February 18, 2018

Deep River Zoning Board of Appeals Approves Variance for Used Car Dealership

DEEP RIVER— The zoning board of appeals Tuesday approved a variance that could allow a used car dealership to open at a former industrial property on Route 154 while deferring action on a second appeal to allow expansion of an existing industrial building on Grove Street..

The 4-1 vote approving a variance to allow local resident Gerald Bartlett Jr. to open a used car dealership on the former Champion Tool and Dye site at 444 South Main Street (Route 154) could set up a conflict with the planning and zoning commission. The commission had directed it’s attorney, Middletown lawyer William Howard, to oppose the variance appeal at the public hearing.
The delay in voting on the second appeal, from Raymond Galeotti for a variance to allow expansion of an existing industrial building at 16 Grove St., will force the planning and zoning commission to reschedule a public hearing that had been set for Thursday on Galeotti’s special permit application for the 8,400-square-foot expansion project.

The Bartlett appeal prompted a clash between lawyers at the public hearing. Essex lawyer Michael Wells, representing Bartlett, maintained the appeal was strictly for a 5.3-foot variance of the zoning regulation that requires 150 feet of road frontage for car dealerships or other businesses in the light industrial zone along Route 154 on the south side of town. The seven-acre parcel Bartlett had purchased has 144.7 feet of frontage on Route 154.

Wells said Bartlett had offered, but was unable, to purchase a strip of land from the abutting property owner to the north that would have provided the 150 feet of road frontage. Wells said the variance would allow Bartlett to seek special permit approval from the planning and zoning commission for the used car dealership, and then return to the ZBA for a site location approval that is required by state statutes.

Wells said any motor vehicle repairs done on site would be only for vehicles being offered for sale through the business. He also noted the parcel had been the site of a Pontiac vehicle dealership in the 1960s.

But Howard maintained Bartlett is also seeking a use variance because the requirement for 150 feet of road frontage, which has been in place since 1972, applies to all properties in the zone. “It’s not just a dimensional variance,” Howard said, adding that Bartlett could pursue a variety of other uses for the parcel without a variance.

In approving the variance on a motion from member Jerome Ackerman, the board determined the variance conforms with the historical use of the property and the character of the surrounding neighborhood, and that Bartlett’s inability to purchase additional land to meet the required road frontage represented a hardship.

In the second appeal, Galeotti told the board his property at 16 Grove Street, located off Bridge Street in the north end of town, was a pre-existing industrial use since the building was constructed for a machine shop in 1960. Galeotti has operated

Centerbrook Sakles/Eve’s Addiction, a mail order jewelry business, in the 6,600-square-foot building since 2007. Galeotti said the planning and zoning commission made his property even more non-conforming when it adopted new village district regulations last year.

The village district regulations include a 2,500 square-foot maximum size limit on buildings, while the parcel was previously in a light industrial zone. The new regulations force Galeotti to obtain a variance before he can apply to the planning and zoning commission for a special permit for a planned 8,400-square-foot expansion of the building.

The variance appeal drew opposition from several neighbors who noted Grove Street is a dead-end street in what has become a residential neighborhood. They questioned whether the planned business expansion would bring additional trailer truck traffic to the narrow street. Galeotti maintained the site plan for the building expansion would make it easier for trucks to turn around on the 2.5-acre parcel.

Galeotti’s appeal did not draw opposition from the planning and zoning commission, with Howard and Zoning Enforcement Officer Cathy Jefferson leaving the meeting after the hearing on the Bartlett appeal. But the board deferred a vote on Galeotti’s appeal to it’s July 17 meeting after board attorney Kenneth Antin advised that some of the language in the new village district regulations appears to prohibit the ZBA from granting variances in the zone. Several board members said they had just received copies of the new regulations on Tuesday, the day of the public hearing.

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