NAUGATUCK — The lot at the corner of Water and Maple streets is supposed to be a showcase gateway to the borough’s downtown. But, it sits barren now and looks like it will stay that way a while longer.
Nearly a full year after the Zoning Commission approved the original plan for a building on the land known locally as parcel C, the commission last week voted to send a revised proposal back to the Planning Commission for review and recommendation.
“My concern is we don’t know what is going to go in there. They don’t know what is going to go in there. This could very well be five strip mall offices, pawn shops, or whatever,” Zoning Commission Chairman William Stopper said. “I think it is a dramatic, significant change from what we originally reviewed and approved. I think our civil duty is to make sure everybody is in agreement with what we are doing here.”
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 plan also calls for a separate 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. The borough closed on the sale of the land to Lombard and Oris, who bought it for $150,000, in late March.
By a 3-2 vote, the commission ruled the revised plan constitutes a “significant change.” Stopper and commissioners Rick Cool and Neil Mascola voted that it was a significant change. Commissioners April Slauson and Wendy Fowler voted that it was not, saying the changes presented were minor.
By the same vote, the commission subsequently approved sending the plan back to the Planning Commission.
Slauson said she did not believe that the building was a strip mall since, by definition, a strip mall is a single story row of building with a parking lot in front.
“This has been referred to a strip mall to scare people,” Slauson said. “Yeah, it’s a different plan. But I don’t think it is a major change.”
Oris declined to comment after the meeting.
Some commissioners pointed to the change in the height of the building, which dropped from 65 feet to 55 feet at its pinnacle. They pointed out that just the building’s cupola, not the entire building, would be 55 feet high. According to plan, the highest roof would be 45 feet high and the roofline along the single-story section would be 18 feet high.
The Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation Board of Directors hired a lawyer to represent it at last week’s meeting. Attorney Michael McVerry, who is representing the NEDC, argued the alteration constituted a significant change.
McVerry pointed out that the Connecticut Supreme Court has ruled that when a significant change is made to a site plan, it has to go back before the Planning Commission because the plan is linked to the application.
The Planning Commission has already expressed its views on the new plan in a letter to the Zoning Commission. In the letter, the Planning Commission states the new site plan is not what was approved originally.
“The Planning Commission, recognizing that the Parcel C development project will establish the benchmark for future downtown development for at least two generations, … wishes to go on record as opposing the current Parcel C development plans,” the letter states.
The Planning Commission is expected to take the issue up at its July meeting. If the Planning Commission gives the plan a negative referral, the Zoning Commission would need to a supermajority of at least four votes to approve the plan, according to Borough Attorney Ned Fitzpatrick.
One commissioner sought to move the plan forward last week.
After the commission voted to find the change a significant one, Slauson made a motion to move forward with the approval anyway. However, Stopper, on the advice of Fitzpatrick, declined to accept Slauson’s motion and accepted a motion to send it to the Planning Commission.
Slauson tried a second time to make a motion but was told that there was nothing left for the commission to act on.
“The matter is no longer in front of you. It is at the Planning Commission,” Fitzpatrick said.
The Zoning Commission set a public hearing on the new plan for July 19 at 6:45 p.m. at Town Hall.
According to Fitzpatrick, the Zoning Commission has 65 days from when the revised site plan was submitted to vote on it. Those 65 days are up after the commission’s July meeting.