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BROOKFIELD Drive-thru controversy revs up

November 12, 2018

BROOKFIELD — The Zoning Commission could change rules on drive-thrus to allow Dunkin Donuts to move to the old Hearth Restaurant property.

There are already drive-thrus in the Town Center District, but the town does not have regulations on these establishments in that zone.

Neil Marcus, the attorney for Ed Batista, who owns the Dunkin Donuts in Brookfield and surrounding towns, said allowing drive-thrus would further develop downtown.

“Anything you can do as a community to make it more attractive to have retail uses in the [Town Center District] zone is the right thing to do,” Marcus said at the Zoning Commission’s recent meeting.

The town added sidewalks and other amenities last year at the area known as the Four Corners in an effort to encourage development and make the downtown more pedestrian friendly.

But some are worried encouraging drive-thrus could hinder these efforts.

In a letter to the commission, residents Maureen and Matthew Farrell said they opposed the change.

“We feel this would detract from the walkability of the newly designed Town Center, making it more dangerous for pedestrians to shop and meander as intended for the downtown area,” they wrote. “This proposed change also detracts from the historic style design of the newly designed downtown.”

Greg Dembowski, who manages the streetscape project, said he had no concerns with the proposal.

“Putting in a driveway for this application is not going to impact pedestrian safety or vehicle safety,” he said at the meeting.

But Marcus said he is not aware of any accidents with pedestrians at Batista’s drive-thrus.

“My client operates an enormous number of drive-thrus in the Danbury area,” he said. “We have no real record of pedestrian issues in the drive-thru.”

Still, the Western Connecticut Council of Governments was also concerned.

“Generally, drive-through developments do not foster an active downtown as people are encouraged to stay inside their motor vehicle and not walk around,” WestCOG said in an email to the Land Use department.

WestCOG also noted drive-thrus are often single-use developments, but Brookfield is aiming to attract mixed-use developments.

But Marcus said it is difficult to attract retailers in general, so the town would benefit from permitting drive-thrus.

“It will make the economic development of the zone more attractive,” he said.

Batista wants to move his existing store down the road to the Hearth property. The Hearth, a popular family-style restaurant that had been around since the 1960s, closed at the beginning of the year.

“It was just an institution,” Marcus said. “The fact that that type of use couldn’t survive is indicative to the fact that we’ve got to rethink what type of people we can attract. Anything you can do to make it more attractive is positive for the town.”

Marcus had applied to the commission for a zone change, but the town attorney recommended the commission consider allowing drive-thrus via a special permit. Marcus said he was O.K. with that, too.

The commission will continue a public hearing on the proposal Nov. 29.

Existing regulations only define drive-thru restaurants, but do not consider drive-thru pharmacies or banks, for example.

These types of drive-thrus are both common and convenient, especially for the elderly or those with physical disabilities, Marcus said.

“It’s enormous for people who are challenged in their movements,” he said. “We are an aging population and to the extent we can serve our aging population, why not do it?”

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