OLD LYME — CPD Properties has applied again for a special exception to allow a convenience store at the gas station at 85 Halls Road, but an attorney for an abutter says the application is untenable because it cannot comply with the town’s zoning regulations.
CPD, also known as CPD Energy Corp. of New Paltz, New York, has proposed the addition of 227 square feet of space to the existing 1,760 sq. building on the .6-acre parcel. The garage bays that were previously used for auto repair would be converted to a retail space. The project would also replace the existing septic system, add landscaping, 12 parking spaces — two more than the town requires — and sidewalks internal to the property, with the possibility of constructing sidewalks along the street frontage.
At Monday’s Zoning Commission meeting, John Knuff, an attorney with Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff in Milford, Conn., who represented CPD said that the proposal would not change the configuration of the existing gas pumps and canopy at the Mobil station but would upgrade the site.
“While our proposal is really quite modest, we’re taking the opportunity to enhance the site literally every way that we can,” said Knuff.
He said improvements to the building exterior would be consistent with the classic New England style of the area, and would also include a stormwater management system with a water quality treatment unit that will catch sediment and release clean water..
Kevin Solli, principal of Solli Engineering in Monroe, Conn., who presented the project to the commission, said his firm performed traffic counts in June 2021 and also looked at traffic studies using 2018 Department of Transportation counts.
He said traffic would increase by 46 trips in the morning and 47 trips in the afternoon, adding that most of the customers would be “pass by” or people who were already on the road who stopped in to buy gas and pick up items at the convenience store.
“With 47 or 46 new trips, the conversion to retail will not have adverse effects,” said Solli.
The Zoning Commission has rejected two applications from CPD to add a convenience store. The company has leased the property since 2008. In June, the Inland Wetlands Commission instructed Dan Bourret, the town’s land use coordinator, to issue an administrative permit for the current application. At the May 25 Inland Wetlands Commission meeting, Attorney Souchuns, of Hurtwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff, said that CPD previously received an Inland Wetlands Approval in 2012, which was extended through 2019.
Jane Marsh, secretary of the commission, said that the additional use will result in less space for cars and trucks to maneuver.
“The site suddenly looks very crowded. It has always disturbed us more than anything else — adding that second use to that destination as opposed to just filling up.”
She said cars often wait in line to gas up and with this proposal drivers would also back out of parking spaces and drive through the site toward the exit. Large trucks will squeeze the space further, she said.
“I can see how improving the flow is good if you can get people all going the same way. But people on the right side still have to back up and it seems like there’s a lot of traffic,” said Marsh.
Maria Martinez, an alternate on the commission who was seated for the hearing, asked whether the community had indicated the need for a convenience store.
“There are other smaller convenience stores and from a community standpoint, this is not this huge pull that community is asking for,” she said.
Commission chair Paul Orzel asked for clarification on the type of food that would be sold and whether seating would be available.
Sillo said the food would be entirely “grab and go” and, if permitted, the store would be open 24 hours a day. He said a bench was currently incorporated into the design of the center island, but could be removed if the commission wanted it removed.
Marsh said a revised statement of use was needed to specify “no prepared foods” and no outdoor vending machines, as well as the specific hours of operation.
Andy Shah, who owns Andy’s Deli & Marketplace at 19 Halls Road, told the commission that he will not be able to compete with the new store.
“I only have one store, they have 150 stores in 3 states. I’ll probably be out of business in one or two years. They have more buying power. They can buy Pepsi, Coke, cigarettes at better prices. Slowly my sales will go down and I will be forced out. I love this town, I’ve been here since 2003,” he said.
Attorney Howard Gould, who represented the Enman family, owner of Treasures at 95 Halls Road, said the application was the fourth submission from CPD and that the concept had been rejected “repetitively” for a number of reasons including the plot size.
“It’s a non-conforming lot, far smaller than a permissible lot size for a gas station,” Gould said.
The additional use as a convenience store would constitute an “enlargement” of the pre-existing use as a gas station, he said. Plus, the small expansion of the building would create an increase in a nonconforming structure, which he said was “fatal” to the application.
Gould said the proposal contradicted the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, which called for businesses that meet a community need.
“I don’t think I’ve heard one member of the community support this proposal. This is not what they want in this particular location,” he said.
Gould said a gas station with a convenience store would attract significant traffic from I-95 rather than local customers.
“There are modern technology systems to let motorists know where gas stations are— the reason for this proposal is to obtain the benefit of I-95.”
He also questioned the traffic counts from Sillo. Gould said his own calculations showed an increase in cars totalling 2,580 in a typical week, or 1 car every 10 seconds.
Gould said the additional “elephant in the room” was that the purpose of a convenience store was to increase the profit margin of the gas station. He said the highest profit margin items were tobacco products and asked whether that was in the public interest.
“But, it’s whether this particular use meets special requirements of 13B such that you think it ought to be allowed in this specific location,” he said.
In response to Gould’s opposition, Knuff asked the commission to consider the size of the project.
“This is a 2000-square-foot convenience store. It’s not a Walmart, it’s the tiniest retail,” he said.
Knuff said that other gas stations up and down I-95 are far more convenient and urged the commission to “hew to your regulations” when making the decision.
“Ask whether it complies with your regulations, apply the facts to your standards,” Knuff said.
The public hearing was continued to the next Zoning Commission meeting on Oct. 12.
Correction: The gas station at 85 Halls Road is operated by Mobil, not Shell as originally stated.