Details on Land Swap Still Unknown

DEEP RIVER – Hoping to hear definitive plans of a proposed land swap, fifty residents packed the auditorium only to be told by First Selectman Richard Smith that Turnpike Properties has the contract which it has not yet released to the town.

Town Attorney Jane Marsh said the town, Turnpike Properties, and Walgreens are participating in good-faith negotiations and even if the contract was available “people would not be able to understand it because it would be written in legalese”.

The proposed land swap would allow Turnpike Properties, who owns the Deep River Shopping Center, to acquire 184-188 Main Street for a 9,960-square-foot Walgreens store while the former LaPlace store at 180 Main Street would be demolished and the company would build a shared parking lot owned by the town.

“There has been no final agreement on respect to parking,” Marsh said, adding, “Walgreens national company has certain requirements it think it wants.”

Marsh said a newly appointed representative of Walgreens complicates the land swap even more.

Walgreens is quite concerned, Marsh said, whether the 40-space parking lot will provide adequate parking for their customers.

Proposing to have a half-hour time limit on parking spaces since the lot will be smaller than proposed, Marsh said, “We are not agreeing to policing of the lot to see how long people will stay.”

The space reduction is the result of the DOT’s denial to allow street side parking and the town’s denial to allow parking on the town hall property which was never part of the land swap approved by voters in December 2004 by 347-183.

Although they are not required to have a new referendum, the Board of Selectmen decided to have one to address residents’ concerns.

Smith had hoped the parking lot would act as a municipal parking lot for both pharmacy and town hall use with no restrictions.
In the latest conversations between the town and Walgreens, Walgreens has told the town it wants four of spaces to be signed “for Walgreens customers only”.

Marsh believes the issue of reserved parking is so important to Walgreens; it could pull out of the project if the town is unwilling to compromise on it.

“You have to give some, to get some,” Smith said.

Admitting residents’ concerns focus on design elements, Smith, proposed possibly giving Walgreens six reserved parking spaces in exchange for an agreement to change the look of the store’s front.

Smith suggested residents who do not like the Walgreens design to submit their own designs to the Board of Selectmen who will forward them to Turnpike Properties as alternative plans.

“If the land swap doesn’t happen, the town won’t have a pharmacy,” Smith said.

“I didn’t vote for the land swap (in 2004) but do want the pharmacy,” Selectman Richard Foust said, adding, “If we have to do the land swap I will support it if it is needed for the pharmacy.”

Some questioned whether Walgreens would hurt local businesses but Foust said, “If you truly support local businesses and you make it a habit to shop there, they won’t go out of business. It really is a choice for Deep River residents, if they want them in business, they will shop there.”

Smith said the time for negotiation is not over despite the 21 condition approval given by the Planning and Zoning Commission on August 7.

“There is a three to four week lag time on every change discussed,” Marsh said, adding she is unsure whether Walgreens will be willing to meet those conditions.

Those conditions include the elimination of a second drive-thru, prohibition on merchandise or shopping carts stored outside, lowering the entrance tower to be no higher than the peak of the roof, and modifying the proposed northern Main Street driveway to be an entrance only, contingent on approval from DOT.

Additionally, delivery trucks with more than two axels will not be allowed to enter or exit through the Route 80 driveway and delivery times will be restricted to 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday thru Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday only.

Smith said the Board of Selectmen are expected to set a date for the referendum at the August 22 meeting, adding it would be at least thirty days after the meeting.

“I care about Deep River and I think the pharmacy is important and in some cases have gotten emotional for it,” Smith said.

Based on Clinton’s assessment of CVS and Walgreens buildings based on Deep River’s mill rate, Tax Assessor Robin O’Loughlin estimates the pharmacy would provide the town with increased tax revenue between $5,000 to $10,000.

As of July 31, 2006, Walgreens had 58 locations throughout Connecticut with regional stores operating in Clinton, Guilford, and Middletown.

The chain has a total of 5,401 stores in the United States and expects to have over 7,000 stores open in 2010.

Based on previous 12-month sales on July 31, 2006, Walgreens reported a $46.8 million profit, a higher profit than their competition which includes drug store chains CVS and Rite Aid.

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