OLD LYME — The packed agenda of the Zoning Commission, which stretched beyond four hours Tuesday night, included an application for a convenience store for a gas station on Halls Road, the prohibition of marijuana establishments, an amendment to create the Halls Road Village District, and the installation of a bus shelter in Sound View on Shore Road.
Continued from the Sept. 14 public hearing, the convenience store proposed for the gas station at 85 Halls Road drew a number of comments concerning hours of usage, traffic levels, and appropriateness for the town.
The project, proposed by CPD Energy Corp. of New Paltz, New York, would convert the gas station’s garage bays to retail space and add 227 square feet of storage space to the existing 1,760-square-foot building.
Kevin Solli, principal of Solli Engineering in Monroe, Conn., told the commission that the statement of use included operations 24 hours a day, seven days a week but acknowledged that the commission has the discretion to limit the hours.
Scott Parker, director of facilities for CPD, said that being open 24 hours would add convenience to the community but was not a requirement. “If we don’t have customers between 12 a.m. and 5 a.m., then we will shut down during those hours, but we can’t speculate,” he said.
Mike Miller, a member of the Zoning Commission, pointed out that the town did not have 24-hour police coverage and relied on state police coverage overnight.
Solli responded that since the town had no restrictions on operating 24 hours per day, his client wanted to include the option in the statement of use.
Concerning traffic, Solli said the Connecticut Department of Transportation “had no concerns with our traffic study. But, Paul Orzel, chair of the commission, questioned whether the study had accounted for the weekend and seasonal traffic in Old Lyme.
“On the weekends from mid-June through Labor day, coming off I-95 and the Baldwin Bridge, it’s four or five lanes of traffic— that creates an instant bottleneck that automatically turns Halls Road into solid traffic every Saturday and Sunday. Likewise, there’s also traffic coming southbound. That’s virtually every Saturday and Sunday and numbers are probably not reflected in the study,” said Orzel.
Solli said his firm did not complete a study for Saturdays and Sundays, adding that the Department of Transportation would not accept a study of those times because it would be comparable to “designing a mall for Black Friday.”
“That congestion is not caused by this facility and it won’t exacerbate that in any meaningful way,” Solli said.
Amy Souchuns, an attorney with Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff in Milford, Conn., who represented CPD Energy Corp., said the gas station and convenience store would be more likely to attract local “pass by” customers on Halls Road who are picking up groceries or dry-cleaning, rather than highway traffic.
“This isn’t likely to be for someone driving from New York to Boston, because if you’re unfamiliar, you’re probably just going to stop at the rest area because it’s easy, it’s convenient,” she said.
Solli said that the convenience store would include improvements to the site including sidewalks with lighting along the street frontage and interior to the site, and improved traffic flow, with entrance-only and exit-only driveways, as well as landscaping.
However, Jane Marsh, secretary of the Zoning Commission, said that improvements to the site could be done at any time and objected to the idea that approving the application for the convenience store was the only way to bring about those changes.
During public comment, Joe Kelly, of Old Lyme, said he was opposed to the project because he did not accept the applicant’s analysis of the traffic on Halls Road.
“I’m on Halls road everyday and it’s very unique — we have an entrance and an exit to I-95 at each end of Halls Road — and that really changes the traffic here regardless of what the experts find,” he said.
Terry Crowley, a resident of Old Lyme, spoke in favor of the project because he said it would improve the location aesthetically.
“I’ve been here 27 years and there are a lot of dumps around — no offense — and here’s one that could be made into a modern [place]. Between the board and the application, you can tweak the hours of operation. I think pushing the excuse of the traffic and bringing in more trips is just not fair to the applicant.”
Attorney Howard Gould, who represented the Enman family that owns Treasures at 95 Halls Road, said that the project had been rejected on two previous occasions and that the location was simply inappropriate for a convenience store.
“People rely on the commissions to be consistent. If you were a business in Old Lyme, how many times does the commission have to turn down this project?” Gould asked.
Souchums told the commission that if the project cannot be accepted with the 227-square-foot addition, that her client would like to ask for approval without the expansion.
In support of the application, Souchuns provided a petition “signed by 187 individuals, some of whom are not Old Lyme residents but the majority are Old Lyme residents.”
The commission closed the public hearing and will deliberate at the Nov. 8 meeting.
Resolution to prohibit marijuana business
The commission voted unanimously to amend the town’s zoning regulations to prohibit all marijuana establishments “to prevent negative unintended consequences of its sale, production, or distribution.”
John Stratton, a resident of Old Lyme, spoke in opposition to the resolution, citing the potential positive effects of marijuana businesses, including the economic effect of cannabis production and the jobs connected with the industry, as well the social aspects.
“I think that the commission should investigate aspects of the public good, when it considers the positive effect of legal sales as opposed to the unknown quantity of illegal sales — what is the overall effect? But in terms of social good that you could do for the town, some economic and social positive things should be considered before we enact a categorical prohibition,” he said.
Mary Siedner, executive director of Lymes Youth Service Bureau, supported the ban because of the “numerous health and public safety risks for youth” associated with marijuana.
