Trumbull weighs car charging station at mall

TRUMBULL — Owners of electric vehicles will have to wait another month to learn if they will be able to charge their cars while they walk around the Westfield mall.

The Planning and Zoning Commission heard an application at its Nov. 18 meeting from Electrify America, which is seeking to install four DC-current fast chargers in the mall’s parking lot. The chargers would be able to fully charge an electric car within about a half-hour and would notify vehicle owners through an app when the charging was complete, company representatives said.

After a brief discussion of the application, the commission suspended the hearing until its Dec. 16 meeting to give the company time to review the commissioners’ safety and asthetic concerns.

“This will give them time to consider alternate locations or (enhanced) landscaping,” commission Chairman Fred Garrity said.

The company had planned to install the chargers in eight parking spaces located adjacent to an esplanade just off the mall’s Ring Road, the term used for the road that loops around the perimeter of the parking lots. The placement would have been to the right of traffic using the main entrance road as drivers veered left toward Target.

“I had a few concerns,” Town Planner Rob Librandi said at the hearing.

Librandi reminded the commission that it had recently spent months working with Westfield on the landscaping enhancements for the Residences at Main apartment complex that is planned across the road from the proposed charging station. The installation of an industrial-looking transformer in the area could detract from the effect the commission was trying to create, he said.

Garrity agreed, commenting that the plan was “great for the ozone layer, but terrible for the (visual) appeal.”

Beverly Baraza, a landscape architect working with Electrify America, said the company would be happy to replace the landscaping that the work disrupted. She also pointed out that when renters began occupying The Residences, the placement of fast chargers in an adjacent parking lot could be a significant draw.

“A lot of people in the apartments may have electric vehicles,” she said. “That’s a selling point in and of itself.”

Commissioners also asked why the company preferred the proposed location to an alternate site suggested by Librandi across from the rear parking deck near the Madison Ave. entrance. Marisa Gedeon answered that the rear location was 465 feet from the nearest suitable power source and installation there would be more disruptive to the mall.

Other commissioners, including Anthony D’Aquila, questioned the safety of the proposed location.

“Tractor trailers use that road and make the turn in proximity to the transformer,” he said.

The charging station would have safety measures, including pillars to prevent traffic from hitting it, Gedeon said. But she said she did not know how the pillars would react to being struck by a heavy truck.

“What kind of speeds are we talking about?” she said.

Garrity said D’Aquila had made his point.

“The answer is simple,” he said. “If a truck hits the transformer, there’s going to be an explosion.”

The thought of a transformer explosion in the mall parking lot alarmed commissioner Tony Silber.

“They blow up?” he asked.

Gedeon said transformer explosions are not like the massive fireballs in movies, but they are a possibility. She cautioned, though, against assuming traffic incidents would lead to explosions.

“I’m sure if there’s an impact, there will be a reaction,” she said. “But there are safety barriers all around it.”