Hartford panel rejects U-Haul development of former Kmart site

By Joe VanDeLaarschot

Jan. 15, 2019

HARTFORD — Officials of U-Haul Moving and Storage Company left Monday night’s Plan Commission meeting disappointed and refused to comment after the Commission voted against approving the company’s plan to redevelop the Hartford Plaza into large U-Haul Neighborhood Store. But the plan also included construction of some controversial storage buildings on a part of the property fronting Highway 60.

A motion which was approved by the Commission after being proposed by Commission Chairman and Mayor Tim Michalak which stated the Commission would only approve the concept plan proposed by the company if they built the 7,800 square-feet of storage buildings on the east and northeast corner of the property adjacent to Novak Street — not along the highway. The only member of the Commission to vote against the mayor’s motion was Scott Henke. City staff members had also recommended the plan be rejected unless the placement of the new storage buildings be changed.

Three representatives of U-Haul attended the Commission meeting, did not comment during the meeting and refused to comment as they were leaving afterward. The company proposed building the 3,000 square-foot storage building 60 feet from Highway 60 — something city officials and staff would not agree to.

“There are only three large commercial areas in the city (Hartford Plaza, Walmart site and Piggly Wiggly) and given the existing pattern of development in the city as well as the presence of wetlands and other environmental concerns its difficult to create more. I doubt anymore can be created,” said City Planner Justin Drew.

Alderman Barry Wintringer, who also serves on the Plan Commission said he believed their is an overwhelming consensus that the council would reject the proposal as well.

“The (storage) units’ garage doors would face the street, be painted bright orange and would be quite visible from Highway 60,” Drew said. “The presence of these structures would detract from the area’s commercial nature and surrounding businesses and change the nature of the one of the city’s most important business corridors.”

Drew and Michalak said U-Haul has refused to remove the mini-storage warehouse structures from the plan. U-Haul insists that since Hartford Plaza is on a frontage road rather than directly on Highway 60, the location of the mini-storage units is necessary “in order for the public to understand they offer storage services.”

“Staff disagrees and believes a sign or signs can deal with that,” Michalak said. “We said take those same storage units and push them right up against the building — we’ll give them that. If they do they will be welcome into the community. We just need a little help from them.”

Drew said if no new agreement is made with the company and the Commission still recommends the plan be rejected, the only way the company could obtain a zoning change for the plan from the Common Council is if a two-thirds majority of the council votes for the change.

The conceptual pal submitted by u-Haul conceptual included details how to redevelop the former Kmart location in the Plaza as a U-Haul Neighborhood Store. The store would have a retail showroom of about 4,000 square-feet for moving and packing supply sales and rentals, 66,000 square-feet of warehousing and truck and trailer rental which would be placed in the parking lot in front of the former Kmart building. The two mini-storage buildings that were to front on Bell Avenue (a frontage-type road between the property and Highway 60) and Novak Street were the parts of the plan city officials would not agree to permitting.

Michalak said he had asked earlier for the phone number and or email address of the U-Haul CEO so he could talk to him about the proposal, but no one from the company would provide him with that information.

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