Aldermen postpone vote on AAA's request to abandon property

Milford’s aldermen postponed a vote on abandoning city-owned land on William Street until neighbors and AAA Northeast can come to an agreement about a buffer zone between the Rowe Avenue property where AAA hopes to build a service center and the nearby residential homes.
AAA wants to construct a regional fleet service center with offices on Rowe Avenue, pending city approval to abandon the unimproved portion of William Street, called a “paper street,” and also pending zoning approval of the plans.
The Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) voted unanimously at its May 7 meeting to support AAA’s petition to abandon the portion of William Street between Finch Street and Rowe Avenue. But on June 3, Milford’s aldermen conceded to the concerns of neighbors that William Street and nearby Munson Street and Finch Street, already impacted by the adjacent light industrial area, will get even louder and more congested with the AAA service center.
Attorney Barry Knott presented conceptual plans on behalf of AAA Northeast when he went before the P&Z in May. He said AAA would combine the city-owned property with land purchased from Rowe Avenue LLC for the project.
The LLC owns a 1.84-acre property on Rowe Avenue adjacent to the city-owned portion of William Street, which is about a half acre.
The 11,340-square-foot facility would include four service bays and a warehouse area for spare parts, tires and batteries. There would also be an office area that includes a dispatch and operations center for its truck fleet. Knott said three service bays would be used to service the vehicles owned by AAA, while the fourth bay would be used to train AAA mechanics and drivers.
Matthew Yazdzik of Munson Street was among neighbors protesting the plan, fearing it will negatively impact his residential neighborhood.
“We have dump trucks and commercial vehicles up and down Munson Street constantly,” he said, adding he worries the AAA facility would bring more traffic to his road.
With a once wooded area now void of trees, and his property now facing a parking lot, Yazdzik said his property values dropped $35,000.
“I can’t afford to lose any more money on my house,” he said.
Renee Venturino of William Street raised a number of concerns, from the safety of children to environmental impacts. “It’s a shame no one took it upon themselves to address the residents,” she said.
Residents said they already have to put up with noise, lights and pollution from the light industrial area, as well as large trucks sometimes blocking the roads, and they don’t want the situation to get worse.
“We’ve seen a change, and many new families with young children,” said Arlene Lacerenza of Munson Street, “and I’m very concerned about safety.”
Mark Shaw, former CEO and now chairman of the AAA Northeast board of directors, and Knott said the company is willing to work with neighbors and make some accommodations, including an acceptable buffer zone.
According to Shaw, 70 percent of the work AAA does will be off site, wherever a customer’s car has broken down. The other 30 percent of calls will see cars taken to the service center of the customer’s choice. Disabled vehicles will not be taken back to the AAA service center.
“We are not in the repair business,” said Shaw.
The service facility will be used to maintain AAA’s own vehicles, including light duty trucks, tow trucks and flatbed trucks.
Knott said in May that employees would work in three shifts, with 60 to 70 employees working from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., and another 30 to 40 employees working from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., and only one to two drivers working the overnight shift.
Several aldermen said they have met with neighbors or visited the site and agreed there are concerns.
“I look at this site plan as encroachment, heavily encroaching on the William Street area,” said Alderman Ray Vitali. “I know I wouldn’t want to live in that area if that was happening.”
Alderman Nick Veccharelli and others suggested AAA meet with neighbors and then return with a plan that shows some kind of compromise and a sufficient buffer zone of trees and vegetation between the site and the neighbors. Alderman Dan German suggested eliminating some parking spots to create a treed buffer area, and Knott said that could be done.
Veccharelli encouraged the neighbors to work with AAA because, he said, while the neighbors don’t want more industrial activity near their homes, AAA may be better than another company.
“The property is going to get built on,” said Veccharelli. “The question is what they put back there. These guys seem like they are pretty pliable on giving a big buffer back there to maybe separate your area now from the commercial encroachment.”
Vitali said he wants to see a new site plan, with input from neighbors and questions answered. He made a motion to postpone the matter, which the other aldermen agreed to.
Knott said later in the week that he has already started talking to neighbors and will meet with them when a revised plan is finished. He hopes to return to the Board of Aldermen next month to again request abandonment of that portion of roadway.
Knott said in May that AAA has been looking for five years for a suitable location for this facility. He said it currently operates one facility in North Haven and another in Bridgeport, and wants to consolidate those operations to the Milford location. He said this would be the only AAA fleet service facility in the state.