July 6, 2022

Deep River P&Z has New Application and New Lawsuit for Main Street Property

DEEP RIVER— The planning and zoning commission has a new special permit application for a used car dealership at the 444 Main St. property owned by local resident George Bartlett Jr., and also faces a new lawsuit filed by Bartlett over amendments to zoning regulations for motor vehicle dealerships that were approved by the commission last month.

The lawsuit and the permit application that is scheduled for a July 17 public hearing are the latest developments in two years of disputes over Bartlett’s plans for the former manufacturing site on the west side of Main St. (Route 154) that he purchased in February 2012.

A June 2012 zoning board of appeals approval of a six-foot variance of the 150-foot road frontage requirement for motor vehicle dealerships in the Turnpike Interchange Zone led to a split between the ZBA and the planning and zoning commission, and a subsequent lawsuit filed by Bartlett against the ZBA after it clarified the limits of the variance approval. The initial lawsuit is now the subject of settlement negotiations

But Bartlett, represented by Essex lawyer John Bennet, earlier this month filed a new lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court challenging the commission’s approval  in May of amendments to the town’s zoning regulations governing motor vehicle sales and repair operations, and also gasoline stations, in the Turnpike Interchange Zone. After presenting the changes at a May 1 public hearing, the commission on May 15 approved amendments that removed the 150-foot road frontage requirement for such uses, while also adding new setback and paving requirements for the uses.

Entrances to motor vehicle sales and service operations, and gasoline stations, would be required to be 30-feeet wide, and have a 30-foot setback from any adjoining property line. Paving would be required for areas where there would be outside storage of motor vehicles.

Bennet contends in the new lawsuit that zoning amendments would make development of the 444 Main St. parcel for a used car dealership “virtually impossible” due to the “extraordinary setback provisions.” of the amendment. The lawsuit also contends commission members and Zoning Enforcement Officer Cathy Jefferson have “personal animus and prejudice,” against Bartlett.

Jefferson said this week the commission was simply trying to update the regulations for vehicle dealerships and gasoline stations that had not been revised for more than a decade. She said removal of the road frontage requirement was actually an effort to help Bartlett, while also addressing concerns about safe access and paving to contain any possible leakage of motor fuels and other fluids.

Jefferson said Bartlett’s new application for a dealership on the 444 Main St. parcel would be considered under the earlier regulations, and will go forward to a public hearing on July 17 separate from the latest lawsuit over the amendments.