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WALLINGFORD — Lost & Found Wallingford, a small restaurant and food park aiming to offer "international flair," has been proposed for two acres of land on Mansion Road, according to a project official.
Some residents have criticized the proposed layout and questioned its impact on the environment. But Joe Flamini, one of three business partners for the project's applicant, Lost and Found Ventures, said most of the claims are misinformed and unfounded, adding that he intends to beautify the area and bring it back to life.
Plans show that an existing garage – thought to be a former woodworking business –will be torn down and replaced by a 3,000-square foot restaurant on part of the property at 10 Mansion Road. Outside the restaurant would be a "food, beverage and entertainment park" featuring shaded picnic areas, tree huts, lawn games, mobile bars and stationary food trucks, according to Flamini.
The food trucks would have many of their auto parts removed, operating more like concession stands at the beach. "We’re really trying to impress and create a really cool outdoor park vibe," Flamini said Thursday.
Flamini, who co-owns the Mexican food truck business Los Mariachis On Wheels, said the Lost and Found Wallingford's outdoor food vendors would serve a variety of cuisines, including seafood, Italian and, of course, Mexican. The restaurant's menu would vary and reflect those of its vendors.
The restaurant and food park would be located on commercial property at the corner of Mansion Road and South Turnpike Road. In addition to the garage, a vacant multifamily home also sits on the land. That structure likely would be used for storage once construction begins, but could be torn down and rebuilt as a coffeehouse later on, according to Flamini.
Flamini's team also has proposed filling an existing drainage ditch and replacing it with an underground drainage system capable of handling a 100-year storm. This aspect of the project has caused the most contention, as some residents believe filling the ditch would constitute a disturbance of wetlands.
But Flamini said he believes the ditch, which is dry for most the year, is not actually wetlands, and filling it would not be harmful. "It's not a protected area," he said.
Erin O'Hare, the town's environmental and natural resources planner, did not respond to a phone message seeking comment Thursday.
If the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, which is reviewing the project, were to rule against him, Flamini said, he anticipated building a bridge over the ditch.
Barbara F. Celotto, 74, who lives in the Brentwood Village condominium complex down the street from the proposed project site, said she believed the new establishment would "take away the whole ambiance of this community." She also felt removing trees to build the food park would hurt the landscape.
According to Flamini, any trees that have to come down in dealing with the ditch area will be recycled into wooden benches, among other elements. "We're actually going to re-purpose a lot of our trees that we have to take down," he said.
While some residents have expressed concerns about excessive noise, Flamini did not think that would be an issue; the only music he said he is proposing is an acoustic guitar player to entertain customers.
Celotto accused Flamini's team of failing to properly notify residents when he submitted an application to the town Planning and Zoning Commission requesting a zone change for the property, which previously had been part residential. But Wallingford Town Planner Kevin Pagini confirmed proper notice was given.
"Everything we've done from the beginning has been on the up and up – working with the community, working with the officials to make sure that there can be no question as to what we're doing," Flamini said.
The restaurant project is expected to revive an area that previously had resembled a junkyard. Flamini said he already had filled five dumpsters with debris he picked up from the grounds, including "five or six" mattresses he discovered leaning against one of the existing buildings. On Thursday, a rusty go-kart could be seen buried beneath fallen branches and overgrown shrubs near the drainage ditch. Other smaller pieces of debris scattered the area.
Some residents had a more positive outlook on the proposal. Ashley Mendez, who also lives in Brentwood Village, said she was excited to see an attractive destination being pitched for the area.
"There's not really many things around here that attract people besides Oakdale (Theatre)," Mendez, 28, said. "I think a lot of people are thinking about it more negatively ... but really we don't know what it entails yet, and people are in an uproar about it.
"Me personally, I think it's a pretty cool idea," Mendez added. "It's different."
Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that tree removal would be required in the ditch area of the property, according to the applicant.