Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Parkade demolition planned

By Kimberly Phillips
Journal Inquirer
February 2, 2007

MANCHESTER - Long-awaited plans to develop the vacant part of the Parkade were filed in the Planning Department this week, but the 3-inch-thick file doesn't disclose which retailer wants to move onto Broad Street.

The developer and property owner, FNM Manchester LLC, says in the application that it expects to demolish the Parkade's existing buildings and construct a 168,634-square-foot concrete block building in their place.

Additionally, 740 parking spaces would be located on the 17.2-acre parcel that abuts Bigelow Brook, the application filed Wednesday says. Site improvements include parking, paving, drainage, landscaping, utility, lighting, and signage work.

Because of the parcel's proximity to Bigelow Brook, which cuts through the southwestern part of the site, the developer must receive inland wetlands approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

FNM Manchester also is seeking a special exception from the PZC, which is required because of the scope of the project, namely the size of the parcel and the number of parking spaces.

The developer's engineers, CPH Engineers Inc. of Vernon, indicates in the application that it tried to locate improvements as far from Bigelow Brook as possible to avoid disturbing it. However, work would happen within 50 feet of the wetland.

Engineers located one driveway on Broad Street and two on Green Manor Boulevard, which would undergo striping work as part of the project, the application says.

Contact information on the application lists FNM Manchester and Berenson Associates, both of the same address in Boston. At least one principal, Theodore Berenson, is named as an officer with both companies, according to the secretary of the state's Web site.

Berenson Associates was contracted last year to build a $40 million retail, shopping, and restaurant complex in Freeport, Maine, adjacent to the LL Bean flagship store, online retail information says.

Online real estate information says Berenson Associates was responsible for updating a retail complex in New Milford that included a Stop & Shop and Wal-Mart. The complex was sold in December.

Speculation has named Wal-Mart as a possible tenant for the Parkade development. However, Chris Buchanan, senior manager of public affairs for the Arkansas-based company, said today, "We don't have any publicly announced plans for Manchester."

His comment reiterated what he said last fall when asked about such rumors: "In terms of any plans for Manchester, we don't have any publicly announced plans," he said in September.

Yet, the square footage in development plans closely mirrors Wal-Mart's own specifications and that of other regional and national stores it has plans to open.

According to Wal-Mart's Web site, its supercenters are on average 185,000 square feet with approximately 142,000 sale items in various departments, including general merchandise, grocery, and lawn and garden.

In Connecticut, four supercenters operate - North Windham, Wallingford, Lisbon, and Waterford. Only one other supercenter operates within 50 miles of Manchester, in Ware, Mass., according to the Web site.

Wal-Mart has 28 discount stores in Connecticut, its Web site says, and nationally they're an average of 101,000 square feet with 120,000 sale items.

The company operates such a store at 420 Buckland Hills Drive that's 123,520 square feet, larger than the national average, town assessment records indicate. This square footage includes a canopy garden center of 2,296 square feet and an open entrance of 380 square feet.

In recent years, Wal-Mart has tried unsuccessfully to locate a supercenter in nearby communities, namely Vernon and Stafford.

Vernon's Inland Wetlands Commission quashed Wal-Mart's plans in 2004 after three months of meetings to reach a decision that pleased many residents, some of whom belonged to Rockville Concerned Citizens for Responsible Development. That group represented about 100 families upset that a supercenter was planned for their community.

Wal-Mart had planned to build an 186,000-square-foot store with 859 parking spaces on 41.7 acres off Route 31, behind a Burger King restaurant.

Plans in Stafford were more fluid, as Wal-Mart became the commonly known tenant for a parcel at the intersection of West Stafford and Monson roads, opposite a Dunkin' Donuts.

The company never filed a formal application, but town officials said developers told them the company planned to build a 150,000-square-foot supercenter.

About the time a moratorium was set to expire last year suspending applications on developments exceeding 30,000 square feet, Stafford's Planning and Zoning Commission passed a zoning amendment that limits businesses to 40,000 square feet.

When development plans for the long-vacant section of the Parkade first were floated last summer, town officials said they were told that a 160,000-square-foot "big box"-style store would open on the parcel offering the same type of merchandise that's in Wal-Mart supercenters.

Town officials say they're unaware of which retailer would occupy the space. Eugene O'Neil, a representative of FNM Manchester, could not be reached for comment.

©Journal Inquirer 2007