Friday, October 5, 2007

Money doesn't talk, it screams

Let's forget, for a moment, any difference about design, traffic flow and usage, and talk about procedure.

The Zoning Board of Appeals met last night to talk about and pass a variance for a Rite Aid Pharmacy to be built on the corners of Main and Union Streets. It's part of something called Landmark Square, and is being proposed as a $12 million development by Centerplan Development.

The chairwoman reported that she had a relationship with the attorney representing the developer, and was a satisfied patron of Brooks Pharmacy (Brooks and Eckerd Pharmacies are owned by Rite Aid), and yet declined to recuse herself from deliberation or the vote.

The local papers report the support of the mayor and the Chamber of Commerce, and the opposition of local architect Catherine Johnson, and business-owner Jennifer Alexander. They also reported the unanimous approval for the variance.

What they don't report is that while the chairwoman read into record, letters of support by the absent Mayor Giuliano, and Larry McHugh, who was present, she failed to read into the record a letter I sent opposing the plan. That letter had to be read aloud by Catherine Johnson, after which the chairwoman expressed regrets that I was not in attendance to see the changes in the plan. Changes, by the way, which, prior to the meeting, were available only to the board and a select few other who knew there were changes in the plan, but not to the general public, who only have a chance to comment before the presentation is made.

Despite the fact that there is a clear and specific zoning regulation which prohibits drive-through windows for buildings on Main Street, the board of appeals chose to ignore the regulation and grant an exception to the developer and the pharmacy for this $12 million development deal.

BTW, the developer threatened to take his ball and go home if the exception was not granted, claiming that pharmacies are not built in this country these days without drive-through windows. Strange, in my work neighborhood in Hartford, in the past two years, two large pharmacies have been built, are doing well, and they don't have drive-throughs. It's also unlikely that if this kind of proposal were being considered for Main Street Glastonbury, Ridgefield, Litchfield or Simsbury that a drive-through would be granted. And just as unlikely that Rite Aid woould walk away from a deal to serve a populous Main Street.

A representative from Rite Aid was not at the meeting to answer questions. Rite Aid is a company with $27 billion in annual revenues, and more than 5,000 retail outlets.

Did anyone mention what will happen at the site, on Main Street, currently occupied by Rite Aid?

I used to think that having the proper design and zoning regulations on the books that we'd be able to avoid development which ignored pedestrian needs, and which didn't consider the aesthetic concerns of a historic downtown. Now, I'm beginning to realize that regulations are only as good as the boards and bureaucrats which enforce them.

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