DEEP RIVER— After two years of disputes, the planning and zoning commission Thursday gave a quick and unanimous special permit approval for a used motor vehicle dealership in a portion of a former industrial building at 444 Main St. The approval for local resident George Bartlett Jr. ends a two-year controversy that beginning in 2012 led to two lawsuits and conflict between the commission and the zoning board of appeals.
Bartlett’s new application for a used vehicle dealership in a section of the former industrial building was presented at a brief public hearing where there were no objections to the proposed use. Essex lawyer John Bennet, representing Bartlett, said the applicant had secured two required variances from the zoning board of appeals, along with a permit from the inland-wetlands commission. Bennet said any repairs performed at the site would be for motor vehicles that are in the inventory of the dealership, with no general shop for other vehicle repairs.
Zoning Enforcement Officer Cathy Jefferson said all issues related to the application had been resolved. There will be a paved display area at the front of the property for eight used vehicles. After Jefferson’s comments, the commission approved the special permit on a unanimous vote without discussion.
That was not the case in June 2012, when Bartlett first proposed the used vehicle dealership in the vacant industrial building he had purchased earlier that year. Bartlett was required to apply for variances from the zoning board of appeals because the parcel was about six-feet short of the 150-feet of road frontage that zoning regulations required for uses in the turnpike industrial zone.
The ZBA approved a dimensional variance for the road frontage requirement, but there was dispute with the planning and zoning commission over whether it had also approved a variance for the motor vehicle dealership use. Bartlett filed a lawsuit against the ZBA after the board in September 2012 amended it’s minutes to clarify that it had approved only one variance at the June 19, 2012 meeting.
The case was still pending in Middlesex Superior Court during the spring when the commission amended regulations for the turnpike industrial zone to remove the 150-foot road frontage requirement for all uses. But Bennet continued to object to the decision last May, maintaining that other provisions of the amended regulations would make it “virtually impossible” for Bartlett to pursue his plan for a used vehicle dealership.
Bartlett filed a new lawsuit in May challenging the amended regulations, while also putting the new application for the used vehicle dealership before the commission. The approval of a special permit for the used vehicle dealership is expected to lead to a withdrawal of any pending lawsuits involving the 444 Main St. property.