Neighbors argue Walgreen's not right prescription for Southport site

A proposal to build a Walgreen's pharmacy on the Post Road in the Southport section of town drew many opponents to a Tuesday public hearing before the Town Plan and Zoning Commission, but the project also had supporters.

The hearing on the application for properties at 3553 and 3571 Post Road and 886 Kings Highway West was continued to Sept. 23. No decision was made by the TPZ on the request for a zone change and special permit.

Neighbors held up signs urging the commission to deny the zone change and "Save historic Southport." The property is located between the Twice is Nice consignment shop and the future site of a Garelick & Herbs gourmet food store. Across the street is an office building, and a day spa which is undergoing renovation. To the rear of the property, on Kings Highway West, are homes and a condominium complex.

"I would like to be consistent," said Southport resident and Representative Town Meeting member Gaylord Meyer. "There's an invasion of developers -- some are appropriate, some are not -- moving in on residential property and changing the zoning."

John Knuff, the lawyer for Walgreen's, explained that the proposed site of the pharmacy comprises four different parcels, with different zoning designations, including designed industrial and residence B. He is seeking to have them all zoned designed commercial, which he said is consistent with the town's Plan of Conservation and Development.

Knuff said it would be unlikely that anyone would develop the properties separately, at least not into what the town would want at the "gateway" to the town because of their small sizes. All together, the parcels encompass little more than one acre.

The 9,000-square-foot store, which would replace a larger Walgreen's just 600 feet to the west over the town line in Westport, would not be a typical Walgreen's, Knuff said. "This project is unique unto Southport," he said, designed with gables and windows that look like residential double-hung windows.

And in response to comments from neighbors at earlier informal meeting on the proposal, Knuff said, there would be no exit or entrance from the property onto Kings Highway West. The store would be screened from the residential neighborhood to the rear with a solid fence and "intensive" landscaping with both flowering trees and evergreens. The entrance/exit for the store from the Post Road would be controlled by the existing traffic light at Hulls Highway.

"I find it kind of cheesy to have the gateway of Fairfield represented with a corporate Walgreen's," said resident Don Worth.

TPZ Commissioner Jim Kennelly had earlier followed the same line of questioning.

"I don't see much difference between Westport and Fairfield," Kennelly said. "A Walgreen's is still fairly generic."

Knuff said Kennelly was focusing on the proposed use of the property, and not the design of the building. "If it is was a 9,000-square-foot building that looks like this and was `Jim Kennelly's Cigar and Knitting Shop,' would that be better?" Knuff asked. "What we're trying to do is strike a balance."

Local builder Arthur Hersh supported the pla, saying the project would take a "blighted piece of property, pour $2 to $3 million into it" and generate taxes for the town.

Former Selectman Sherri Steeneck, whose family has owned the property for 25 years, said she purposely waited until she was no longer serving on any town boards or commissions before making plans to develop the site. "This is my first time on this side of the table," Steeneck said, who also served stints on the TPZ and the Zoning Board of Appeals.