“It effectively resets the clock,” said Town Planner Harry Smith after the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission voted 4-1 Thursday to approve zoning regulation changes for Planned Development Districts (PDDs).
The time limit change was requested by developers Charles E. Weber Jr. and Al Secondino, whose property is part of the 44-acre PDD at Exit 56. The proposed commercial complex includes seven retail buildings and it also included Costco before the retailer withdrew in 2017.
The new wording says all site plans must be submitted and approved within three years after the PDD and Master Plans are approved. Developers previously had two years, with no mention of time extensions.
The second major change adds two possible one-year extensions, if the P&Z commission approves, for a potential total of five years. If the plans are not approved in that timeframe, the PDD becomes null and void.
The commission added one word that was not in the developers’ request — the new regulation says “all” site plans must be submitted and approved, which would affect large master plans that have phased development. The changes go into effect April 10.
Maximum Possible Deadline — July 2020
Following the vote, resident Pam Roy asked the commission how the new regulations would affect the Exit 56 PDD.
Chuck Andres (pictured), who chairs the P&Z, said the new regulations allow for two possible one-year extensions, which would give the developers a maximum deadline of July 2020 for site plan approval. If all plans are not approved by that time, the Exit 56 PDD and master plan become null and void.
Andres said the developers already had two years, and received a one-year extension last July. Andres voted against that extension in July because the regulations did not address extensions. The new regulations allow the commission to grant two one-year extensions “upon a showing of good cause.”
Roy was among several residents who attended the recent public hearings on the regulation changes. One of their requests was that time extensions would automatically trigger a public hearing, so residents could express their opinions.
“I’m so disappointed you would not allow the public hearings,” Roy told the commission Thursday.
Andres had suggested holding public hearings for time extension requests, but the majority of the commissioners disagreed.
Following the meeting, Roy, Janet Riesman and Lauren Brown, pictured left to right above, told the Eagle they were disappointed in the new regulations, but said they were better than the original proposal which granted unlimited time for site plan approval. The three women were opponents of the proposed Costco development at Exit 56. They said they appreciated the fact that the commission took time to listen to their concerns.
Residents Had Impact
The changes approved Thursday were based on the third version of potential zoning regulation changes. The developers initially requested an unspecified number of time extensions at the commission’s discretion. The second version would have given developers five years to submit site plans, with the possibility of a one-year extension. The third proposal included the automatic three years, with a provision for two one-year extensions.
Diane W. Whitney, a land-use attorney with Pullman & Comley LLC in Hartford, who represents Charles E. Weber Jr. and Al Secondino and their 595 Corporate Circle corporation, previously said the revisions resulted from concerns expressed at the public hearings.
“I tried to include in this new language some of the issues that were brought up the last time I was here,” Whitney said at the March 1 hearing.
Neither Whitney nor the Exit 56 developers attended Thursday’s meeting.
Andres credited residents for their participation in the recent hearings. “ I thought the public made some good criticisms,” Andres said Thursday. “And also people took time to read the regulations and point out their inconsistencies. … And I give the applicant credit for refining their proposal.”
Andres, Joe Chadwick, Paul Higgins and Marci Palluzzi voted in favor of the revised regulations. Commissioner John Lust cast the only no vote.
“I’m really protective of a PDD and I’ve watched this evolve over my 16 years here,” Lust said during the discussion. “And I’ve always felt it was a tool for the town more than for the developer,” he said.
“I believe in limits and I believe in this commission maintaining control of those limits,” Lust said. He said he understands there may be problems that affect deadlines. “I’m not opposed to giving another year to a project through a public hearing process for due cause,” he said, adding that a total of five years would be too much.
He said the commission should not be “too easy” when approving PDDs and setting timeframes.
Palluzzi said PDDs like the one at Exit 56 include several separately-owned parcels which allow the developers an opportunity to improve the roadways and infrastructure within the master plan. “I don’t think that would ever be accomplished without a PDD,” Palluzzi said.
“A master plan is supposed to be a concept, a vision to get a process started for development and then the site plan is where you come in and work out the nitty-gritty details,” Palluzzi said, adding that the timeframe shouldn’t be restricted too much.
“When you’ve got a big project, there’s a lot of things that happen, and I think you need time … to get all your ducks in a row, and to get site plans approved and shovels in the ground,” Palluzzi said.
Chadwick said he voted against the Exit 56 PDD in 2015, but voted in favor of the one-year extension last July. He said it’s obvious that some regulations need to be rewritten. “We really do need to have clarity overall and consistency,” he said.
“I’m not opposed to this proposal of fixing the time,” Chadwick said, stating that he’s “comfortable with the time limits we’ve discussed.”
Higgins also expressed his approval of the revised time limits requested by the Exit 56 developers.
“I have a feeling they have something in mind in terms of asking us to do this, and they just need a little more time,” Higgins said. “I have no problem with that.”
He said the developers “came to us in good faith and we should respond as well.”
Andres said revising the regulations would make sense because “sometimes stuff happens” that interfere with the planning process.
“When you’ve got a multi-owner project as opposed to one owner, that project inevitably involves more time,” Andres said, adding that the commission should encourage cooperation of property owners.
Andres suggested adding the word “all” to site plans in the revised regulations to deal with developments that are phased. He said this would address the phasing questions raised by resident Peter Henschel during the hearing earlier this month.
Andres said site plans would have to be submitted in time for the commission to hold public hearings, discuss and approve them before the clock runs out.
Some Exit 56 History
The Exit 56 PDD and master plan were approved by P&Z by a 3-2 vote in July 2015. Plans were then submitted to the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) where lengthy hearings were held. The project would have eventually gone to P&Z for site-plan consideration if a Wetlands permit had been approved. Costco withdrew its IWC application in April 2016 after it became apparent that it would be denied. Costco later pulled out of the project.
Site plans were never submitted to P&Z, and the two-year deadline would have expired last July but the P&Z voted 3-2 to grant a one-year extension. No appeal was taken. Zoning regulations neither allow nor prohibit extensions for PDD site plans.
Weber and Secondino own a 16.5-acre parcel at 569 E. Main St. where several retail buildings were proposed. The Costco store would have been built on an adjacent 22.3 acre site at 573 East Main St. owned by Wayne Cooke and the Cooke family corporations. Weber and Secondino had an option to buy the Cooke property, an option that expired as of September 29, 2017, according to town land records for Orchard Hill Partners. The PDD also included smaller parcels, some of which were already developed.