East Lyme commission approves small change in Gateway Commons project

East Lyme - The Zoning Commission voted Thursday to allow five additional units, a total of 280 overall, for the initial residential phase of the long-planned Gateway Commons development.

In June, the commission approved a final plan for 275 residential rental units, the maximum number allowed in the zoning regulations for the proposed development near Interstate 95's Exit 74.

The residential and commercial village, for which the town approved a master plan five years ago, had stalled during the economic downturn.

The commercial phase has yet to come before the commission, but the developers are in negotiations with the state regarding reconfiguring the Exit 74 ramps, a component of the overall plan, said Chairman Marc Salerno at Thursday's meeting.

The developers' lawyer asked to amend the regulations governing the planned development, which the town adopted several years ago, to allow five more rental units. The additional units would not change the project's footprint but would maximize unused spaces in the 10 buildings, he said.

Rocco Tricarico, one of three residents who spoke during the public hearing, said the five additional units were inconsequential, but the commission should have held a public hearing in June regarding the final residential site plan. He argued that there were significant changes to the project's master plan, such as more clustered housing and a residential component preceding the commercial one.

"In five years, we have heard nothing from the developers," he added, saying there were no outreach efforts, the way there were when they proposed the project years ago.

The commission had held several public hearings years ago over the master plan, but the zoning regulations do not require a public hearing for the final site plan when the plan substantially conforms to the original master plan. The original master plan dropped the total number of units from about 475 to 275 units following public input.

Several commission members supported the five additional units because they said it would not change the project's footprint.

However, commission member Terence Donovan questioned whether the architect had taken into consideration the guideline of the 275 units allowed when planning the buildings.

The developers, Simon Konover of West Hartford and KGI Properties of Providence have said construction on the market-rate apartments could begin as early as 2014. Construction on the units is slated to take roughly a year and a half.

k.drelich@theday.com

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