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Stonington - Some Planning and Zoning Commission members expressed skepticism Tuesday night about a proposal by a Pawcatuck resident to allow health clubs in the town's manufacturing zones, some of which have large amounts of vacant space.
But after a two-hour public hearing, the commission voted 4-1 to approve the application with the stipulations that the use require a special-use permit and that it be limited to spaces up to 10,000 square feet in existing buildings.
During the hearing, Alfred Furtado, a chiropractor, told the commission he is seeking the change because he would like to open a CrossFit gym in a vacant 5,000-square-foot section of 100 Mechanic St., which allows such uses as a brewery and manhole cover maker.
The proposal by Furtado's Mystic Spine & Sport comes as the Economic Development Commission looks to expand the allowed uses in the manufacturing zone so vacant buildings and properties can be reused. It has asked for public input and plans to ask the land-use commission to expand the uses by the end of the year.
At the hearing, PZC member John Prue said a health club is not compatible with uses in the zone, and he is worried the town is slowly chipping away from the space that's available for manufacturing. "Manufacturing is the heart and soul of this town," he said.
Commission member Gardner Young told Prue the change would not stop a manufacturer from moving into such spaces. And if Furtado's gym fails, he said the space would be open again for manufacturing.
Prue, who voted against the application, and commission member Ben Tamsky questioned Furtado about space in other zones that would work for his club. But Furtado said CrossFit gyms are located in industrial spaces because of the need for high ceilings. He said he's been looking for appropriate space in town since last winter but has not found any that meets the CrossFit requirements.
EDC Chairman Blunt White said 70,000 of the 320,000 square feet in the mill where Furtado hopes to open his gym is vacant, and no new lease has been signed there in five years. He said Yardney's impending departure down the street will soon leave 260,000 square feet more of empty space.
"This is a positive. It doesn't work against the M-1 zone. We're not taking away from it," White said, adding the trend is to try to find innovative uses for old mills.