GROTON CITY — For the second time, the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted 4-3 on Tuesday to deny a developer’s application to change the zoning rules for the Five Corners neighborhood to allow the construction of a five-story mixed-use apartment building.
Residents at the meeting said the 80-unit, 78,000-square-foot building proposed by GBU Capital of Scottsdale, Ariz., was too tall and dense for the neighborhood near Electric Boat.
The rejected proposal would have created a floating zone known as the Mixed Use Development District, or MUDD, and would have covered 1 Mariani Court, 2 Benham Road/91 Poquonnock Road, 8 Benham Road, 22 Benham Road and 46 Benham Road.
The project would have included 121 parking spaces and required the demolition of a house at 46 Benham Road to provide space for surface parking for the building.
At Tuesday’s meeting the discussion changed course when architect David Goslin of Crosskey Architects presented separate renderings of the five-story building proposed under the floating zone and a four-story building that showed what was allowed under current zoning regulations. The four-story building would contain 60 units, as opposed to 80, and would not include a roof deck.
William McCoy, attorney for GBU Capital, told the commission that the 60-unit building was only being shown as a comparison and emphasized that the floating zone application was consistent with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.
“Just so there’s no confusion on record, we’re not withdrawing the original application. These renderings are really to show you what could be built as of right, if we didn’t go through the MUDD application. We believe that the MUDD application is obviously preferable,” he said.
However, the commission wanted more information about the 60-unit building, with commission member Aundré Bumgardner asking how the parking would change with the reduction of 20 units from the original design.
McCoy repeated that his client was not proposing the 60-unit building as an alternative, but was showing the smaller building in reaction to previous public comment about the scale of the building under the MUDD regulations.
“It is our view that the scale really is not significantly different between the two,” McCoy said.
During public comment, Michael Boucher, a resident of Groton City, said the presentation of the four-story building fit the Plan of Conservation and Development far more closely than the five-story building, and also highlighted the shortcomings of the floating zone.
“What I’m seeing is it shows the failures of the MUDD regulations and how they pertain to our plan of conservation and development,” he said. “It’s disgustingly obvious. I’m very disappointed and I hope the commission will seek a new direction on this final project.”
Tristen Taylor, a resident of Benham Road, told the commission that the neighborhood wanted development without the impact of a five-story building.
“Could you just consider that perhaps the smaller building or a building that maybe we could all agree on would still have the same positive impact to Five Corners as this monstrosity of a building that we’ve been debating,” she said.
David Costello, who lives on Benham Road, suggested that the four-story building could be the beginning of a compromise.
“Maybe they can come back to the drawing board with something we can agree on,” he said.
In his summary, McCoy warned commission members that if the project was denied, it was unlikely that another developer would propose a smaller project because it would not be economically feasible.
“If you turn down things, that’s fine, but understand they may not be coming back for years. You have a golden opportunity in this city – the expansion of EB, the need for housing,” he said. “You can either live with the present and hope for something in the future or to look at something that provides something to you that is positive.”
McCoy asked the commission to consider whether any economic development had moved forward in the neighborhood in the last 20 years.
“Is there really a resurgence in that area of industry? You have failing businesses at this point.” said McCoy.
Bumgardner pushed back on McCoy’s comments regarding the Five Corners neighborhood and said residents should have a say in the area’s future development.
“I’ve seen neighbors look out for one another, seen restaurants flourish down there, seen a mix of uses, mixed use homes, homes with multiple families living in them, maybe with catering business on side. I’ve seen whole host of usefulness in that district,” Bumgardner said. “That neighborhood has given a lot to this city, they should be listened to at this time.”
McCoy clarified that he was speaking of development and redevelopment of the district as described in the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.
Commission chair Paul Kunkemoeller said the project was consistent with the POCD and zoning regulations. He said it would bring housing to FIve Corners that would be walkable to Electric Boat and would diversify the housing types in the city.
Bumgardner and commission members James Streeter, Irma Streeter and Terry Rice voted for the motion to deny the application. Kunkemoeller, Susan Bergeron and Marie Carmenati voted against the motion.
The commission voted 4-3 to deny the developer’s first proposal in May 2021.
Credit: Banner photograph courtesy of Google Map Data 2022