Construction on Whole Foods begins

It's been almost three years in coming, but Whole Foods is finally on the way. Estimated time of arrival: early 2011.

"Everything's good to go," said Jim Wendt, Fairfield's assistant planning director. "The plan's approved. The drilling equipment's there. It will begin in earnest this week, hopefully."

On Tuesday morning, an excavation truck and a drilling and blasting truck were on the lot. Three workers walked around the property, two of them carrying an aerial map.

Asked when work would commence, one responded, "Really soon."

Summit Development, which together Greenfield Partners purchased the 11-acre property along Grasmere Avenue and Kings Highway East in 2003, later confirmed that preparation work was underway.

By the end of next year, said Felix Charney, president and CEO of the firm, the barren lot will be transformed into "Kings Crossing," a three-building shopping complex housing a Whole Foods supermarket, CVS pharmacy and other retail stores as yet undetermined.

The construction will end many years of necessary inactivity. The area had previously belonged to Handy & Harman, a precious metal manufacturing and recycling plant.

"It had quite a challenged environmental condition and it took many years for the property to be cleaned up," Charney said. "We're delighted to finally be building and delivering to this community a pre-eminent form of green grocers as well as funds to the town's tax base. And we're grateful for all the help that we've had from the first selectman and the boards and commissions who helped us get this project to a place where it's finally under construction."

Over the next six months, Charney said, workers will be preparing parking lots, leveling and grating the property and installing utilities such as water, electricity and sewer systems.

By next summer, he anticipates the foundations will be set for the buildings. The CVS building will be closest to the intersection of the two streets. The Whole Foods will be farther back in the property, much like Home Depot next door. The third building, which will be about 23,000 feet, will be along Kings Highway. The firm will start targeted marketing for that building in December, Charney said.

Whole Foods will construct the building itself, Charney said, but it should be done by early 2011. Summit Development will build the other two buildings, which could open as early as late-2009.

But first, construction workers will have to hack down a roughly 250 by 180 foot rocky hill that runs up towards Vermont Avenue. A roughly 600 by 50 foot wide swath of trees were saved behind the backyards of that street as a buffer to the construction and commerce.

Charney added that he recently attended the opening of another Whole Foods in Milford. "It's very cool, I think the town will love it," he said. "They had people selling oysters grown in Westport, breads baked in Bethel, cookies made here in Connecticut. It offers tremendous support for local farmers and producers."