Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ashton Meeting Place to return to Planning Board

But project on Derrick’s Corner across the street not yet ready

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The county Planning Board on Thursday will revisit plans for Ashton Meeting Place, a mixed-use development in the heart of Ashton, without considering plans for its northeast corner counterpart as originally planned.

Plans for the northeast corner property, known as Derrick’s Corner, were supposed to have been considered at the same time as plans for Ashton Meeting Place, located on the southeast corner of Ashton Road (Route 108) and New Hampshire Avenue (Route 650).

Developer Fred Nichols said the natural resources inventory for the property could not be finished and submitted in time.

Planning staff said plans — which including building a gas station and service center on the property that houses the former Kimball’s Servicenter — cannot be fully reviewed and approved by the Planning Board until issues with the property’s stormwater management are resolved.

Current plans show the stormwater running into a nearby pond in the Ashton Knolls community, but that would require permission from Ashton Knolls or acquiring that property, planning staff said.

Nichols said he recently put the property up for rent to generate income as his plans get ironed out.

According to the staff report, approval of Ashton Meeting Place is recommended with conditions, which include following a construction schedule and minor revisions.

The proposed mixed-use center would bring 74,000 square feet of retail and six single-family homes to the corner.

The project has been the subject of controversy within the Ashton community in the last few years over the size of the shopping center and how it fits with the rural character of the town.

The development of the Ashton Village Center, anchored at that intersection, also sparked the need for improvements of the roads, which include the construction of right-turn lanes.

‘‘It’s a failing intersection,” Nichols said.

Nichols partnered with the State Highway Administration to have the road improvements done in conjunction with the development. But when the Planning Board rejected the initial plan for Ashton Meeting Place last year, SHA pulled its funding.

‘‘We wanted to put it towards projects that benefit motorists now,” Chuck Gischlar, SHA spokesman, said.

But if the plans are approved, state officials would put the project back in line for consideration, he said. That could happen in the next fiscal year’s budget.

‘‘Park and Planning is still holding their gun that road improvements have to be done to the intersection before we open [Ashton Meeting Place],” Nichols said.

He said he does not believe the additional wait for funds from the state would affect the project’s schedule.

The plans for the improvements and dedications of the rights-of-way are done, Nichols said.

‘‘It’s all based on dollars and whether they have the dollars available and whether we’re near the top of the list for projects,” Nichols said.