The Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC)’s February denial of a planned new CVS site in the center of town was greeted enthusiastically by the proposal’s numerous opponents, but an unnoticed, closed PZC meeting held late last year ahead of that decision has led to its overturn. Clinton will see a new CVS at the corner of Main and Hull streets, with the addition of some improved aesthetics—and with a drive-through.
At its July 10 meeting, the PZC voted to accept a settlement with Arista Development. Returning from an hour-long executive session, the commission announced it had the opportunity to settle a lawsuit challenging the earlier PZC decision filed by Arista. The suit was filed in part due to the commission’s unnoticed meeting in December 2016 when the CVS application was still open.
The PZC, as with all commissions, has to follow rules established to ensure fairness and transparency in its decisions and in its decision-making process. One of those safeguards is the requirement that all meetings of the commission are held publicly, with a legal notice at least 24 hours in advance to allow all interested parties to observe or record the meeting. Commissions are also required to keep and post minutes of the meeting conversation and any decisions reached.
None of those conditions were met for the Dec. 11, 2016, meeting, which was held at a commissioner’s house, reportedly to discuss removing then-PZC chair Gary Bousquet, who was not invited and did not attend the meeting.
Bousquet later learned of the meeting and filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on Jan. 3 that stated, in part, “At least one open application was discussed at this illegal meeting. This open application by a CVS developer is a highly controversial application, and 6 of the 7 members at the illegal meeting had voted against the first application by CVS.”
PZC Chairman Michael Knudsen noted that the FOIA complaint was not discussed during the July 10 meeting and was not listed as a reason for settlement between the PZC and Arista.
Ken Slater, the attorney for the commission, explained to the public after the commission came back from executive session that if the lawsuit were to continue, there was a chance the court could approve the original plans for the CVS that the commission had denied previously.
Blueprints for the plan accepted upon settlement show the 13,000-plus-square-foot CVS on the west side of the lot, with 52 parking spaces, entrances and exits on Hull Street and Route One, and a drive-through exiting on Johnson Street Extension.
Public opposition to the proposed development was vocal from the beginning, with public hearings heavily attended, mostly by citizens against the development. In addition to traffic and aesthetic concerns, many residents opposed removal of the possibly historic structures on the site.
However, only about a dozen members of the public were present for the July 10 meeting. Since the proposed CVS was the result of a settlement, Slater explained that no public hearings were required. However, Knudsen did allow for members of the public present at the meeting to share their opinion.
Five members of the community spoke, most citing traffic from Route One and from the drive-through as their chief concern. (The proposed drive-through had been removed from the developer’s latest 2016 proposal.) Some members of the public, while against the CVS, complimented the developers for fixing some of the concerns expressed at earlier public meetings, such as aesthetic issues.
“The structure is a great improvement over what was initially proposed,” said Mary Kelly Busch.
Barbra Thorpe said she had “extreme traffic concerns” with the designs and location of the CVS.
Vince Cimino noted “the public is tremendously opposed to this corner having a CVS on it at all,” and implored the commission to have a public hearing on the development.
“I think you know they don’t want a CVS on this corner,” said Cimino.
Jeffery Cashman thanked the commission for presiding over such a controversial plan, and thanked the developer for taking the public concerns into account.
Just before the vote on the application, PZC member Timothy Guerra said “CVS did what I consider an outstanding presentation to make a bad situation better.”
Slater noted that as a stipulation of the settlement, CVS would add a bus stop on the property at a later date.