As Evergreen Walk prepares to welcome two prominent new tenants, South Windsor planners likely will decide Tuesday on a proposal for 165 apartments at the retail hub.
The idea got extensive public support and only mild criticism at a recent hearing, and Town Manager Michael Maniscalco wrote that it will bring in an estimated $400,000 in new tax revenue.
Small and large merchants along with tenants of the existing Tempo apartments told planners they’re enthusiastic about more housing next to Evergreen Walk, which has struggled with commercial vacancies for several years after opening to good-sized crowds in 2004.
This year, plaza managers announced that Shake Shack and Whole Foods will be opening new outlets there, two of the best-known names to locate at Evergreen Walk in years. Last fall, Costco opened a 163,000-square-foot warehouse outlet alongside the property.
Costco told the planning and zoning commission that it supports the plan for new apartments nearby.
“Like all retailers, Costco relies on a healthy and diverse consumer market of neighboring homes and residences,” Ernie Annibale, a Costco regional manager, told the commission in a June 17 email. “The addition of 165 new units at Evergreen Walk will surely add customers for not only Costco, but for all our neighboring businesses at Evergreen Walk and throughout the area.”
Roberta Gowing, Cordelia Harrington and Rita Graicerstein, all residents of nearby Kebalo Lane, spoke against the project at the commission’s June 28 hearing. Gowing said construction would disturb wildlife on the site, and Harrington and Graicerstein both said the proposed buildings are too high.
But the overwhelming majority of comments were supportive.
“The market demand for apartments in this area is significantly increasing,” Tempo tenant Mingxi Liu wrote. “Constructing more residency buildings at Tempo would ameliorate the shortage of high-quality apartments, prevent overpricing and stimulate surrounding commercial activities.”
Tenant Matthew Papke was among the supporters who said more housing will be key to the revival of the plaza’s retail center.
“It is clear to me that any revitalization of the shops at Evergreen Walk will require additional foot traffic,” he wrote. “As a Tempo resident, I frequent the shops, and it has been sad to see so many close due to the lack of customer support.”
The owner of M&R Liquors on Buckland Road just in front of the plaza also said planners should approve a zone change for the project.
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“As our town’s second largest taxpayers, Evergreen Walk’s health and stability is of the utmost importance,” Gary Rounseville wrote. “The addition of 165 new residential units within walking distance to shops like mine will provide needed new customers and help protect one of the town’s most important assets.”
Andy Liu, owner of the Sakura Garden restaurant at the plaza, said new customers are increasingly important to Evergreen Walk businesses because of changes in retailing. In most markets, traditional malls and so-called lifestyle retail centers have lost ground to online shopping, which affects both the stores themselves as well as the hair salons, restaurants and service businesses nearby.
“A great deal has changed in the nearly two decades since Evergreen Walk first opened. Consumers have changed how they shop, and retailers and tenants have changed to remain competitive,” Liu wrote. “COVID has also taken its toll.”
Like many other supporters, Maniscalco told planners that South Windsor will need the new tax revenue and building fees to help pay for $75 million in new school reconstruction costs. And even though the land next to Evergreen Walk was initially planned for more retail, the town must adapt to the shifting retail market, he said.
“Unfortunately, the world of commercial (development) in particular has changed, and with that our original plans need to be rethought,” Maniscalco wrote.
The planning and zoning commission in January rejected a previous version of the apartment plan, saying it wouldn’t benefit the town. The developer filed a lawsuit and submitted a revised proposal that it says addresses commissioners’ concerns; the lawsuit is still pending but is expected to be dropped if the new plan is approved.
The commission is scheduled to vote Tuesday at 7 p.m. at council chambers in town hall.