December 14, 2019

Developer gives up appeal of Zoning Commission’s rejection of a new Rite Aid super store in Essex

Heavy traffic, Route 153 and Bokum Road

The deep pocket developer, who wanted to build a new Rite Aid superstore on Rte. 153 and Bokum Rd., across from the Colonial Shopping Center in Essex, has given up. Initially, after the Essex Zoning Commission last year rejected permission by a vote of 4 to 1 to build a new 14,673 sq. ft. Rite Aid in Essex, developer Robert Landino had appealed the local zoning commission’s decision in state district court.

Landino, Chief Executive Officer of Centerplan Companies in Middletown, had spent thousands of dollars on attorneys, environmental and traffic consultants and architects in trying to convince the commission to approve the deal.

Now, however, Landino has withdrawn his appeal, which leaves in place the Essex Zoning Commission’s rejection of the project.  Confirming the withdrawal of the appeal, Landino said, “The only location that we are currently committed to is a relocation of the East Hartford [Rite Aid] store, which is approved and will break ground this fall.”

The proposal to build a new Rite Aid superstore in Essex across from the busy Colonial Shopping Plaza sparked much public opposition, when it was first proposed early last year. There were four widely attended public hearings, 100 people at one of them, before the zoning commission under the chairmanship of Alvin Wolfgram strongly rejected the new development. Wolfgram said that the developers did not adequately address the safety concerns of a new pedestrian crossing over Rte. 153, nor the dangers of having a new, two-way vehicular traffic entrance onto Rte. 153 from the giant new store.  Other commission members raised objections to the cookie cutter design of the proposal’s architecture and unimaginative landscaping.

Entrance to the Oliver's Taverne

The effect of the abandonment of the appeal not only leaves in place the Commission’s original decision, but also the present 12,180 sq. ft. Oliver’s Taverne. (The primary owner of the Taverne had spoken out strongly in favor of the Rite Aid proposal during the public hearings.)

In a recent interview, a Taverne spokesman said that there had been some confusion as to whether Oliver’s Taverne was still open. “We are still here,” John Sousa said emphatically, “and doing more business than ever.” He also joked, “You can’t get a prescription filled here, but you can get a great martini.”  The Taverne also offers a “Lobster Madness” special every Wednesday.

A possible question of Zoning Commission Chairman Wolfgram’s “objectivity” in considering the Rite Aid application was also put to rest by the his vote against the Rite Aid proposal. Wolfgram is by occupation a professional engineer, and in this capacity he had worked with Rite Aid developer Landino on the Preserve project in Old Saybrook, a fact acknowledged by Landino.

However, it was clear through Wolfgram’s strong opposition to the proposal at the Essex Zoning Commission that Wolfgram and Landino were not working together on creating a new Rite Aid in Essex.