Theater, offices, parking: Schlumberger site plans win commission’s approval

Theater and office uses for two of the three remaining buildings on the town’s former Schlumberger property won the Planning and Zoning Commission’s unanimous approval Tuesday, July 18, after a public hearing that discussed a traffic consultant’s report recommending study of the eventual need for a traffic light at Grove Street and Old Quarry Road.

The town’s plans would prepare the 30-acre site for leases to two tenants, and include a loop road using the two existing driveway locations off Old Quarry Road and a total of 142 parking spaces, said Steven Sullivan of the engineering firm CCA.

The town’s intended tenants are New Canaan-based design firm BassamFellows, which will have offices in the Philip Johnson Building — known by the name of the architect who designed it — and the nearby auditorium will be leased to ACT, A Contemporary Theater, which plans to put on musicals and plays.

Over the winter, town meeting voters approved leases that require the two tenants to bear the cost of renovating the buildings, which have fallen into disrepair since the town’s purchase in 2011.

The 142 parking spaces in the plans — some in parking lots, others along the loop road — are envisioned as also eventually also serving public uses that have been envisioned on the site, such as hiking trails or a cultural center with an outdoor stage.

A bluestone patio would be added near the entrance to the theater, street trees would be planted along the loop road. An “evergreen buffer” would separate the proposed parking from the 54-unit development of coach homes and condominiums off Sunset Lane on 10 acres of former Schlumberger land sold by the town to the developer Charter Group Partners.

Joanne Motta, a property owner on Sunset Lane, was the one member of the public to speak at the hearing. She was troubled by already heavy use of roads in the vicinity — Grove Street, Old Quarry Road, and Sunset Lane.

“I’m just concerned because of the traffic — people have been using that as a thoroughfare,” she said. “No speed limits.”

Commission member Stephen Cole said the town’s addition of theater and office uses south of Old Quarry Road should be considered in the context of a recent approval for five acres on the north side of Old Quarry Road for a long-term care facility and a mixed-use building with apartments over a storage facility.

“Old Quarry Road, today is a bypass road — nothing on the right side, nothing on the left side,” Cole said.

Soon, there’ll be active uses on both sides of the street.

First Selectman Rudy Marconi reminded the commission that, while the site might be mostly empty today, it had a history of more intense use.

“When Schlumberger was there, there were 150 to 200 employees at their peak,” Marconi said. Town Engineer Charles Fisher, who headed up the town’s presentation, said the traffic report by Frederick P. Clark Associates counted 240 vehicles going east and 180 going west at the site on peak commuter hour. The town’s proposed lease of the 107-seat auditorium to the theater group is expected to add “59 cars coming in” when “the auditorium is active” on a Friday or Saturday evenings

“We’re at most adding 20% more vehicles” to traffic at the site when there are productions at the theater, said Fisher.

The Frederick P. Clark Associates’ traffic report predicted “insignificant impact, if any” from the plans, Fisher said.

“I’m confident you’re not going to see a big change when auditorium is in operation, based on this report,” Fisher said.

There was less discussion about the Philip Johnson Building, which BassamFellows will use to show-off its contemporary furniture.

Commissioner John Katz sought assurances that the tenant would not be using the site for retail sales — the area is governed by a B-2 business zone which allows only limited, incidental retail uses.

“It was my recollection there was to be no retail,” Katz said. “Items on site to be shown, but not retail sales.”

“No retail,” confirmed Marconi.