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Questions arise about status of day-care plan for former Stratfield Market

A day-care center that won approval in February from zoning -- and general support from neighbors -- has yet to open at the long-vacant Stratfield Market building, and now residents are complaining about conditions at the property.

When the day-care owners came before the Town Plan and Zoning Commission in February, Pat and Ken Johnsson expressed a desire to have the center, Child's World Academy, open by fall. The Johnssons own two other locations in Monroe and Peekskill, N.Y., and up until earlier this year, also operated a center in Trumbull.

But in the intervening months, there has been no activity at the former market at 1280 Stratfield Road which closed in 2006.

That year, Walgreen's signed a 20-year lease with the Samuel Lotstein Realty Co. in Stamford, the property owner, before securing local approvals to open a pharmacy on the site.

Neighbors, however, opposed the plan and battled Walgreens both on the local level and in the state's highest courts. Pickets, boycotts and petitions were used by the Stratfield Village Association in its campaign to keep the chain store out of the neighborhood Opponents won the fight in 2011 when the state Supreme Court ruled against Walgreens.

Several messages left by the Fairfield Citizen for Pat Johnsson about the status of the day-care plan were not returned.

Mark Barnhart, the town's economic development director, said he spoke with Ken Johnsson several weeks ago, and said he had indicated that they were still in negotiations with the property owner regarding lease terms and were optimistic any issues would be resolved shortly.

The plans for the day-care center, which will have a capacity of 150 children, call using the existing structure without any additions. However, the former grocery store will be completely renovated inside and out.

No building permits, however, have been issued for any renovations to be carried out at the property.

Neighbors, many of whom had strongly opposed the Walgreens application, now are expressing concerns about vehicles parked in the lot there, and a clothing donation bin that has been installed at the back of the building. On a recent visit, some of those donations were strewn on the ground outside the red bin.

Genevieve Reilly

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