Hartford Courant

Getting Ready For Big Boxes
September 9, 2005

STAFFORD -- As commercial development creeps east up I-84, Stafford is becoming an attractive location for large chain stores.

To give the town a chance to consider how to best deal with this attention, a local group is proposing a moratorium on large-scale commercial projects - those with one or more buildings totaling over 30,000 square feet.
A public hearing on the plan will be Tuesday at 7 p.m. at Stafford High School. This pause to think about development goals is worth taking.

Stafford First, which proposed the moratorium, bills itself as promoting responsible development. That's a key point. It would be unreasonable to expect Stafford to turn its back on the new tax revenues that a big box store would generate.

But money isn't everything.

A community should grow in a manner that retains its character while providing needed services as well as job opportunities.

Although no application has been submitted yet, Stafford First became concerned about large projects after Wal-Mart expressed an interest in building in town. No site has officially been chosen. But the group is worried about potential harm to the Middle River and wetlands at a possible site near routes 190 and 32.

Stafford's plan of development was updated in 1999. But zoning was addressed only in a general way. More specific guidelines are needed.

During a moratorium, the planning and zoning commission could look at issues such as where large commercial projects best fit in the community and what safeguards could make them less intrusive. It could consider new approaches such as a design review board or a gateway zone.

If the moratorium is approved, a consultant could help officials work through those ideas.

There's a place for big box stores, perhaps even in Stafford. But residents must ensure that appropriate controls are in place - before any application gets filed.