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SOUTHWICK — Before closing the public hearing on a request by a commercial real estate developer to grant a special permit to build a Dollar General on College Highway, the design architect of the project reminded the mostly Winnfield Circle residents critical of the proposal that they have opposed previous attempts to rezone properties adjacent to the neighborhood.

“It’s not just the commercial that these folks don’t want … I can point out past [residents] of Winnfield [Circle] very concerned about anything in their backyard,” said Rob Levesque, the owner of R. Levesque Associates Inc., the Westfield firm that designed the site plan for the proposed retail store.

In February, Calito Development Group LLC, of Torrington, Connecticut, requested a permit to build a 10,640-square foot Dollar General retail store on a 3.4-acre empty lot at 771 College Hwy., zoned Business Restricted.

With the proposed location abutting the Winnfield Circle neighborhood on its southern edge, many of its residents have appeared at each of the four Planning Board public hearings on the request to voice their opposition to the project.

During the May 28 meeting of the Planning Board, the last hearing open for public comments on the project, residents once again voiced disapproval in person and by letters sent the board.

However, Levesque said, after listening to several letters read into the record by Planning Board Chair Michael Doherty — all opposed — he wanted to remind those Winnfield Circle residents the development history of the corridor on the northern portion of College Highway

“I will remind you … the Winnfield condominiums was spot zoned,” Levesque said.

He said the northern corridor on College Highway was initially zoned as Business Restricted, but that over the last 20 years the western side of the street was re-zoned bit by bit for residential.

Those zone changes started a few hundred feet south of Sunnyside Road and extended to the property line of where the Dollar General is proposed, and each was approved by Town Meeting.

However, in 2008, the Planning Board recommended that the Business Restricted zone on the western side of the corridor on the northern side of the Winnfield Circle neighborhood be changed to a Residential zone at the request of the adjacent property owners.

“You want to talk opposition, they were literally picketing outside of Town Meeting,” Levesque said referring to the Winnfield Circle residents.

He said residents bused in people to vote against the zone change and were handing out pamphlets before the annual meeting. The zone change failed, according to a report posted on the town website.

“… These folks move in … and say nothing should be allowed on College Highway because we moved there and have a beautiful property,” Levesque said.

Before Levesque spoke about the history of the corridor, he provided the board with a summation of how the developer had addressed the concerns of the neighborhood’s residents.

Since the first public hearing on the request in February, the original proposal for the design of the building has been changed to give it a more rural feel.

The design will feature a brick skirt with a clapboard wood front below an angled shingled roof façade that features a single gable and a cupola in the center of the building.

After complaints about the parking lot being too large, it was redesigned to reduce the original number of spaces from 43 to 29. Those 14 spaces are being “banked” along the front of the property, which will remain landscaped unless Dollar General finds it needs the spaces in the future.

When the Winnfield residents complained they didn’t want to see the store from their homes and condominiums, the vegetative buffer around the property was widened and a 6-foot stockade fence was added to the design.

Responding to comments that College Highway might be widened and sidewalks installed, Levesque said the state Department of Transportation has told him there are no plans now or in the distant future to change the highway, also known as Routes 10 and 202.

Winnfield residents have also said that if the store is built, there property values could be affected.

During the May 28 meeting, Inga Hotaling-Washington, making clear she was not speaking as a representative of the town’s Economic Development Commission that she chairs, said she had spoken to a Realtor in Westfield who said property values could be affected. She is not a resident of the Winnfield neighborhood.

“Homeowners have valid concerns about the potential hardship on the sale of properties,” she said.

Doherty asked her if she had any documentation she wanted to provide to the board.

Hotaling-Washington said her opinion was based on a “conversation … no numbers.”

During the meeting, Richard Devine, who was one of only three non-residents of Winnfield Circle to speak during the public hearings, asked if the board had considered any legal liability the town may be exposed to if there were a vehicle crash at the proposed location.

Doherty replied that liability is incurred by the drivers involved in a crash, and whether they were following the rules of the road.

Board member Jessica Thornton then asked Devine if Winnfield Circle would be legally responsible if one of its residents caused a crash pulling in or out.

Devine said there would be a “heck of a lot more traffic coming out of the Dollar General than Winnfield Circle,” which got an immediate response from Doherty, Thornton and board member David Sutton.

“I would disagree with that completely,” Doherty said, which Thornton and Sutton seconded.

Levesque jumped in and said the average traffic in and out of Winnfield Circle is 10 to 11 trips per unit per day. There are more than 40 residential units along the circle.

After that exchange, Doherty said the board would write a decision and during its next meeting on June 25 deliberate and decide on the permit application.

cclark@thereminder.com | + posts