REI plans to open in Milford at former Smiles site

The outdoors retailer REI plans to open a Milford location in summer 2016 at a shopping center under construction at the former Smiles Entertainment Center at 1595-1645 Boston Post Road.

Attorney John Knuff, representing the applicant, CG Milford LLC, made the announcement at the Nov. 17 Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) meeting. CG Milford, based in White Plains, N.Y., received unanimous approval from the P&Z for three minor changes for the shopping center. The board approved modifications to the special permit originally approved on July 1, 2014.

“It’s the first one of these stores anywhere between Fairfield and New Haven,” said Knuff. “It’s a real get for Milford.”

REI has 143 locations, including two in Connecticut in Norwalk and West Hartford. The Milford location puts REI into closer competition with outdoors retailer EMS, which has seven stores in Connecticut, including one in Fairfield.

Changes include a 3,298 square foot addition to the rear of the building for REI, which will be built over the parking lot, creating an underground parking garage with 82 parking spaces. The addition will be used for an extra truck bay. The REI building will be 25,000 square feet in a shopping center with three buildings and a total space of 57,136 square feet on 7.5 acres of land.

Project Engineer Raymond Paier said the addition shifts a landscaped area to another part of the property, and also increase the green area by 202 square feet.

Paier said Milford requires 271 parking spaces for the project, but it has 280 spaces. He said a proposed restaurant space has been changed to commercial use, which requires fewer parking spaces.

The modifications include improvements to a culvert that pipes Tumble Brook, and reinforcing a wall of the existing culvert with soil, said Paier. The Department of Transportation (DOT) requested the change, he said. The Inland-Wetlands Agency unanimously approved the project at its Nov. 4 meeting.

With regard to the project’s traffic plan, Paier said he is working with a traffic engineer from the DOT to finalize traffic permits for the project.

Architect Raymond Oliver said the third change for the project involved redesigning the building façade with the REI logo and color scheme.

Following the meeting, Knuff indicated the other confirmed tenant is Panera Bread restaurant, which may open as early as December. Other tenants have not been announced, as lease agreements have not been signed. During the 2014 presentation, the tenants were suggested to be Panera Bread, a Sleep Number store, and a Verizon store.

Cooper Avenue plan

In other business, the board postponed until its Dec. 1 meeting action on a coastal area management site plan review to construct a single-family residence at 45 Cooper Avenue. Marina Mitas and Aviel Suarez are the owners. The 0.05-acre property in the AE-11 flood zone has a 1,200 square foot bungalow built in 1949.

Suarez, who is also the contractor for the project, said the property is four feet above sea level at grade. The house’s two floors of living space would be constructed on piers about nine feet high. He said there would be a carport underneath where two cars would be parked.

Board member John Grant raised several questions about the project, saying the piers do not leave enough room for parking under the house. Grant also questioned the lack of supports for a deck projecting seven feet out from the house with no external support, saying the design is not allowed by the building code. Grant also said the architectural drawings did not indicate the required elevations.

In response, Suarez said, “I feel like we had addressed the underground structure. There is a 20-foot wide space. We could easily fit two cars within that space.”

The remark prompted City Planner David Sulkis to say, “The plans do not show parking. We do not know if the parking is going to work unless it is shown on the plans.”

The board directed Suarez to work with Sulkis to resolve these issues and return at the Dec. 1 meeting.

The project received a variance on March 14, 2015 from the Zoning Board of Appeals for a side yard setback on the west side of the property. Zoning requires a 10-foot side setback and the variance is allowing for a 5-foot side setback.

A request from William Saley for an 8-24 referral for abandonment of a portion of the land in front of the 0.11 acre property he and John Saley own at 88 Milford Point Road, has been temporarily withdrawn, due to an incomplete application.

According to the applicant filed by Saley, the house was a total loss due to a fire intentionally set by a tenant. A survey of the property showed the front porch was the city of Milford’s right of way from the street, prompting the request to abandon the land. He will return at a later meeting with complete information for the board to consider.