October 1, 2020

New Deep River Zoning Application for Disputed 444 Main Street Property

DEEP RIVER— The planning and zoning commission has received a new application for the 444 Main St. property that last year was the subject of an application for a proposed used car dealership that led to a lawsuit against the town’s zoning board of appeals.

Local resident George Bartlett Jr. has filed a special permit application for the “sale and maintenance of used and new construction equipment,” on the former Champion Tool & Die property at 444 Main St., also known as Route 154. The commission received the application at its Feb. 21 meeting, and scheduled an April 18 public hearing on the application.

But Zoning Enforcement Officer Cathy Jefferson said Wednesday she is still reviewing the application to determine whether any additional approvals, such as a variance from the zoning board of appeals or approval from some state agency, are required before the commission holds a public hearing on the application. The sales and work on construction equipment would occur in the existing 20,000-square-foot industrial building on the property. The building owned by Bartlett is more than half vacant, with about 8,000 square feet currently leased to a small manufacturing business.

Last year, Bartlett requested approval from the zoning board of appeals of two variances that were needed to open a used car dealership on the property. One was a dimensional variance because the parcel had only 144.7-feet of road frontage, less than the minimum 150-feet required under zoning regulations for the Turnpike Industrial Zone on the south side of town.

But the application for a second variance drew strong opposition, and the threat of a lawsuit, from the planning and zoning commission when it was presented to the ZBA at a public hearing last June. Commission lawyer William Howard contended Bartlett was also seeking a use variance that was beyond the jurisdiction of the ZBA. The board approved the 5.3-foot dimensional variance, but there was dispute about whether the board also approved a second variance for the proposed used car dealership use.

In September, the board declined a request from Bartlett to amend minutes of the June 19 public hearing to reflect that he had sought, and the board had approved, two variances. In December, Bartlett, represented by Essex lawyer John Bennet, filed a lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court seeking a court order directing the ZBA to amend its minutes to reflect approval of two variances at the June 19 session.

Jefferson said the lawsuit and the new application for sale and maintenance of construction equipment are ‘unrelated,” and with the still pending lawsuit not preventing the planning and zoning commission from considering the new application.