OLD SAYBROOK – Despite a recent denial by the Zoning Commission for the Max’s Place development, developer Ron Lyman hopes to address their concerns at a Zoning Commission meeting scheduled for Feb. 5 at 7:30 p.m. at the Pasbeshauke Pavilion at Saybrook Point Park.
Plans called for the 143,193 square foot shopping center to be anchored by a 63,400 square foot Big Y Supermarket, a 21,000 square foot Borders Books, Music, and Movies Store, and five other retail buildings of various sizes on an 18-acre parcel at the corner of Spencer Plains Road and Boston Post Road.
A proposed 10,167 square foot addition and façade renovation of the 60,040 square foot Super Stop and Shop Supermarket in the Old Saybrook Shopping Center, currently the town’s only supermarket, will also be heard at the meeting.
According to the statement of use, the proposed expansion and facelift “will enable the store and the shopping center to be upgraded and to remain competitive in today’s changing retail world.”
On Dec. 18, the Zoning Commission denied the Max’s Place application in a 3-2 vote.
Chair Robert Friedmann, Vice Chair Elizabeth Steffen, and member Paula Stuart voted for denial while Secretary Walter Harris and member Madeline Fish voted against it.
According to the commission’s “Resolution for Denial” statement, the project was denied because of failure to meet parking requirements and concerns regarding traffic congestion, water drainage to Chalker Beach, landscaping, architectural features, and wetlands.
The denial came as a shock to Lyman who said that “for more than two years, I have worked with the town staff, town consultants, and listened to the suggestions they had and felt all comments were addressed satisfactory.”
Consequently, Lyman filed a court appeal against the commission on Jan. 11 stating the reasons the Zoning Commission used in denying the project “are contrary to and unsupported by the evidence in the record before the Commission.”
Lyman said Fish suggested that conditions be placed on approval of the application and questioned why the commission did not choose this option.
This is not the first proposed shopping center for this parcel, Lyman said, citing applications submitted several years ago from larger retail stores such as Wal-Mart and Home Depot.
Lyman said his proposal is different because portions of the project received approval from the Planning Commission, Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, and the Architectural Review Board.
However, certain components of the shopping center received denial from two Land Use Boards.
The Zoning Commission denied a petition to amend Zoning Regulations at a Nov. 6 meeting that would have allowed businesses more pylon signs for multiple exits of a shopping center separated by 1,000 feet.
According to meeting minutes, the Planning Commission made an unfavorable recommendation for special exception for retail businesses at its Nov. 1 meeting citing that the development was “inconsistent with the Plan of Conservation and Development”.
The commission expressed concerns of phasing of buildings, architecture of Big Y not matching surrounding buildings, and lack of access between the shopping center and surrounding businesses on Boston Post Road and Spencer Plains Road.
However, Lyman said many residents were favorable of the grocery store proposal.
“The grocery store was overwhelmingly wanted by residents who in a 3-1 referendum voted to sell us the land underneath the cul de sac,” Lyman said, referring to Center Road West.
During several Zoning Commission public hearings, residents said the new supermarket would help create a more competitive environment in town leading to lower prices.
Several Chalker Beach residents spoke against the project claiming it would dangerously increase traffic in the area and would increase water run-off to the Chalker Beach area.
Ralph Gometz, who owns property near the proposed shopping center is listed as a defendant in the suit Lyman has filed against the Zoning Commission.
Lyman said Gometz falsely claimed at several public hearings that he is a direct abutter to the development.
In a press release issued by James Keating, Chairman of the Economic Development Commission, the commission expressed disappointment of the development’s denial and hope that negotiations can resolve issues between the developer and the Zoning Commission.
“It is our hope that the developer and tenants pursue the Max’s Place application, that details are resolved, and the ground-breaking begins this year,” the release stated.
According to Lyman, the denial “sends a chilling message to anyone thinking about investing in Old Saybrook” and said several of his friends are leery of investing in a town in which a development could be denied after the developer worked closely with the town’s land use boards.
Lyman said “hopefully we won’t go to court” and said he desires to “collaborate rather than litigate.”