OLD SAYBROOK – A proposal that would allow a Big Y gas station to be built near the corner of Boston Post and Spencer Plain roads is heading back to the Zoning Commission with changes aimed at addressing the concerns that led to its unanimous rejection earlier this month.
The proposal to allow gas stations in Old Saybrook’s B-4 zone had already been approved by the Planning Commission by a 4-1 vote in December, but was then voted down unanimously by the Zoning Commission on Jan. 3.
Zoning Commission Chair Robert Friedmann said at the time that he believed gas stations should only be allowed by special exception that requires review and approval by the commission, rather than as an accessory use to any retail as Big Y had proposed.
David Royston, the attorney representing Big Y in its application, agreed to make those changes at the Jan. 3 meeting, but Friedmann declined to re-open the application after the vote had already been taken that night, and told Royston they could re-submit a revised application.
Presenting the idea to the Planning Commission on Wednesday night, Royston said they had changed the language in an attempt to meet Friedmann’s recommendations.
The revised language – which makes gas stations a principal use rather than an accessory use to another retail business – gives the Zoning Commission more discretion over factors like the location of a proposed gas station and its harmony with the neighborhood, Royston said.
It doesn’t prohibit retail uses being associated with a gas station, Royston said – just makes the gas station itself subject to a special exception review.
If the revised language is approved by the Zoning Commission, Royston said Big Y and the Max’s Place shopping center plan to apply for a special exception to connect 12 Spencer Plain Rd. with that shopping center and build a Big Y gas station and convenience store there – part of the grocery chain’s ongoing efforts to build gas stations and convenience stores at its supermarkets.
Some commissioners questioned whether the regulations would open the door for gas stations in other parts of town that could be more objectionable. Royston said any individual station would have to be approved.
“Whatever is going to happen there, before it happens, is going to come back to you again as a specific, special exception site plan,” Royston said.
The revised regulations also address another of Friedmann’s concerns with the original proposal – including not just gasoline, but other motor fuels and electric vehicle charging. Matt D’Amour, Big Y director of store development, said the company is partnering with Volta to install fast chargers at its stations that can fully charge an electric vehicle in 20-30 minutes.
D’Amour said the idea for the gas stations is to establish a “loyalty” rewards program that links gasoline to grocery purchases. It’s a common strategy for grocery chains around the U.S., and a strategy on which D’Amour said Big Y is behind its competitors. But as its customers transition away from gas-burning engines to electric vehicles, that reward has less value to the customer, he said.
“So instead of just cutting your fuel, you’re going to get discounted fuel and/or a discounted or free rate for charging based on your loyalty as a customer,” D’Amour said.