The Town Plan and Zoning Commission on Tuesday gave unanimous approval to plans for a day-care center to open at the former Stratfield Market -- where neighbors subsequently waged a years-long battle against a Walgreen's pharmacy -- but some commissioners said they did so reluctantly.
The former grocery store as been empty for seven and a half years while neighbors successfully fought the Walgreen's project all the way to the state's highest court. They also lobbied in support of zoning regulations changes that now limit what is allowed in a designed neighborhood business district.
A day-care center is a permitted use in such a district, and many neighbors voiced support at an earlier hearing for the application by Child's World Academy to open at the site at 1280 Stratfield Road.
"I feel the neighbors, at this point, are so distraught that they'll settle for the first thing to come along," Commissioner Anthony Calabrese said, referring to what some have complained has since become a neighborhood eyesore. "I personally think it's an awful location for this type of facility."
Like several other commissioners, Calabrese expressed concerns about traffic flow to and from the center, though he said it will generate fewer trips than a market would.
"I've lived in Stratfield for 14 years," TPZ Vice Chairman Gerry Alessi said. "I remember when it was a market and when it wasn't. When it was a market, there was no traffic pattern (in and out), it was just a free for all."
Alessi said concerns raised during the hearing by one neighbor about the traffic generated by nearby Stratfield School as a contributing factor to congestion in the area -- and many of those parents drive neighborhood children to the school who are considered "walkers." He said the day-care center will provide a "tremendous benefit" in the Stratfield area and he wholeheartedly supported the application.
Another commission member, Jim Kennelly, questioned whether the TPZ would be setting a bad precedent by approving the day-care center, since it could attract clients from other towns. The neighborhood business districts, he said, are supposed to serve residents living nearby.
"This is supposed to be mom-and-pop stores," he said of the areas with that zone classification.
Child's World Academy, owned by Ken and Pat Johnsson, has locations in Monroe and Peekskill, N.Y., and until recently, a location in Trumbull. The Trumbull site closed because the landlord has new plans for the property.
The plans call for the existing structure to be used for the center without any additions, but it will be completely renovated inside and out. Parents would enter from Stratfield Road and exit onto either New Street or Fairfield Woods Road. The main entrance would face Fairfield Woods Road.
The center has a capacity of 150 children, and there will be 25 staff members.
The owners hope to have the new center ready by the fall. It would be open from 6:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m., and might offer a summer camp if there is sufficient interest in such a program, the applicants' lawyer, John Fallon, previously told the TPZ.