Debate over Parcel C building continues

An artistic rendering of a proposed building on Parcel C in downtown Naugatuck. –CONTRIBUTED

NAUGATUCK — After hours of debate, the future of a development on Parcel C remains up in the air.

In May, developers Rob Oris and John Lombard, working under the name Heritage Downtown, LLC, submitted a new plan to build a 27,700-square-foot building that will have a two-story medical office and five single-story retail spaces on Parcel C, the vacant lot at the corner of Maple and Water streets downtown. The plan also calls for a 5,000-square-foot building.

This design is the third version of the plan they have submitted.

The original design called for a nearly 30,000-square-foot, three-story medical office building with St. Mary’s Hospital as the main tenant and a 5,000-square-foot building. This plan received approvals from borough officials, and the borough closed on the sale of the land to Lombard and Oris, who bought it for $150,000, in late March.

The Zoning Commission on Tuesday held a special meeting with a public hearing to further discuss and get input on the new proposal. Ultimately, the commission continued the discussion until its June 21 meeting, but that didn’t stop officials from going back and forth a bit with the developers.

Oris said the new design was a “minor change” since the square footage of the proposed building was the same as the original plan.

“We will commit tonight to ensure the building’s square footage doesn’t change one square foot from what we originally gained approval for. That’s what we’ve put forth before you,” Oris said.

Borough officials contended that the proposed building is about 1,700 square feet less than the previous proposal. Oris disputed those figures and said they are committed to delivering a building like they originally promised.

“We are not here to bamboozle anybody,” Oris said. “My partner and I want to invest over $6.5 million into this project and you guys want to argue over 100 square feet or suggest that we have somehow delayed this process. It is all false. So you can continue to throw aspersions on us and make us out to be the villains you want us to be, but that’s not true. My partner and I are prepared to do everything we need to in order to make sure the facts come out.”

Attorney Kevin McSherry, who represents Oris and Lombard, said the new plan is more compliant with the zoning regulations.

According to McSherry, the new proposed design would increase the number of parking spots and reduce the height of the building, which the developer had to get a waiver for. The lot is in a B-1 zone district.

“We have met the regulations in the zoning plan and that is our only obligation — to meet the regulations,” McSherry said.

Members of the public were not impressed with the new design.

Resident Diana Raczkowski said the proposed building went from something nice looking to a strip mall.

“I don’t care how you dress it up or what you call it. It is a strip mall with a two-story building on one end and a restaurant on the end. But the middle is a strip mall,” Raczkowski said.

Raczkowski felt the building doesn’t fit in with the character of downtown.

“This is the kind of thing that belongs on Rubber Avenue. You are bringing Rubber Avenue right around the corner and bringing it right downtown,” Raczkowski said.

Developer Rob Oris, right, addresses the Naugatuck Zoning Commission on Tuesday night at Town Hall. –LUKE MARSHALL

Resident Earl Lindgren said the new proposal is more than a “minor change.”

“It is a major and substantial change,” Lindgren said. “This property right here. If you were playing Monopoly, that’s Park Place and Boardwalk in Naugatuck. And, in my judgment, it needs something more powerful that responds to the historic downtown, responds to the height of these buildings adjacent to it.”

Lindgren encouraged the commission to make Oris and Lombard resubmit their plan and go through all the boards and commissions for approval again.

“If I could do it, I would say, ‘Let’s go back to square one and rethink what we are putting there,’” Lindgren said.

In May, the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors approved a statement saying it would support the new plan for the building if the developers would add a second story of either retail or commercial space above the single-story section.

The vote to approve it was split with seven members approving it, five against it, and one abstaining.

Chester Cornacchia, a member of the NEDC Board of Directors, said the board has never been so split on an issue as it is on the design for this building. He encouraged the commission to consider the impact developing Parcel C will have on the 5-acre property at the corner of Maple Street and Old Firehouse Road locally known as Parcel B.

“I know these developers want to do the right thing, but they need to be guided by what our bare minimum standards are,” Cornacchia said. “I have heard members of this commission and our board saying, ‘Well, we are not going to get it right over here, but we will get it right on Parcel B.’ No we won’t because Parcel B is waiting to see what will happen on Parcel C.”

Although the Zoning Commission wasn’t committed to approving or rejecting the plan, most viewed it in a favorable light.

Commissioner April Slauson said the plan is better than a vacant parcel of land.

“I have been here for 12 years. It will be empty for another 10 if that’s what you want,” Slauson said.