OLD SAYBROOK - At the request of developer Ron Lyman, the Board of Selectmen last week voted to change a 2005 sales agreement for the abandoned Center Road West segment to the development firm Max's Place. The approved amendments now allow the developer to substitute a smaller grocery store of not less than 25,000 square feet for the large, 65,000-square-foot super-store the original sales document stipulated.
The 2005 sales deal, approved by a three-to-one margin in a town referendum, gave the selectmen the authority to sell to Max's Place the abandoned Center Road West road cul-de-sac. The undeveloped road segment ran through the center of the 19.6-acre retail project parcel. With the approved sale, the land was incorporated into the project site plan.
The sales price of $414,000 was based on the value of the land to the developer after attaining town land use permits for the retail project. That payment currently is in a town escrow account awaiting project completion.
The amendments were needed, according to Lyman, because economic conditions have led grocery store chains to downsize its stores, making the large 65,000-square-foot store size stipulated in the original sales agreement now untenable.
"I'm optimistic [the new grocery store tenant] will be Big Y again, but smaller. We do, though, need a little flexibility on the size," said Lyman to the selectmen.
As a result of recent court decisions throwing out a land sale restriction limiting where a grocery store could be built on the site, Lyman said he is now free to make a new site plan with the grocery store in the center of the 19.6-acre site.
The new retail development would also include a Kohl's department store. Lyman said he has received a letter of intent from Kohl's management to build a 50,000- to 55,000-square-foot store on the Spencer Plains Road site.
"The new site plan [we're proposing] would be considered a major modification that would require a hearing before the Zoning Commission," said Lyman.
The Max's Place project was first granted a special exception permit from the town's Zoning Commission in August 2007. Approved was a retail development of more than 100,000 square feet in several buildings arranged on the 19.6-acre site. An earlier proposal for a larger retail project of 135,000 square feet was defeated in January 2007 by a 3-to-2 Zoning Commission vote.
With all of the town permits in hand by late 2007, the developer began to do work to meet the permit's conditions. First among them was an agreed-to condition to perform off-site work to improve stormwater drainage for the Chalker Beach neighborhood.
As the Max's Place contractor began to remove the old pipe in the swale between Route 1 and the entrance to Chalker Beach, it was revealed that the original stormwater pipe installed years before was a smaller diameter pipe than that project's engineering drawings had specified.
In other action, Max's Place in 2008 also secured approval from the State Traffic Commission for road and signalization improvements. The approved design included installing a new traffic light at the intersection of Center Road and Boston Post Road and one at Chalker Beach Road and Route 1.
Also in 2008, the project suddenly lost its anchor tenant, Big Y, as the economy began to sputter. Four years later, Lyman now believes the new plan with a smaller grocery store and a small department store is right-sized for the current economic times.
Attorney David Royston told the selectmen last week that no matter what the board decided, its decision would still need to be ratified later by a town meeting vote.
"If we don't get the Zoning Commission's approval of the new plan, the decision [to change the sales agreement's terms] is moot anyway," said Royston.
Following the presentation by Royston for his client Lyman, First Selectman Carl Fortuna moved approval of the proposed Center Road West sales agreement.
"I certainly don't feel this [relief] should be withheld since you still have to go through Zoning with a new site plan," said Fortuna.
The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to approve the proposed amendments.