Trumbull Center zone change clears way for new proposal

Porricelli's Food Mart on White Plains Road closed in December 2012, leaving the largest retail space in Trumbull Center vacant.

Porricelli's Food Mart on White Plains Road closed in December 2012, leaving the largest retail space in Trumbull Center vacant.

Hearst Connecticut Media file photo

TRUMBULL — A plan to renovate the long-languishing Trumbull center shopping plaza on White Plains Road has moved one step closer to reality, with the approval of an amendment that would allow mixed-use developments on properties meeting specific criteria in town.

On Nov. 30, the Trumbull Planning and Zoning Commission voted to approve the amendment, which would permit such developments on "properties greater than five acres with road frontage and direct traffic access to both White Plains Road and Daniels Farm Road."

The approval is expected to pave the way for a long-discussed project to mix retail and apartments at the Trumbull Center shopping plaza.

The vote — with four commissioners in favor and one abstaining — followed a work session during which the commission discussed the amendment and its potential impact on town for more than 90 minutes. 

"Tonight we have before us something that's going to change the way Trumbull Center looks for the next several decades," said commission chair Fred Garrity near the start of the meeting. "We have a plan before us that makes some great improvements and significant changes to what the Trumbull Center looks like today."

He, the other commissioners, and other officials were all quick to point out that the commission has not approved any plan yet. However, according to a statement posted on the town's website shortly after the meeting  "the approval is significant in that it provides a path forward for mixed-use development in Trumbull Center that did not previously exist."

The plan for the development has been in the works for at least a year. Last December, attorney Ray Rizio, representing Trumbull Center LLC, came before the commission with a pre-application for a plan to remove two buildings — an old professional building, and the building that used to house Starbucks and other businesses — at 900 White Plains Road, which is part of the Trumbull Center corridor. These buildings would be replaced with the mixed use property, that would include about 50 apartments. 

The amendment approved Nov. 30 would allow mixed use buildings of up to five stories, or 65 feet. During the meeting, the commissioners discussed adjusting the height cap, but ultimately decided to leave it at 65 feet.

Though owners of many of the existing businesses in Trumbull Center have voiced support for the project, many residents — including those who live near the center — have expressed concern, particularly about the apartments, fearing that they would be detrimental to the character of downtown.

The day of the meeting, a post about the meeting on the Trumbull-oriented Facebook page Keep Trumbull Real generated more than 200 comments, some in favor of the project and some against.

Garrity and other commissioners addressed the concerns some people had about the project during Wednesday's meeting. 

"What is a perfect plan?" Garrity asked rhetorically. "I don’t know that I’ve seen one in 20 years here. I don’t know that anybody has seen one. We live in a world where, wherever there’s a positive comment on a subject, there’s a negative comment. You’re never going to get everybody on the same page no matter what we discuss."

Even with the mixed-use amendment in place, Garrity pointed out that no plan to change the center would be adopted lightly. In fact, one of the conditions of the new zone created by the amendment requires the developer to get approval from all other commissions (including the Inland Wetland Commission, Police Commission and Water Pollution Control Authority) before submitting an application for the actual project to Planning and Zoning.

Commissioner Tony Silber said he knows people have reservations about the redevelopment at Trumbull Center, but he voted in favor of the amendment because he feels something needs to be done.

"I don’t think there’s a single person in this town who’s happy with Trumbull Center the way it is and I think that’s important to recognize," he said. "The center is not thriving."

Though he said he knows a mixed-use project of this sort is new to Trumbull, he said that "just because it’s never been here doesn’t make it wrong for Trumbull."