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October 3, 2011 / Greater New Britain Chamber of Commerce

Decision Time May Be Near For Revised Costco Proposal

Decision Time May Be Near For Revised Costco Proposal

By DON STACOM, dstacom@courant.comThe Hartford Courant6:47 a.m. EDT, October 3, 2011

NEW BRITAIN ——

After months of political bickering and behind-the-scenes maneuvering, the proposal to build a Costco mega-store south of Westfarms mall is likely to go to a make-or-break vote in the coming weeks.

City leaders could vote as early as Oct. 12 on whether to sell part of the municipal Stanley Golf Course for the project.

Costco and Mayor Timothy Stewart say the project would benefit the city, and are both pushing for the quickest possible approval. Stewart, the chief promoter of the deal, is leaving office after the November election and wants the sale agreement in place before then.

Several city council members have been more skeptical, with some warning that they won’t be rushed through a decision that could dramatically change the city’s northern edge. But their reluctance has receded in the weeks since Costco and Stewart put forward major revisions to the original version of the plan.

Stewart is not publicly releasing details yet, but has said an agreement with Costco would net “north of $4 million.” Costco would buy more than a dozen acres of the golf course along Hartford Road near Route 9, and build a members-club warehouse store there. The site is just south of a sprawling Target store, and barely a half-mile from the Westfarms regional mall.

Costco wants the site because of the enormous consumer traffic generated by Westfarms. That’s a terrific opportunity for the city, which has largely been shut out of the lucrative retail development around Westfarms, says William Millerick, president of New Britain’s chamber of commerce. Stewart projects that a Costco would pay $475,000 a year in property taxes, and generate up to $125,000 more through a state formula that diverts some sales tax receipts to cities.

Costco, one of the nation’s largest retailers, says its store would bring 220 full- and part-time jobs, virtually all providing health insurance.

Costco has also agreed to reimburse the city for its purchase of nearby undeveloped acreage from the state. New Britain would restore the lost golf course sections on that land. In addition, Costco is promising to reconstruct part of Hartford Road near the Route 9 exit and entrance ramps to reduce traffic congestion.

Stewart and Costco hit heavy public opposition in June when they put forward a plan that involved destroying more than a dozen acres of A.W. Stanley Park. Thousands of people signed a petition against it. Under threat that the whole project could collapse, the company responded with reworked maps that leave the park undisturbed. At the same time, Costco said that without the city’s cooperation, it would abandon the idea and instead look to build in another community in central Connecticut.

A few homeowners and environmentalists want Costco to locate its store farther east, where it wouldn’t damage the golf course or the relatively unspoiled look of Hartford Road’s woodlands. But the powerful wall of opposition has largely eroded, and the company has shown no interest in another round of revisions.

The next major decision point is Oct. 4 at 7 p.m., when the council’s zoning subcommittee meets at city hall. If it endorses the project, the full council would get to approve or reject the sale agreement on Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. at city hall.

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