Blue Back Square, a proposed $158.8 million mixed-used development in West Hartford that would include residences, shops, restaurants, entertainment, a hospital’s wellness center and parking, has been approved by town voters.

A development that will incorporate a health center, retail, restaurants, offices and apartments got the go-ahead from residents last week, but the corporation that owns a nearby mall vowed to continue fighting the mixed-use development.

Construction on Blue Back Square will begin next year in West Hartford after citizens there turned out in droves at the polls last week and voted in favor of the development.

“Obviously we were happy to hear [about the vote],” said Richard Heapes, a partner of Blue Back Square’s development corporation. “We are right now planning on construction starting in the spring of 2005.”

The development will open all at once in late 2006 or early 2007, Heapes said.

About 59 percent of eligible voters came to the polls on Oct. 12, according to West Hartford Town Clerk Norma Cronin. That’s a good turnout for the town, she said.

Townspeople approved the referendum for the master agreement by a vote of 13,680 to 9,072, Cronin said. They also voted to approve a referendum for the appropriation of town money – which will pay for public improvements associated with the project such as a library expansion, new Board of Education offices and parking garages – 12,037 to 8,769.

Heapes and his partners were pleased with the results, he said. About 60 percent of voters approved each of the referendums and Heapes said he was glad the margin was not smaller.

Town leaders also were happy with the turnout and the results, according to Town Manager Barry Feldman.

“We’re pleased,” he said.

‘Overwhelming Concerns’

The developers behind Blue Back Square have been working on arranging the financing and coming to tentative agreements with tenants, even while defending their positions to West Hartford’s citizens before the referendums, Heapes said.

“We’ve been working hard, as if the referendum wasn’t happening,” he said.

But they did have opposition. The owner of the nearby Westfarms Mall, Bloomfield, Mich.-based Taubman, rolled out advertisements and mailers in the weeks before the referendum.

Blue Back Square’s developer, BBS Development, and Taubman spent nearly $1 million on newspaper and television advertisements, opinion polls, leaflets and mailers, according to the Associated Press. BBS Development also sent videotapes and DVDs to the home of every registered voter in the town.

And even though voters approved the mixed-use project, Taubman likely will not back down.

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” said Rod Blake, Taubman’s manager of development.

The huge voter turnout signals “overwhelming concerns,” Blake said.

“It certainly should not simply be ignored,” he said.

The company does not have a specific plan to continue its opposition of Blue Back Square, Blake said.

“However, I can assure you that, as a 30-year taxpayer in town as the owner of Westfarms, we don’t intend to simply ignore the overwhelming opposition,” he said.

His company continues to receive e-mails from concerned citizens who “feel like they have been steamrolled again” by the town leadership, Blake said.

Heapes said he and his partners hope Taubman will admit defeat now that a majority of voters voiced their approval of the project, but are prepared for any eventuality. They will build through any appeals Taubman might bring forward, he noted.

The key components to the development are two buildings that could house up to 100 luxury condominiums and a health club; the Hartford Hospital Wellness Center, an up to 100,000-square-foot space that will employ about 400 people and which already has reached an agreement with the developer; office space; medium-sized retail and boutique shops; and sidewalk-oriented restaurants.

BBS Development likely will announce the key tenants in the next 30 to 60 days, Heapes said, and are in the final stages of the agreements with Hartford Hospital.

Town leaders also will be busy in the coming months, according to Feldman, who said they have to continue working on zoning appeals.