Litchfield Park City Center plans lean toward high buildings, high-end businesses

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Plans for Litchfield Park’s downtown City Center, while still tentative until approved by City Council, are leaning toward a high-end retail, office and dining center with higher buildings than originally planned.

Part of the reason for inclination toward high-end retail and restaurants in the center is for cohesion with The Wigwam across the street from the site and to cater to The Wigwam’s clientele. The city also wants the center to offer something unique to be a regional draw, rather than just a local one.

“We really think that to make sure that (The Wigwam) is viable for the next 20 or 30 years, we need this development,” said Tom O’Malley, a lawyer for JDM Partners representing the Wigwam at a Planning & Zoning meeting earlier this month.

Tom O'Malley
Tom O'Malley
The Planning & Zoning Commission approved a general plan amendment for City Center, which outlines broad guidelines for the vision of the center, this month. The changes are not officially adopted until approved by City Council, who will review them in a special meeting Wednesday, Nov. 6. Council will vote on the general plan amendment either on that date or in its Wednesday, Nov. 20 meeting.

The zoning district, which includes more specific regulations for the site, has yet to be approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission or Council. Council has a deadline to vote on the general plan and zoning amendment by the end of the year. By law, any major general plan amendment must be acted on by City Council in the same calendar year it is proposed.

Building height

Original plans were to cap building heights for the mixed-use center at two stories or 35 feet with businesses able to apply to Council to allow for special permission for a third story, up to 48 feet. Planning consultant Jason Sanks said plans are trending toward allowing three stories to any business.

Jason Sanks
Jason Sanks
“In discussions with Council and this commission and the public, there may be opportunities to go three floors downtown,” Mr. Sanks said at the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting. “…We want to encourage more intense development. We want to make the most of this valuable land area, to allow a third floor — it’s usually going to be offices that are up that high.”

There are limitations to where these three-story buildings could be on the 29-acre property that includes City Hall and vacant, city-owned land around City Hall. Tentative plans are for a 150-foot buffer along three edges of the site with a two-story/35-foot height cap. Three-story buildings, with a 48-foot maximum, would be allowed on the interior of the site.

The proposed buffers are along Fairway Drive, Old Litchfield Road and Wigwam Boulevard — to the north, east and west of the site, respectively.

 “We didn’t want to have three-story buildings just kind of looming over Wigwam Boulevard and over-dominating the street,” Mr. Sanks said.

The commission discussed whether that buffer should apply to the site’s western edge along Litchfield Road as well. Commissioner David Ledyard and Chairman David Ledyard said they’d like to see the height buffer along Litchfield Road for consistency. Commissioner Vickilyn Alvey suggested the buffer could be reduced to 75 or 100 feet rather than 150.

Mr. Sanks said staff decided on the 150-foot measurement by walking out to the site and seeing what felt appropriate. It was “just really an on-the-ground, ‘how does this feel?’ measurement,” he said.

City Center also allows for a more “urban-style” architecture, as Mr. Sanks put it, with buildings allowed to be closer to each other and closer to the street than most other places of town.

Tentative City Center plans allow for buildings to have zero-foot setbacks to the road, or in other words, have the entrances come right up to the sidewalk. However, when opposite residences on the other side of the road — such as along Fairway Drive and parts of Wigwam Boulevard — buildings are required to be set back 20 feet from the sidewalk. Sidewalks are also planned to be wider at City Center, about 16-feet, to allow for increased foot traffic.

High-end amenities

Mr. Sanks said discussions of a style for City Center have gone back and forth between two concepts. The first is a “traditional small city downtown” with a wide range of uses and daily services. This would be a place where customers could, for example, go to the post office, grocery store, get a haircut and have lunch, Mr. Sanks said. The

“The other one would be a lifestyle destination where you have high-end retail shops,” Mr. Sanks said. “These are the types of uses that could really support a Wigwam, in terms of having a really beautiful destination, ‘lifestyle’ environment for them to be entertained by. People are at conference at the Wigwam, perhaps their significant others could go hang out, have lunch while they are at their conference.”

Mr. Sanks said plans are for “kind of a blend of both” concepts, but discussion at the Planning & Zoning meeting inclined toward ensuring a high-end feel rather than a “suburban-style.”

“(There is a) need to establish modified development standards for the downtown area, so that we don’t encourage suburban-style development where you have like a CVS plaza or a Fry’s Marketplace,” Mr. Sanks said.

Commissioners also disputed the inclusion of “convenience store” in the currently allowed land uses, saying they would not want something like a Circle K in City Center, unless it looked more upscale than a typical Circle K.

Mr. Sanks said determining which land uses are allowed will help shape the feel of the development.

“Uses are important because they really will establish the type of vibe, if you will, that this development will create,” he said.

Mr. O’Malley, the lawyer representing the Wigwam at the meeting, lobbied for high-end uses at City Center.

“They have to be high-end,” Mr. O’Malley said. “This is not a place for fast food restaurants. This is not a place for Circle K. This is a place for the highest-end, most unique, destination-type elements. But I also want to ask yourselves when you look at that is, is it compatible with the resort? …We need to look and say, how do the resort and this development work together?”

Mr. O’Malley said a lack of activity nearby the resort has been The Wigwam’s “Achilles’ heel.”

“The challenge we continue to have is, what do they do when they get here? And what do they do in a walkable sense? What’s near enough for our guests to be able to walk to something and how can we track people to Wigwam resort when there’s vacant land surrounding the property on the west side?” Mr. O’Malley said.

Mr. O’Malley also supported the increased heights and reduced setbacks to create a more urban feel and a sense that there is activity downtown. He added that he hoped the city would consider extending the City Center’s proposed increased heights, reduced setbacks and additional land uses to The Wigwam in the future.

“It has to be a unified plan,” Mr. O’Malley said. “You can’t look at one property and ignore the property next to it.”

Mark Carlisle can be reached at mcarlisle@newszap.com or found on Twitter @mwcarlisle.

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