Traffic sinks Home Depot
Traffic sinks Home Depot
Stamford Advocate - Mar 20, 2007
Despite a pledge from Home Depot to make major improvements at two intersections, board members doubted the changes would blunt the effects on homeowners in an already congested area.

"There are traffic issues that despite the applicant's best efforts - and I think they are making the best effort they can under the circumstances - that they just can't solve, especially as West Main narrows going east from the project," alternate board member David Stein said. "It's a quality of life issue on the people in the area. It imposes a burden on them and the drivers that pass through."

The home improvement giant proposed a 145,000-square-foot store with a garden center on a vacant part of the 35-acre Cytec Industries site at 1937 W. Main St.

Cytec invested $50 million in renovations to its research and development facility there since spinning off from parent American Cyanamid, officials said. After reducing the number of employees from about 1,100 three decades ago to 200, the company has looked to redevelop the rest of the site to recoup some of its investment while keeping part of its work force in Stamford.

The chemical company looked to city leaders to reward the investment with a development approval.

Last year, a Super Stop & Shop opened on the western part of the property, over the objections of neighbors on Alvord Lane concerned about traffic and other issues. The neighbors challenged the Zoning Board of Appeals approval but lost in state Superior Court. The Connecticut Supreme Court is expected to decide on their appeal later this year.

Later in 2006, Home Depot proposed a store for the site, halfway between its stores in Port Chester, N.Y., and Norwalk.

Home Depot representatives held closed meetings with neighbors and community leaders, some of whom came away saying they did not object to the proposal. The plan included a pledge that cars would not be allowed to cut through the Home Depot site to get to the supermarket.

Though pleasing neighbors, it upset Zoning Board members, who saw a connection as a way to keep that traffic from using West Main Street, a congested section of U.S. Route 1, to get from one store to the other.

Home Depot officials agreed to rebuild two major intersections, including the one at West Main Street and Harvard Avenue, where drivers would enter the Home Depot driveway.

At West Main Street and West Avenue, which a traffic report concluded would handle 40 percent of Home Depot traffic, the company agreed to install dedicated left-turn lanes on three of the approaches to the intersection.

But Home Depot's traffic report showed that, during Friday afternoon rush hour, the improvements, combined with added traffic from the store, would not significantly improve what is considered a failing intersection.

Board members said they were concerned that the West Side has accommodated its share of large retail development. The Super Stop & Shop is large enough that it creates the same effect as a big-box store such as Home Depot, Chairwoman Phyllis Kapiloff said.

Board member Maria Nakian agreed.

"It's hard to see how the people that live in the area - that predate this development - are going to put up with this," Nakian said.

Members said they would rather see more of the site used for high-tech business. It is one of the few remaining large tracts of industrial land left in Stamford.

Home Depot's proposal would have required creation of a special zoning district to allow big-box retail on an industrial site.

Kapiloff also sounded off about the city's responsibility to address the intersection, including doing a study of ways to improve traffic in the mile-long corridor of West Main Street from downtown to the Greenwich border.

Home Depot would have paid for the study if the board approved the store.

The rejection of Home Depot came after the board unanimously approved a major downtown project that will include a Ritz-Carlton hotel and 289 condominiums in two 400-foot-high towers flanking the Atlantic Street post office.

The plan will turn the historic 1916 post office into a restaurant and include 56,000 square feet of retail space on Tresser Boulevard.

"I'm sorry, but this decision did not come lightly to any of us," Kapiloff said after the vote, addressing Home Depot and Cytec representatives. "It was a very tough call. I think that what put us over the top is that it's in a very residential area. Those people are already heavily burdened now, and we just don't want to burden them any more."

Home Depot and Cytec attorneys declined to comment.