“We know from our data that there are clear correlations between access to a substance and use rates. If access increases, use increases. We believe that cannabis establishment in our community would increase access for Old Lyme youth, it would decrease the perception of harm of marijuana, and it would normalize the use of marijuana,” she said. “Marijuana establishments in our community would bring marketing, signage and social media to infiltrate in children’s lives every day.”
Seidner said that a Youth Services Bureau survey suggests the average age of first use of marijuana at 14 years old and the resolution will help to keep the number from going even lower.
“Adoption of an Old Lyme zoning regulation will send a clear message to Old Lyme parents in the news that marijuana is a significant health risk for kids,” she said.
Miller also supported the prohibition and said that he had seen the problems Seidner talked about in his 20 years working in criminal and juvenile law.
“I’ve seen it in our criminal courts, in our juvenile courts and our jails. I firmly believe marijuana is a gateway drug. I haven’t had a single client get into heroin who started off with heroin. I believe the CBD industry is going to be targeted to children, just like Joe Camel with edibles and gummy bears,” he said. “I believe the state legislature made a decision based on money without any care, and a disregard for the youth of America. If we’re wrong, we can always amend this later, but for now I think the most prudent course is to adopt this prohibition on cannabis.”
Zoning amendment for a Halls Road Village District
Jef Fasser, director of planning and landscape architecture at BSC Group, presented a series of slides to the commission to support an amendment that would replace the Halls Road commercial zone with a village district to allow for mixed use residential construction and provide design guidelines patterned on the architecture of Lyme Street.
The new zoning would allow for mixed-use three-story buildings fronting on Halls Road and four-story buildings on side streets, with up to 16 units per acre, Fasser said.
Dan Bourret, land use coordinator for Old Lyme, told the commission that the maximum units would be determined by septic capacity.
Edie Twining, chair of the Halls Road Improvements Committee, said that it was possible that septic systems could be shared between property owners.
According to Howard Margules, a member of the Halls Road Improvements Committee and former co-chair of the Economic Development Commission, the village district will help Old Lyme build its retail capacity in conjunction with the town’s arts community.
“We don’t want to be an off-shoot of I-95. This gives us the opportunity to attract what we want,” Margules said.
Twining said developers had already expressed interest in building residential buildings in the Halls Road area.
Sally Woitowitz, Old Lyme resident, questioned why septic systems would be allowed for high-density residential housing on Halls road when sewers were required in Sound View.
“Now, that’s close proximity to water. I live on Swan Ave. extension and we’re being forced to put in sewers, because, I was told, we’re in a densely populated area. There’s three houses on my street, I have a third of an acre, and they said that’s not big enough for my 800-square-foot house with one bathroom,” she said. “So I don’t see how it’s 12 units on one acre with one shared septic.”
She added that she did not understand why the town would be opposed to a convenience store when the retail included in the Halls Road plan would also attract traffic from the highway.
Alex Twining, a resident of Old Lyme, said the economic benefit of the Halls Road plan, with its dense housing and retail, would be far greater than the town building single family homes, which require spending money on road construction and maintenance.
“If you go over to Old Saybrook, the new housing, whether you like it or not, by the train station, is about 18 acres — about the size of the shopping center. The tax revenue for that housing in Old Saybrook is three times what the shopping center delivers to the town of Old Lyme. So think about that metric — it has the potential for huge positive impact on this town to increase taxes and lower the cost to produce new development.”
The commission voted to continue the public hearing open to its Nov. 8 meeting.
Bus Shelter on Shore Road
With conditions, the Zoning Commission approved a bus shelter “transit hub” at 290 Shore Road, which will be funded by the $400,000 Community Connectivity Grant that has been used to build sidewalks along Hartford Ave. and Shore Road.
Kurt Prochorena, a vice president at BSC Engineering, said the project was being built under the purview of the Connecticut Department of Transportation on a .55-acre parcel located between Swan Ave. and Old Colony Road.
“We will use gravel for the surface — it’s fairly inexpensive and it’s pervious. We want to minimize the impervious surfaces. The two-layer gravel road will be part of the stormwater management system,” he said.
Prochorena said the site will have a “park-like feel” with benches and trees. The premanufactured shelter will be provided by Nine Town Transit and the entire project will probably take about four weeks to construct, Prochorena said.
Frank Pappalardo, a member of the Community Connectivity Grant Committee, said that there were two bus stops on Shore Road that required the bus to stop in the travel lane.
“It’s a dangerous situation — this will be a dramatic safety improvement to get the buses off the road,” he said.
Woitowitz, who lives on Swan Ave. Extension, said she was concerned about the gravel surface because when the town plows, the gravel will be pushed into the road.
Robert Sheffield, who lives on Old Colony Road, said that the town’s fence on the bus site, which abuts his property, had fallen down and rotted. He asked that some of the trees on the transit hub site be planted as buffers along his property line.
As a condition of the project approval, the commission agreed to distribute some of the trees along Sheffield’s property border.
Editor’s Note: Fasser’s comments appear to differ from the draft text for the Halls Road Village District zoning regulations and guidelines states that buildings that front Halls Road can have a maximum of 2.5 stories and a height of 30 feet, not 3 stories as stated in the story. Buildings that are further back from Halls Road can have a maximum of 3.5 stories and a height of 40 feet, not 4 stories as stated in the story.