More than 50 people attended a second Town Forum detailing plans for plans for selling the 3.4 acre Bridge Street School property to investors who would renovate the beloved school as well as build a three-story apartment complex on the vacant land.
The issue will now go to a Town Meeting and verbal vote on Sept. 27 at 7 p.m. at Suffield High School.
The meeting was similar to the first forum last month in which developers Lexington Partner’s LLC presented their case for a need apartment living in Suffield as well as sketches of the proposed building. First Selectman Ed McAnany then facilitated a question and answer session.
While there was some support for the plan as presented many in attendance raised a variety of objections.
It wasn’t the design the people objected to as much as it was the selling of the town land. In fact, many attendees thought the building was beautiful.
“I think your plans are good. It’s nice architecture and you’ve given it some sensitivity but this ... has a multiplicity of problems.” said Janet Banks.
“My concern is we are mixing two decisions...(the project) and to sell the land whether or not it has a school on it or not.” she explained. “Why the rush?”
Patrick McMahon, Suffield’s director of development, pointed out the town had put referendums to the residents to develop the property as town offices and a recreational or library center, all of which failed.
“The folks at that time did not have the appetite to spend two to three million for town offices so nice again we have taken this off the agenda,” McMahon said.
The building is decaying and overgrown with weeds and water damage inside the building which is now used only for library book sale storage and police k-9 training. Additionally, the boiler is broken and needs to be replaced.
“The board of selectmen decided, as part of our responsibility, we have to do something rather than wait for it to fall down,” said McAnany. “The town has no use for the building.”
“We’ve got land all over the place if we were to come up (with a need).”
While the town has been renting space for offices at the cost of near $100,000 a year McAnany said he is moving those offices back into some available space on town hall and the annex next door.
There was a general feeling of displeasure over the density of the project with many in attendance saying the building is too big for small-town Suffield. At three stories tall plus a the roofline, it would be one of the taller structures in the town, although architects will take advantage of the drop in grade level.
“We look forward to meeting with the local groups to refine the design,” said Martin Kenny. “Projects evolve over time and only get better with community input.”
Still one gentleman pointed out the project fulfills one wish of many people in town: saving the school. “And someone else will pay for it!” he said.
He said to “have little faith” in the town boards and commissions to make sure it’s done right.
“This is the most exciting opportunity that’s faced Suffield since I got here - it would be foolish not to go forward,” he said. “Change and growth always present problems.”
“If we’re going to make progress this needs to happen,” said another man.
Dave Gauthier said he would do something he never does; change his mind. He’s now on the fence about the project instead of against and feels $975,000 is a good price.
Neighbors from the Brandywine Condominiums abutting the property expressed concerns over property values and already overflowing drainage systems that back up water in the condos.
"Nobody's dealt with the environmental impact," said Frank Forti who lives in Brandywine. "When it rains my wife and I have spent hours sucking up water (around the property). I'm gonna be living in a swamp."
But Kenny and the representatives said developing the site would only improve that problem as sewer systems, drainage basins and leeching fields would keep water on site and contained.
Architect Matt Koenig also tried to allay fears the residents would be looking at the back of an ugly building.
“The rear of property is just as important to us as the front,” he said. “We’re not going to turn our back on our neighbors.”
Proponents of the plan said the apartments would bring more pedestrian traffic to the businesses in the downtown district and keep it vital.
“Our expectations is it’s only going to help businesses succeed in town... it will bring vitality in community,” he said.