A Second Try for a Big Y Gas Station and Convenience Store in Old Saybrook

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

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Old Saybrook Police Commission Debates Evaluations, Approves $5.5 Million Budget

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OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s police commission approved a $5.5 million draft budget for the Department of Police Services, including a scheduled $3,300 increase in Chief Michael Spera’s salary. The vote, which amounted to a 4 percent increase in total spending, came after a lengthy debate about whether that raise should be contingent on a performance evaluation.  “Again, my concern this year is that there is a raise in here for the chief and we have yet to do any kind of an evaluation,” said Commissioner Renee Shippee during a meeting of the commission on Friday. “I find that a

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Zoning Okays Zoning Change for Yale Health Expansion, Blocks Gas Station Proposal

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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

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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

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Candidates for Old Saybrook’s Police Commission Sound Off

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OLD SAYBROOK — The Democratic candidates for the Old Saybrook Police Commission — incumbents Alfred “Chub” Wilcox and Renee Shippee, as well as newcomers Jessica Calle, Jill Notar-Francesco, and Carol Manning — sat separately for interviews with CT Examiner to answer questions about their thoughts on the role of oversight, the accessibility of the commission to the public, and the handling of complaints from the public and police staff. No Republican candidate for the commission was willing to be interviewed for this story. Biographies in brief Chub Wilcox is a retired lawyer who spent 40 years practicing complex litigation, including

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The Essex moves to Old Saybrook, as Colt Taylor Looks Ahead

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OLD SAYBROOK — Chef Colt Taylor received approval from the Zoning Commission on Monday to relocate his flagship restaurant, The Essex, to 247 Main St. in Old Saybrook, the site of a former bakery.  The Zoning Commission unanimously approved a special exception for a restaurant with 42 indoor seats in the building’s 1,500-square foot first-floor space, as well as up to 20 outdoor seats. The commission approved the conversion of the building’s second floor from office space to two 700-square-foot accessory apartments on March 15.  Taylor said he “fell in love” with moving the restaurant across from the Katharine Hepburn Cultural

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Republicans and Democrats on Old Saybrook Police Commission Debate Privacy, Oversight

OLD SAYBROOK — Claiming the need to exercise oversight, Democrats on the Old Saybrook Police Commission refused to turn over copies of a complaint against the town’s police department, despite Republican commissioners and Chief of Police Michael Spera insisting that keeping copies of the document violated the right of victims to privacy.    Copies of the complaint were sent to Town Hall addressed to each of the commissioners by name according to commission member Alfred “Chub” Wilcox.  At a meeting of the commission on Monday, Chair Frank Keeney requested that all of the commissioners return their copies of the complaint to

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Old Saybrook Debates Residential Redevelopment of Marine Industrial Lands

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OLD SAYBROOK — After extended discussion on Wednesday night, the town’s Planning Commission voted to table a decision to change the town’s zoning rules to allow residential development in marine industrial zones, including Ferry Point, citing inconsistencies with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development.  The applicant was 91 Sheffield Street, LLC, represented by attorney Marjorie Shansky. And the specific area in question is a 9.93-acre site is a waterfront parcel on North Cove zoned marine industrial. There are four structures on the site — one has collapsed — totaling about 11,000 square feet, formerly occupied by an oceanographic research company. 

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Police Commission Votes to Replace German Shepherd with Labrador Retriever

OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s Police Commission voted unanimously Monday night to accept Chief Michael Spera’s proposal to sell one of the department’s German Shepherds to his former handler and replace him with a Labrador Retriever.  The dog’s handler, Patrolman Jared White, is leaving the Old Saybrook Police force. Spera said that at the present time, no other officers were willing to take charge of the dog, and that it was uncertain whether or not the dog could adapt to a new handler.  The canine, Sonny, is one of two German Shepherds that make up Old Saybrook’s K-9 unit. Sonny

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Zoning Rejects Beer and Wine Service at Cocotte in Old Saybrook

