Lawyers Debate Stonington Gas Station Approval, ‘Due Process’

Jannat, LLC, has submitted a proposal for the third time to redevelop a former gas station at 54 S. Broad St. in Pawcatuck. (CT Examiner)


TwitterFacebookCopy LinkPrintEmail

STONINGTON — At Tuesday’s Planning and Zoning meeting, a lawyer representing a nearby gas station at 60 S. Broad St. enumerated for members a range of potential legal and regulatory violations posed by the erection of a three-pump station and convenience store at 54 S. Broad St. 

Each violation was rebutted by counsel for the applicant – leaving the commission to weigh the arguments on the third submittal of an application by Jannat LLC, of Waterford, to build a 3300-square-foot convenience store and gas station where a mom-and-pop station once stood. 

Jon Chase, attorney for Aldin Associates Limited Partnership, which owns Chucky’s Food Store and gas station at 60 S. Broad St., questioned whether the site qualified as a continuous preexisting non-conforming use as a gas station –  and whether that would exempt the parcel from the town’s zoning regulation that prohibits gas stations from being built within 1500 feet of one another. Chase said the previous town planner’s legal research as well as a letter written by the town attorney a year ago were inconclusive on the matter.

Chase emphasized that due process and “fundamental fairness” required the commission to hear all of the evidence going forward and disregard previous legal advice before making a decision on the application. 

He said that if the commission could not “unring the bell” and disregard previously presented information, then the commission should deny the application without prejudice and let the applicant resubmit immediately, holding a new public hearing “that does not contain this due process issue, does not contain this instruction, this guidance, to reach a particular legal result issue that we know is significant.”

Commission member Ben Philbrick, former chair, responded that he had full confidence in the town planner’s work as well as the conclusions of Town Attorney Thomas Londregan. 

“I think he mentions that if evidence can be brought up that it was never abandoned, then we can proceed,” Philbrick said. 

Chair Charles Sheehan said, “that’s not to say that we may not reach a conclusion later on that we want to talk to our lawyer before we vote.”

Chase and several supporting witnesses questioned whether the 17 parking spaces on the site required a special use permit and whether the signage and landscaping would obstruct drivers’ sight lines. Additional questions were raised including the adequacy of turning radius, night lighting for gas deliveries, and runoff remediation of contaminants from vehicles. 

Attorney John Casey, of Robinson Cole, represented Jannat. He argued that a regulation — in this case a mandated separation of 1500 feet between gas stations — could not be applied to a non-conforming use existing prior to the enactment of the regulation.

Casey told commission members, despite the removal of fuel tanks in 2016, the evidence showed that the prior owner had no intent to abandon the use of the property as a gas station, and by state statute a discontinuance of use was not sufficient evidence for abandonment.

Kyle Haubert, a principal of CLA Engineers, told the commission that erosion and sedimentation control measures had been approved by the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission and the town engineer. He said the stormwater plan and sightlines had been reviewed by the Connecticut Department of Transportation.

After closing the public hearing, Vice Chair Ryan Deasy said the commission needed to ask the town attorney about the 1500-foot separation rule, dual uses of a gas station and convenience store, and parking.

Commission alternate Andy Meek also asked for clarification regarding how abandonment of a use was tied to the demolition of an existing building and the erection of a new one. 

Chair Sheehan said he would feel more comfortable if the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the police commissioner and the town engineer took another look at the sightline distances along So. Broad St. 

The matter was continued to the commission’s next meeting on Sept. 18.