Lawyer hints at store in East Lyme development as 'a potential Costco'

East Lyme - The lawyer for the developers of Gateway Commons describes the big box store in the long-planned project as "a potential Costco."

Attorney Theodore A. Harris identified the wholesaler in a letter about the regulations that would apply to the largest single store in the commercial and residential village proposed near Interstate 95 between exits 74 and 73.

While the residential part of the project already has received final town approval, Simon Konover Development Corp. of West Hartford and KGI Properties of Providence have not yet presented a site plan for Gateway's commercial phase to the Zoning Commission.

The master plan for the commercial phase of the development stipulates that the largest retail store within the complex must have no more than 140,000 square feet of net floor space, according to the commission.

At its meeting Thursday, Zoning Commission members discussed a conceptual floor plan for a wholesale store and the Aug. 27 letter from Harris, which included "a proposed floor plan for a potential Costco" within Gateway Commons and asked for the commission to review the issue of calculating net floor area.

The town approved the Gateway Commons master development plan and then the conceptual site plan in 2008, following several public hearings. The commission rejected the first proposal for 475 residential units before approving a revised conceptual site plan for 200 fewer residences.

After a delay during the economic downturn, the developers received final site plan approval in June for the residential phase of the project. Developers said they intend to begin construction on the 275 residential rental units as early as 2014; construction is expected to take 16 to 18 months. The overall project also calls for nearby roadway safety improvements.

The commission agreed Thursday with the plan's interpretation of areas that would not be counted toward the overall net square-footage under the regulations. For example, an unoccupied area, such as a storage cooler, generally would not count toward net square footage, commission members concluded.

Harris called it a "threshold issue" and said he wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page.

"We just don't want to spend a year of work and then come to the commission and find out we have a very basic disagreement from day one, which is why we thought it was prudent to come to the commission now," he said.

The commission will evaluate the entire Gateway commercial site plan and delve into its specifics if the developers seek approval for the plan in the future. Among other steps needed to move the commercial phase forward is a ruling by the commission that the site plan "substantially conforms" to the approved conceptual plan.

k.drelich@theday.com

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