OLD SAYBROOK — Cocotte French Cuisine and Desserts received a ‘hard no’ from the town’s Zoning Commission Monday night regarding a possible permit to serve beer and wine — a decision that threatens the viability of the new restaurant, the owners said.  Jeffrey and Isabelle DeFrancesco, who opened Cocotte on June 25 in the historic James Pharmacy at 2 Pennywise Lane, said a beer and wine license would allow their restaurant to stay in business. “We’re trying to sustain a business and we’ve just launched. And I can tell you right now, if we don’t sell beer or wine in the

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Fortuna to Run Unopposed in Fall Election as Parties Announce Slates

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OLD SAYBROOK — First Selectman Carl Fortuna will be running for re-election unopposed in November, according to the candidate rosters that Old Saybrook Democrats and Republicans released earlier this week. John O’Brien, chair of the Old Saybrook Democratic Town Committee, said it was difficult to find someone to challenge Fortuna because of the current first selectman’s record for keeping taxes low in the town.  “It’s a very difficult preposition … running against someone who has maintained taxes at a pretty level base,” said O’Brien.  Mark Caldarella, chair of the Republican Town Committee, said Fortuna had brought the town into “strong

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Police Commission Votes to Take No Action On Turnover Allegations

The Old Saybrook Police Commission voted on Monday 5-2 to take no action on Chief Michael Spera’s report on employee turnover.  The report is a 144-page document that includes exit interviews and responses from two exercises in which Spera asked current officers and dispatchers how the department could attract and retain employees.  In January, the Board of Selectmen asked Spera to provide this information in an effort to better understand why officers were leaving the department at a relatively high rate.  Commissioner Alfred “Chub” Wilcox and Commissioner Renee Shippee, the two dissenting votes, said that they wanted to speak further

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Old Saybrook Police Commission to Meet Tonight on Staffing, Benefits

OLD SAYBROOK — Chief of Police Michael Spera is expected to ask the town’s Police Commission to increase pay and benefits for tenured police officers after a recent report on employee turnover indicated that benefits may be a reason that the department is losing officers.  Spera compiled the report at the request of the Board of Selectmen in an effort to better understand why officers were leaving the department at a relatively high rate. In January, the board counted 32 police officers who have left the department since 2009, the year Spera became chief of police. An additional two left

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Schools Across the Region Outline Varying Ideas for Spending Federal Dollars

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School districts across southeastern Connecticut are in the process of drawing up plans for how they intend to spend millions of dollars of federal funding that will be available over the next two years. The money comes in the form of two anticipated grants, known as ESSER II and the American Rescue Plan.  The proposals include a variety of projects, from outdoor classrooms to bilingual therapists, summer enrichment and chromebooks.  Here is a rundown, district by district:  Lyme-Old Lyme Ian Neviaser, superintendent at Lyme-Old Lyme schools, said the district won’t be using the combined $1.48 million in federal aid for

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Zoning Commission Denies ‘Smoke on the Water’ Application as Incomplete

OLD SAYBROOK — The Zoning Commission voted unanimously to deny without prejudice the application of Smoke on the Water for a 300-seat outdoor restaurant at the former Dock & Dine, citing an incomplete application for the project at a virtual public hearing Monday night. Commission Chair Robert Friedmann said the commission had the choice to continue the public hearing or to deny the application without prejudice. The latter would allow Jon Kodama, who owns the property, and his business partner, Chef Colt Taylor, to reapply.  Kodama and Taylor were required to submit a complete application 14 days prior to the

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Old Saybrook Police Commission Discusses Private Donations, Off-budget Accounts

OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s police commissioners raised concerns at a meeting on Monday about the Old Saybrook Police Department’s policies governing private donations and off-budget accounts.  Police Commissioner Alfred “Chubb” Wilcox asked that the commission form a subcommittee to speak with the finance director, First Selectman Carl Fortuna, Chief Michael Spera, the union and other communities, to better understand the donations to the department.  Wilcox questioned whether the police department should accept cash donations, and said that donations that came with requirements or “strings attached” should need commission approval.  Spera said that prohibiting cash donations to the department would

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Gateway Approves Outdoor Restaurant Application, Outlines Further Issues for Old Saybrook Zoning

