B-4 zoning in Old Saybrook is shown in dark purple, B-2 zoning in pink.

Zoning Commission Considers Broader Allowance for Drive-Thru and Fuel Sales

OLD SAYBROOK – The town’s Zoning Commission is considering two applications to allow drive-thru restaurants and a gas station and convenience store at the intersection of the Boston Post Road and Spencer Plains Rd.

Applications have been filed by separate developers and would ask the commission to expand the allowed use of drive-thru service from the town’s B-2 business zone to include the B-4 zone — along routes to the east, west and north of the downtown. The plans would also ask the town to permit the sale of gasoline as an accessory use to a retail store, like a convenience store, in the B-4 zone, and to reduce parking requirements

The two applications – one a joint proposal from Big Y and the owner of the Max’s Place Plaza, and another from the owner of the plaza directly across Boston Post Road – would expand where drive-thru restaurants are allowed. The Big Y application would also allow gas stations and reduce parking requirements.

The Big Y proposal is part of the grocery chain’s strategy of building gas stations and convenience stores near their supermarkets, Matt D’Amour, vice president of development and real estate for Big Y told the Old Saybrook Zoning Commission on Monday night.

On Monday, the commission held preliminary discussions with the applicants. A date for a public hearing has not yet been announced. 

DaveTaglianetti, representing Rhode-Island-based developer Carpionato Group, told the commission that the redevelopment plan for the plaza on the Boston Post Road, which is the current location of Alforno Trattoria, calls for expanding the existing retail space, as well as adding two “out buildings” near the traffic light, which would house drive-thru restaurants and another small retail space. In a call with CT Examiner, Taglianetti said they “absolutely” are planning to keep Alforno Trattoria in the plaza as part of the redevelopment.

Dave Ziaks, who was the project engineer for Max’s Place, and for Big Y developments across the region, said that often existing shopping plazas were built with too many parking spaces. 

Board Chair Robert Friedmann questioned why the language in the proposed regulation was limited to “gasoline,” which would exclude diesel and potentially other fuels in the future like hydrogen or electric vehicle charging stations.

“You wouldn’t have to offer everything, but it would make sense so that you don’t come back for a zone change when you want to add hydrogen or EV charging,” Friedmann said.

Both applications in Old Saybrook also proposed limiting drive-thru restaurants in the B-4 zone to properties that are controlled by a traffic light. Friedmann questioned why that restriction was needed, given that the commission would be able to reject an application if traffic was a problem.

The location of the proposed developments (Credit: Google Map Data, 2021)

Ziaks said the move toward adding gas stations and convenience stores near supermarkets has been an industry-wide trend, but while Stop & Shop and Costco often build a simple kiosk to give customers the option to pay away from the pump, the Big Y convenience stores are more like a mini grocery store.

D’Amour said the company was trying to adapt to the new realities of shopping, and a trend toward customers making more frequent trips to shop for fewer items. The convenience stores are meant to give them a place to pick up a few items in between trips to the supermarket, he said.

A similar model was proposed near a Big Y location on Halls Rd. in Old Lyme, but was unsuccessful

D’Amour said that the grocery chain had developed 13 locations with the convenience store, and that stores in Manchester and Westfield, MA, were good examples of what they intended to construct in Old Saybrook.

D’Amour also said that existing Big Y plazas had been built with more parking than was needed, and that the chain was rethinking that model in light of changing shopping habits and an emphasis on fresh foods.

“The store is doing very well, but we wouldn’t be trying to do this if we didn’t think there was an opportunity,” D’Amour said.

According to Ziaks, changing habits and the existing oversized parking lots had encouraged a move toward including gas stations and drive-thru restaurants. “Plazas are looking at adding outparcels,” Ziaks told the commission. “A lot of these are related to convenience, and all of them want drive-thrus.”

CT Examiner has reported on a trend across Connecticut toward drive-thru service and curbside pickup.

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