November 1, 2014

Essex Zoning Commission Approves Change to Restaurant Rules, Continues Other Public Hearings to Feb 25

ESSEX— The zoning commission Wednesday repealed two restrictions on new restaurants while continuing to Feb. 25 other public hearings, including the hearing on a reopening of the former Sunoco station with a convenience store.

After a brief public hearing where there were no speakers, either for or against the change, the commission approved its own proposal to remove from zoning regulations two restrictions on new restaurants that dated back to the 1980s.
Dropped are regulations that prohibited new restaurants on corner lots, or within 750 feet of an existing restaurant. Another restriction that limits new restaurants to no more than 10 seats is still under review by the panel, and was not part of Wednesday’s public hearing.

The commission continued to Feb. 25 the public hearing on its own proposal for a regulation that would prohibit new fast food restaurants in Essex, and ban new drive-through windows for restaurants or banks. There were no speakers on this proposed regulation at the hearing Wednesday.

The commission continued to Feb. 25 the public hearing on a special permit application by  Bestway 2 LLC of Norwich to open a convenience store at the former Sunoco station site at 1 Saybrook Road. The group also plans to reopen the Sunoco gasoline station at the site, which has been vacant since 2005.

Lawyer Tom McClaughlin, representing the applicants, said the project would “bring back to life,” a vacant property that was becoming a “blight” in the area near Route 9 exit 3 and the Valley Railroad complex. Clint Brown, project engineer with the Groton firm DiCesare Bently Engineers, said there would be no increase in the size of the 1,800-square-foot building, though exterior renovations would “make it look less like a gas station and more like a convenience store.” The existing underground gasoline tanks would be removed and replaced, with a total of eight pump stations.

There was some initial disagreement between the applicants and the commission over the number of parking spaces that would be required for the combined gasoline statiion/convenience store. The site plan shows nine parking spaces, with McClaughlin suggesting the eight spots at the gasoline pumps could also be counted as parking spaces for quick customer visits. Brown noted town regulations for retail stores call for at least nine parking spaces.

But commission Chairman Alvin Wolfgram and Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow had a different interpretation of the regulations. Budrow said he believed 12 parking spaces are required, while Wolfgram noted 14 spaces would be required if the convenience store was considered as a grocery store. Brown, after noting there would be no cooking done at the site, maintained the convenience store should be viewed as “something in between” a retail store and a grocery store.

Wolfgram, after noting the spots at the gasoline pumps should not be viewed as parking spaces, urged Brown to revise the parking calculations on the site plan. He suggested there would be enough space on the one-third-acre parcel for some additional parking spaces. There were no speakers for or against the application during the public hearing, which was also continued to Feb. 25.

Charles StannardCharles Stannard is a lifelong resident of Essex and a graduate of Valley Regional High School and the University of Connecticut at Storrs.  Charlie worked for the Middletown Press from 1979 to 1995, covering Haddam and Killingworth and later Middletown city hall and schools.  From 1997 through 2010 Charlie was a reporter for the Hartford Courant and has covered Chester, Deep River, Essex and Killingworth for the past decade.  Charlie lives in the Ivoryton section of Essex.  Contact Charles at stannardcharles@yahoo.com