Approximately 50 people attended a hearing on the proposed development for the town-owned Bridge Street School site, Thursday night.
Lexintgon Partner's LLC owner Kenny Martin and New England Construction representatives showed residents plans for the 3.4 acre parcel. It would keep and renovate the exisitng Bridge Street School and also build a multi-family residential apartment property in a new three-story, horseshoe-shaped structure built on the open field. The proposal also calls for 2,000 square feet of retail on the north side of the school building.
"We're trying to balance the needs of the site with creating the critical mass necessary (to make it profitable)," said Kenny during the slidshow presentation.
The school has been closed for eight years now, and is used occassionally for police training and library storage.
During an open discussion period several residents qustioned the three-story scale of the property, although Barton Architects Matt Koenig explained the various ways the buildings are aligned to be conscious of neighbors and sitelines from the street "in a sympathetic approach.
It might seem off-scale, Koenig said, but when seen in context on the property "it makes sense."
Other's questioned the impact on the Suffield Schools enrollment numbers and fear of the project falling through mid-development.
Kenny said financing will be attained up-front and First Selectman Ed McAnany said he "has no intention of letting the project languish, if the townspeople agree to move it forward."
As for school impact, Kenny said the luxury apartments he builds are typically not filled with young families, and impact on the school should be minimal.
The demand for apartments is high, said Kenny.
"More people are renting because they don't believe the American dream of owning an home is best for them," he explained.
The apartments would see rents at market rates of about $810 to $2,100 a month.
A few local real estate agentss and also Chris Childs, a member of the finance board, questioned the current appraisal of the property and said the town should develop a long-range plan before selling off properties, especially in the center of town. Lexington Partner's has offered $975,000 for the property and promises to keep the school building and renovate it. Other bids for the property came in at $400,000 and $600,000.
Partick McMahon, economic development director, said the property was valued at $1.7 million before the recession, but there has not been a new valuation.
"If we want to preserve teh school, there is a trade-off," he said. "If it was raw land it would be another story."
This new development is expected to bring $160,000 a year in taxes to the town.
Janet Banks, who previously served on many town committees, said there should be a land-use plan in place and selling town property should be discussed before proposals are requested.
"In the 46 years I've lived in town, after every two years (of a new selectman) we change ideas of what we want to accomplish in town.... it's frustrating," she explained. "Once we sell the land, guys, it's gone."
First Selectman McAnany responded that was the purpose of this hearing. A town vote via town meeting would need to take place this fall if any project was to go forward.
Several comments complimented the architecture of the new buildings, however there was a suggestion to make it look less like "a Marriott."
Dick Miner, who lives across from the parcel, said he hopes the development would find ways to make Bridge Street safer to cross into the business center.
Other audience members expressed displeasure over losing town green space and the playground and ball field currently on the site.
McAnany explained there are three other areas for recreation in town, Bruce Park, McAlister School and Sunrise Park.
George Beiter, Board of Education member, said he likes to see progress in town and the ability to debate the issues and also expressed an interest in the project using "green" materials.
Kenny said it was his intention to incorporate environmentally friendly intiatives.
"When we come to a community we try to become part of that community and we want to become part of Suffield," Kenny said.
The Board of Selectmen voted this month to move on with this project, and turned down a second bid proposal of about $600,000 that featured commercial and condominiums. The town representatives felt the community would be better served by apartments.
According to the town, 11 percent of the town is served by condos (there are 703 condos in town now with an additional 72 units approved to be built in the near future.) Apartments for rent in town are sporadically placed with only a few larger developments like the 84 units at Suffield West, 40 at Park Place Senior Apartments and 18 at a new development on Boston Neck Road.