Long-stalled East Lyme project could finally move forward

East Lyme - The developers of Gateway Commons, a project years in the making that includes retail space, residential rental units and highway-safety upgrades, are asking the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments to help with a "road map" to move forward.

Five years ago, the town of East Lyme had approved a master development plan for KGI Properties and Simon Konover Development to build a 200-acre complex near Flanders Road and Society Road.

Gateway Development District did not only have retail and residential components, but also called for the reconfiguration of the Interstate - 95 Exit 74 ramps and safety improvements along Route 161.

The poor economy stalled the project for years, but the project's developer is encouraged that recent signs of a strengthening economy could help the development's progress.

Newton Brainard of Simon Konover said he sees signs of an "awakening" in the economy, especially in the residential market.

"As those signs continue we will continue to do our due diligence on when the best time would be to move forward on them," he said.

In 2011, SCCOG gave the project its highest recommendation for funding from the Department of Transportation's STP-Urban program to improve the on and off ramps. Brainard is continuing to try to find clients for the development, which he called a "public-private partnership," and would like to use funds allocated to the department of transportation with the council of governments to improve the on and off ramps. In a letter to SCCOG last month, the developers asked to revisit the project with SCCOG, the department of transportation and East Lyme.

"In order for the developer to go forward with their commitment of funding for the design, approvals and construction, a better understanding/commitment is needed on the STP-U funding opportunity," Fred Greenberg, director of traffic services for BL Companies, wrote in the letter to James S. Butler, executive director of SCCOG.

The town of East Lyme has been in support of the project for years. Gateway offers development on one of the largest remaining pieces of commercial property, opportunities to increase the tax base, as well as highway and road safety improvements for motor-vehicle drivers, said First Selectman Paul Formica, who also was elected SCCOG Chairman in December.

Reconfiguring the exits would prevent sharp turns and allow drivers to have "more of a running start to get on the highway," said Formica.

The highway safety improvements mirror those the state Department of Transportation recommended in its I-95 Corridor Feasibility Study. The project would bring significant safety and transportation advantages for the region, he explained.

k.drelich@theday.com

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