OLD SAYBROOK – The Old Saybrook Zoning Commission paved the way for a significant expansion of the Yale New Haven Health Medical Center at the intersection of Route 9 and Middlesex Turnpike on Monday night over the concerns of a number of residents of a neighboring cul-de-sac.
The commission also unanimously rejected an effort to allow a Big Y gas station at the shopping plaza at Boston Post Road and Spencer Plains Road, though it left the door open to reviewing the proposal with some changes.
Residents of the Brenda Lane cul-de-sac raised concerns that a proposal to build a nearly 10,000-square-foot addition to the existing 25,000-square-foot medical office would increase traffic through the neighborhood and that the proposed expanded parking lot would run up against neighboring parcels.
The commission largely pushed off those concerns, voting 4-1 for a change to the town’s business-2 zone allowing buildings as large as 35,000 square feet on properties of at least 5 acres. Commission Chair Robert Friedmann the lone vote against the change.
Friedmann said the B-2 zone was intended for shopping centers with a large, anchor store, and small, attached complementary stores. He said that he did not see how the planned change would sustain or enhance Old Saybrook’s shopping centers.
“It seems to me the expansion for a five-acre site is not in keeping with the [stated purpose of the B-2 zone],” Friedmann said. “If the business were located in a different district, we wouldn’t have this discussion. So to me, it’s in the wrong district.”
Several residents of Brenda Lane spoke against the proposal in a public hearing in December, including Tom Lopez, whose home is closest to the facility. Lopez said that the proposed parking lot expansion would come right up to his backyard and eliminate the tree line between the home and the medical office.
Lopez questioned the need to change the regulations for an entire zoning district just to allow one facility to expand, and said he was concerned that the Planning Commission appeared to “rubber stamp” the proposal without questioning the applicant.
“I think it would be a more interesting conversation if all the businesses in the B-2 zone were concerned that the regulation as it exists is not sufficient to meet the business needs of the town,” Lopez said. “Business development is important, I support it. The problem here is it’s just one, so I don’t understand why we would change the regulations for essentially an exception to the rule.”
Greg Young told members of the commission that traffic was already a problem for neighbors, with visitors to the medical center turning down Brenda Lane by mistake, believing it was the entrance to the center. Young said that the speeding traffic was a hazard for young children in the neighborhood.
Young disagreed with the findings of a Bubaris Traffic study estimating an additional 348 trips per weekday, including an additional 27 during the morning peak hour and 34 during the evening peak hour – which it characterized as an “indiscernible, and relatively insignificant” impact.
“I sit there during the rush hour for 15 minutes trying to get out of the street now, and you’re adding 30 cars an hour,” he said.
Although the change was made to allow an expansion of the Yale New Haven Health facility, there are eight properties in the B-2 zone with at least 5 acres, said the applicant’s attorney Ed Cassella. Young warned that meant there was the potential to worsen traffic around all of those properties.
Friedmann said that residents’ concerns were not relevant to the regulation change, but would be better addressed when the commission reviews a site plan for the proposed expansion.
The property is owned by “633 Middlesex Turnpike LLC,” registered to Facilities Management in Old Lyme, which is owned by Michael Lech. The facility is leased to Yale New Haven Health.
At the meeting on Monday, facility manager Joanne Sullivan said the office provides “niche” specialties for local residents who would otherwise need to travel to receive treatment.
Sullivan told members of the commission that residents – particularly older residents – would need to travel to New Haven or farther for heart or kidney specialists, or to access Smiley Cancer Center care and chemotherapy. She said that the center’s capacity was limited and was “fully utilized.”
Path cleared for plaza expansion, but no Big Y gas station
The commission on Monday unanimously rejected a proposal to allow gasoline sales in the B-4 district, rebuffing an effort from Big Y to build a gas station and convenience store in the plaza at the corner of Boston Post Road and Spencer Plains Road.
Friedmann said he opposed allowing gasoline sales as an accessory use for retail and restaurants, which wouldn’t require a special exception that the commission would review. He said the applicants should re-apply for the change after removing the accessory use.
“Every restaurant has special exceptions, but if we have a restaurant somewhere, now a gas station could be an accessory to a restaurant,” Friedmann said. “I don’t think that’s the wisest move for Old Saybrook zoning regulations.”
“The commission did approve reduced parking requirements in the B-4 zone, leaving room for an expansion of the retail space in the main section of that plaza – which is home to NAPA Auto Parts and Alforno Trattoria.
Editor’s note: This original version of this story incorrectly stated that the Old Saybrook Zoning Commission approved an application that would have opened the possibility of a Big Y gas station. The commission denied that application unanimously.