Gateway sprouts

The revival of the Gateway Commons development plan in the Flanders section of East Lyme is a welcomed economic green sprout, another indication that the nation is continuing its upturn from the deep recession. Connecticut, having entered the downturn late, has likewise seen its recovery lag.

In 2008 this mixed-use project appeared poised to expand the East Lyme tax base and generate jobs, making good use of a large stretch of undeveloped land in a critical location, near exits 73 and 74 of Interstate 95.

But the housing bubble burst, stock prices nose dived, unemployment rose and credit got tight. The plans for Gateway Commons stalled.

Now the Konover Development Corp. reports it is ready to resume, but with a significant change. Whereas several years ago the developer planned to start with commercial development, followed by a residential component, Konover's plan is to start building residential first.

That sets off some alarms. The type of dense residential development planned at the site - 10 residential buildings two to three stories high containing 275 rental units - can cost more in services, particularly for education, than they generate in property taxes. That is what made the mixed commercial development plan so attractive to begin with.

East Lyme First Selectman Paul Formica, while stating he shares the concerns, is persuasive in his belief that on balance the development plans will be a plus for the town and region. Studies suggesting this type of housing will not bring a large number of children into town schools are convincing, he said. The residential component will require the developer to undertake important road improvements on East Society Road and its intersection with Dean Road.

Mr. Formica is confident commercial development will not be trailing far behind. There is discussion of a big-box store component - potentially a Costco - that would generate enough traffic to spawn further retail development, Mr. Formica said. A commercial segment will require the developer to work with the state Department of Transportation on critical improvements to enhance the safety of Exit 74.

The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments has recognized this as among the most important and appropriate sites for development in the region. Mr. Formica appears well aware of the need to do it right.

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