The request for a drive-through and restaurant-retail complex in Middletown’s historic district along Washington Street passed unanimously at Wednesday’s planning and zoning commission meeting.
In a packed council chambers at city hall, with many seated on the floor and watching proceedings on the lobby television, six commissioners approved Centerplan Company’s request for a mixed-use development special exception.
Vocal opponent to the zoning change Ed McKeon, asked Planning Director Bill Warner for a continuance on his institutional zone proposal, which was tabled to the next meeting.
Commissioners Molly Salafia, Michael Johnson and Les Adams recused themselves from discussion and the vote. After an hour of discussion, Commissioners Ken McLellan (alternate), Joyce Rossitter, chair Richard Pelletier, Elizabeth Emery (alternate), Nicholas Fazzino and Daniel Russo approved the amendment.
Warner read proposed text amendments to the zoning code, including, “no proposal shall result in the demolition of any inventoried building identified” in the city’s survey of historical and architectural resources in 2005 by the Greater Middletown Preservation Trust.
That, McKeon said after the meeting, was “a trick because the three properties on that lot that Centerplan want to develop are not on the inventory, they are historic properties, part of the historic neighborhood, but they are not on the inventory list.”
Early in deliberations, Emery suggested commissioners vote down the amendments and reintroduce them with additional amendments “so the public would have an opportunity to respond” in another hearing session. That was met by claps around the room, prompting Pelletier to ask the audience to refrain from excessive clapping in the interest of moving the meeting along — a reference to the last P&Z meeting and public hearing, which ended at midnight.
McLellan proposed a friendly amendment to require a quarter-acre of land per use and another to strike the minimum building size of 7,500 feet that had been proposed.
Emery was adamant about a carbon footprint study being done for this proposed development, on stretch of Washington Street she called the “most polluted in Middletown.”
Warner countered by saying such a study should require the formation of a subcommittee of planning and zoning and shouldn’t be relegated to just one special exception.
Emery agreed, then asked for an amendment to limit the hours of operation for any drive-through to 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. After some discussion, the commission agreed on a 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. “quiet time.”
After Warner said he subscribes to many city listservs and had never seen a carbon footprint study proposed, Emery responded, “Perhaps we would step forward and be a leader on this,” which was met by applause around the room. “I am looking out for the health of our neighborhoods.”
Once the vote was made, chair Pelletier called a recess and the majority of those in attendance filed out into the lobby.
McKeon, visibly upset, spoke to the press.
“It’s a mockery of what they should be doing as planning and zoning commissioners — they’re laughing in our face. This is a deal done a week ago. It wasn’t done tonight. No minds were made up tonight. I hope they understand that people are watching,” McKeon said.
He said an appeal of the decision will be filed immediately on the grounds that many rules were broken in this zoning change process.
“There are a couple lawyers in the neighborhood, fortunately, so they have been studying case law for weeks. There are tons of grounds by which they can appeal this,” McKeon said. “There is good evidence these guys did not use good judgment. This whole thing is a Trojan horse. They created these exceptions to allow these guys to look at the public and say, ‘this is why we made this decision.’ It was all calculated.”
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