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The Connecticut River Gateway Commission approved Smoke on the Water, a proposed 300-seat outdoor restaurant in Old Saybrook, but agreed to send a letter to the Old Saybrook Zoning Commission outlining a number of concerns outside of Gateway’s jurisdiction. The Zoning Commission is scheduled to consider the project at a public hearing on May 3. Torrance Downes, who serves as senior planner at Gateway, explained in an email to CT Examiner that such issues as ambient smoke, days and hours of operation, noise levels, traffic and the other details are under the jurisdiction of the town’s Zoning Commission rather than

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Saybrook Point Outdoor Restaurant Wins 3 to 2 Vote by Town’s Planning Commission

OLD SAYBROOK — In a three to two vote, the Planning Commission has approved an application for a special exception for Smoke on the Water, a 300-seat outdoor restaurant to be created with customized food trailers at the former Dock and Dine property on College Ave.  “[The property] needs to generate cash flow if there is any chance of moving to a whole building at some point down the road,” said chef Colt Taylor, who is pursuing the project with property owner, Jon Kodama. Taylor said he was grateful to the zoning members who “stepped up and didn’t just follow

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Without Detailed Designs,’Smoke on the Water,’ Hits Turbulence in Old Saybrook

OLD SAYBROOK — Smoke on the Water, a 300-seat outdoor restaurant slated for the former Dock and Dine property on College Ave., hit an obstacle Monday night when the Architectural Review Board agreed that the project application was incomplete and asked for a landscape plan that complied with regulations, elevations of the food trailers, and a site plan showing the locations of tables, tents and other equipment.  The board’s questions began during a zoom presentation about the restaurant — which will use towable trailers for food prep, storage, and bar service — by Ed Cassella, an attorney of Old Saybrook

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Old Saybrook Commission Votes 5-2 Against Pursuing Allegations of Misconduct

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OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s Police Commission voted 5-2 on Monday night not to pursue an investigation into the conduct of Chief of Police Michael Spera in response to allegations made by former officers in the Old Saybrook Police Department.  Alfred “Chub” Wilcox made a motion to request that the Board of Selectmen fund the commission to hire a lawyer with “expertise in constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The lawyer would interview former and current members of the department, assess the legality of Spera’s orders and practices and report the findings confidentially to the commission.  Wilcox and Renee

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Saybrook Point Restaurant Clears First Hurdle, Meets Favorable Response

OLD SAYBROOK — Smoke on the Water, a 300-seat outdoor restaurant slated for the former waterfront site of Dock & Dine, received the first of three necessary regulatory approvals at Monday night’s meeting of the town’s Zoning Commission. The Zoning Commission unanimously approved a zoning text amendment that will allow an outdoor restaurant for a maximum of 180 calendar days in the SP-2 zone, known as Saybrook Point.  The amendment created a regulation that allows the applicant, Jon Kadama, owner of the Dock & Dine parcel at 145 College St., and chef Colt Taylor, to apply for a special exception —

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‘A lot more moving parts,’ Old Saybrook Official Says of Restaurant Approval

OLD SAYBROOK — A zoning text amendment change is one of three approvals needed for Smoke on the Water, an outdoor restaurant proposed for the former Dock and Dine site at 145 College St.  Christina Costa, zoning enforcement officer for the town, said the text amendment on the Zoning Commission agenda tonight must receive approval and an effective date must be set before the commission can consider the applicant’s request for a special exception for an outdoor restaurant.  “You can’t approve the special exception without the regulation being approved first,” said Costa. The applicant, Jon Kodama, owner of the Dock

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Public Weighs in on Proposed 300-seat Outdoor Restaurant in Old Saybrook

OLD SAYBROOK — The proposal for Smoke on the Water, a 300-seat outdoor restaurant slated for the site of the former Dock & Dine at 145 College St, has attracted significant public attention, both positive and negative, as the project works its way through the town’s approval process for zoning and planning. The plan calls for two large charcoal smokers centered around a fire pit and eight high-tech trailers — two equipped for food prep, one set up for alcohol service, one to house portable restrooms, and others to store supplies. The trailers would be on-site for 180 days or

