The hearing was closed, but the TPZ made no decision on the application to make facade upgrades to the commercial building at 1876 Bronson Road.
Architect John Franzen told the hearing that the building's two smaller storefronts are empty, and the lease for the Mercato will soon expire and the tenant will be leaving.
"It is a major facelift," Franzen said of the proposal, and all three retail spaces will be combined into one larger outlet, with the hopes of attracting a food market "on a neighborhood scale," like The Pantry in downtown Fairfield, selling both groceries and prepared foods.
Franzen said it has been more than a decade since there have been any improvements to the structure. All the existing lighting will be removed and replaced with lights that comply with town regulations, and new landscaping will be designed. Some of the existing sidewalks will be adapted to make them compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, Franzen said. Three bike racks will be installed and a new enclosure built for trash bins.
"It's a tremendous improvement," Hillside Road neighbor Gary Peterson said. Garbage from the Mercato landing on property across the street has been a problem, he said. "One neighbor had the entire interior of his car eaten out by rats," Peterson said. "Whatever could be done to control the garbage, we would appreciate it."
Peterson and several other neighbors mentioned that lighting on the property does not meet town regulations, and Franzen reassured them they would all be taken down and replaced with approved, downward-facing lights.
Gary Peterson's wife, Jody, was concerned about security, pointing out that she has had to call 911 in the past because people were trying to break into the Mercato. Now, she said, there are metal grates that are pulled down over the windows at night, which she said is "not attractive."
"How do we keep the area secure and safe without looking like the inner city?" Jody Peterson said.
Another Hillside Road resident, Ann Klein, said she hopes the new tenant does not have a large generator, while Christina Marson, of North Cedar Road, asked that the "integrity of the Mercato be kept" and any changes not "harm our children ... like sexual offenders ... Keep the family nature of the building, and not let it be a business of other sorts."
In response to the neighbors, Franzen said they could move the garbage enclosure to the west side of the building, and install bike racks on the east side. "We are going to have as good a garbage and recycling enclosure as we can," he said. "I would think that (the new tenant) would want to impress the neighbors with their cleanliness."
Franzen said one factor in break-ins like that have occurred there, and at other retail shops in town, is the sale of cigarettes, because they are easy to grab.
That issue should be addressed, he said, "between not having tobacco and the high tech that they can have now" for security.