MERIDEN — Despite traffic concerns from neighbors, the city’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted this week to approve a zone change on Hicks Avenue to allow a bus yard to accomodate a new school transportation vendor.
ZBA members voted 5-0 to approve the application for a variance from owner CRW Systems Inc. and applicant First Student seeking a variance for a bus yard with an office in the M-2, R-1 zone. The commission agreed with First Student that a hardship existed because a bus yard is not specifically spelled out as an allowed use in an M-2 zone.
The reason it was approved was because “it helps the city,” according to board minutes.
The city is under pressure to get a new bus vendor in place after ending its contract with New Britain Transportation in September. Under terms of the deal, New Britain Transportation will continue to service the Meriden Public Schools until December, when First Student will take over.
But several residents in the Hicks Avenue neighborhood spoke out against the proposal, fearing increased traffic that could be hazardous. They cited issues related to trucks that currently use the yard.
“Streets providing access to the proposed use are adequate in width, grade, alignment and visibility, and have adequate capacity for the additional traffic generated by the proposed use, and the proposed use will not create a traffic hazard and will not block or hamper the city circulation pattern,” according to a traffic report provided by KWH Enterprise LLC.
Nearby residents disputed some of the findings in the report.
“Severe incline, poor drainage, and icy conditions in winter,” stated Hidden Valley Drive resident Steve Tommell. “The Public Works department has attempted to fix this with low capital solutions, but they have not. On the sporadic instances when a truck from the yard does approach the intersection, it usually consumes the entire timing of the light due to its size and the road’s incline. Trucks coming south on North Colony while trucks are exiting Hicks cannot navigate the intersection at the same time due to the constrained width and sharp corner.”
City Planning staff advised ZBA members and the public that their role was to rule on the proposed change in use, while the city Planning Commission ruled on traffic, landscaping, lighting and other details when it met Wednesday. Planning Commission members approved the plan on Wednesday but called for more details on the trafffic impact.
“The applicant must submit a lighting plan, to be approved by staff,” according to meeting minutes. “The applicant must submit a revised traffic report per the City Engineer’s recommendations, including the elevation of the queue. There shall be no inoperable vehicles located to the west of the property.”
The plan calls for office and storage to provide a parking bus yard for 68 to 70 school buses in the M-2 zone. The site plan indicates 24 class “A” (9-by-25-foot) buses and 44 class “D” (9-by-44-foot) buses. The school buses will be parked and used daily.
In other business, the ZBA granted final approval for a special exeption to allow pickleball courts in the Old Navy store at the Meriden Mall.
Pickleball Meriden LLC requested the special exception to give pickleball fans a place to play during inclement weather. Partners Vincent Scarpati and Michael Marotta are pickleball aficionados. Scarpati, of Manhattan, said he was perplexed by the lack of options in the winter and hopes to solve that problem for city enthusiasts.
“When we found out Meriden was building the outdoor courts, we saw it as a growing sport here in Meriden,” said Scarpati, who is the brother of city Mayor Kevin Scarpati.