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Old Saybrook Reports Healthy Finances, Growing Grand List Heading into 2022

OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s Board of Selectmen approved a $47,187,717 budget for fiscal year 2022, an increase of $167,292, or .36% over last year.  First Selectman Carl Fortuna said the town’s stable financial situation allowed Old Saybrook to project a slight decrease in the mill rate — from its current 20.05 to between 20.00 and 20.04. Last year, the mill rate increased from 19.75 to 20.05. Fortuna said this year is the second time in four years that the town has been able to lower the mill rate.  Fortuna said that in spite of the coronavirus, the town saw

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Amtrak Settles ADA Claims For Stations in Connecticut and Rhode Island

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Amtrak riders with disabilities may qualify in certain cases for monetary damages after the passenger rail service settled claims that dozens of stations across the country, including stations in Connecticut and Rhode Island, failed to meet legal standards for accessibility. Three stations in Connecticut — Windsor, Windsor Locks and Old Saybrook — and one in Westerly, Rhode Island were part of the settlement that included 78 stations across the country.  As part of the settlement, Amtrak agreed to fix problems of accessibility, and pay $2.25 million into a fund paying out claims to people with disabilities who were harmed by

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Police Commission Votes on Personnel Query

OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s Police Commission voted 6 to 1 on Monday night to ask Chief of Police Michael Spera to compile a public report on the number of officers who have left the police department in the past 11 years.  The request was in response to a Jan. 12 letter from the Old Saybrook Board of Selectmen requesting that Spera produce a document providing the sworn personnel who have left the department, the length of time they remained and the reasons they provided for leaving. The selectmen asked that the document include officers’ exit interviews and any other

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Outdoor Dining Proposed for Dock & Dine Property by Local Restauranteurs

OLD SAYBROOK — Two restauranteurs are proposing to open a seasonal outdoor restaurant using towable food trailers at the former Dock & Dine property at 145 College St near the mouth of the Connecticut River. “Essentially they’re like trailers, like a food truck hall, but the new ones are very sleek looking they’re very modernized,” said Colt Taylor, chef of The Essex and Los Charros Cantina in Essex, who is working on the project with Jon Kodama, owner of the property since 1987 and managing partner of JTK Management Restaurants, the group that owns the former Dock & Dine as

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Letter and Closed-door Discussion Spark Call for Closer Look at Police Claims

OLD SAYBROOK — The town’s police commission has decided not to take action on a complaint from a former sergeant in the Old Saybrook Police Department who requested in a letter that the commission investigate what he called a “toxic and hostile work environment.”  The commission voted 5-2 to not take action on the complaint, with commissioners Renee Shippee and Alfred Wilcox providing the dissenting votes. Officer William Bergantino, who authored the letter, began working at the Old Saybrook Police Department in 1997, and remained there for 23 years. In 2019, Bergantino moved to another department, taking a reduction in

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Amtrak Adds Clearance to Connecticut River Bridge in Response to Local Concerns

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OLD LYME — In response to concerns from the maritime community concerning vertical waterway clearance, Amtrak has redesigned a portion of a new bridge that will replace the 1907 bascule bridge that extends across the Connecticut River between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme.  The vertical clearance underneath the existing bridge is about 17.75 between spans and close to 18 feet under the movable span, according to an email from Craig Rolwood, a rail practice project manager with Hardesty & Hanover LLC, which is a consultant to Amtrak. The new bridge, an $400 million project expected to be completed in 2030,

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Police Commission Approves Budget, After Discussing Contracts and New Initiatives

OLD SAYBROOK — The Old Saybrook Police Commission voted 5-2 to approve a budget of $5,333,360 for the town’s police department on Monday night — an increase of $95,088 over last year. The draft budget will next be sent to the town’s board of selectmen for a final vote. The budget includes a 2.25 percent raise in salaries, an increase in workman’s compensation and an increase in retirement benefits for officers as negotiated in the collective bargaining agreement with the police union. Dispatchers will also receive a two percent salary increase.  Other increases in the budget came from unfunded mandates

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