mall.

“The goal is not to have people in the residential community get in their cars and drive to the mall,” he said.

Silber agreed, saying that people leaving the apartment complex onto Main Street, then immediately turning right to enter the mall would be a sign that “we as a committee, and perhaps you as developers, have failed.”

Knuff pointed out some of the enhancements to pedestrian accessibility, but conceded that “people are going to behave the way they behave.”

Still, even though residents of the apartment complex might get in their cars for the trip across the parking lot if it was cold or raining, or if they were doing their weekly grocery shopping at Target, he expected plenty of walkers, too.

“If people are going to have dinner at (Cheesecake Factory), or go to some entertainment venue, or do some moderate shopping where they won’t have bulky bags, then I think we’ve done everything to enhance the pedestrian experience,” he said.

Knuff also presented revised plans for the intersection of the Main Street access road with the mall’s ring road showing a narrower divider and wider left turn lanes for those leaving the mall.

The final question from town staff was about stormwater runoff at the site. Knuff said every possible drainage improvement had been made to reduce the rate and volume of runoff.

“After completion, there will be less stormwater leaving the site than currently,” he said.

Town Engineer William Maurer, who reviewed the plans, agreed. He said the water retention efforts would reduce runoff by about 15 percent.

“It more than meets our regulations,” he said.

The meeting’s most contentious point occurred during the public comment time between Commissioner Tony D’Aquila and Commission Chairman Fred Garrity.

D’Aquila commented on ADA-compliant access and the potential for school buses stopping on Main Street to pick up and drop off children at the complex’s entrance. D’Aquila proposed increasing ADA accessibility between the complex and the mall by running a shuttle bus, a suggestion Knuff rejected as being impractical and unnecessary.

But it was D’Aquila’s proposal of turning the complex’s interior driveways into public roads that drew Garrity’s ire.

“I let you go on for as far as you could go,” Garrity said. “This is a private property, private development being presented under regulations that allow it. We cannot, at the 11th hour, have new caveats, new regulations and stipulations.”

Garrity asked D’Aquila to move on to his next question but D’Aquila was undeterred.

“I do not accept your reasoning,” he said, to which Garrity replied, “Well, you don’t have to.”

State statute requires door-to-door pickup and dropoff of certain students, including those with certain special needs.

“We can remove all these problems,” he said.

Garrity in reply said that many other complexes had established that the entrance gate of a gated community met the requirement.

“One of the things you need to understand according to state statutes, and I don’t think you do based on these assumptions, is a development that has a closed gate — that is, the entrance door,” Garrity said. “So when a bus pulls up to the gate, they are meeting the door-to-door requirement. We can’t create new law.”

Knuff said his clients would be happy to allow buses to enter the complex, should the commission choose to treat The Residences at Main differently than Ten Trumbull, The Royce or any other apartment complex that has buses pick up and drop off at the gate. Deeding the internal gated roads to the town, though, was out of the question, he said.

Commissioner Anthony Chory proposed a hybrid compromise, possibly creating a pulloff in front of the complex so buses could make their stops off of Main Street. But such a change would make no difference, Knuff said.

“Traffic would still have to stop per state law,” he said.