Published June 25. 2014 8:32PM Updated June 26. 2014 1:27PM
Waterford — The property of the former Seaside Regional Center for the developmentally disabled may one day boast a luxury inn managed by Ocean House Management LLC, but neighbors of the property remain wary of any commercial development on the property.
Farmington-based developer Mark Steiner and members of his development team, including Ocean House President and Managing Director Daniel Hostettler, focused their energy Wednesday at the Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing for zoning changes to the Seaside Preservation Zoning District on convincing hearing attendees that proposed development will not disrupt the surrounding community.
Hostettler announced during the meeting that Ocean House’s plans to advise Steiner in developing a luxury inn at the former Seaside Regional Center and would manage the inn. He emphasized in his announcement that the company’s properties in Westerly — the Ocean House at Watch Hill and Weekapaug Inn — are both located in residential areas.
“We have maintained an extremely strong relationship with the town of Westerly and our surrounding neighbors in the community,” he said.
Ocean House is not providing financing for the development, according to Hostettler.
Steiner has proposed changing the zoning regulations of the property off Shore Road to allow for construction of an inn with a maximum of 40 lodging rooms and privatizing the roads inside the prospective condominium and resort development. His current master plan includes 104 units, down from 122 in a plan he had proposed in 2012.
Steiner said that the decision to add an inn was economically driven and that he decided upon it while seeking financing after presenting his previous master plan in 2012. He said the inn would facilitate better amenities to condo residents than a housing community could offer, such as a larger gym, housekeeping services and 24-hour security.
He also said that the market for housing for residents 55 and older, for which the parcel was zoned before Steiner sought zoning changes in 2011, had shrunk, and it was no longer viable to plan on building such a development.
“You have to know, from my perspective, how seriously I took this because we reduced the number of units in this project from 122 to 104,” Steiner said.
Traffic engineer Michael Galante, who worked on the traffic report submitted as part of the hearing, said his firm projected that the inn would generate less traffic than the medical facility that was previously there would have. He also said Great Neck Road and Shore Road show capacity for more traffic flow.
“These roads are actually lightly used,” said Galante, who is executive vice president of planning and transportation consulting firm Frederick P. Clark Associates Inc.
Landscape architect Michael Cegan, with Richter and Cegan Inc., said that shrubbery and open spaces would provide a buffer between the development and surrounding single-family homes.
Neighbors questioned the accuracy of the transportation report and also said they doubted the described buffer would be sufficient.
Magonk Point Road resident Alan Jacques said that when he worked at the Seaside Regional Center, 100 of the roughly 300 staff lived on site and so never drove on and off the premises. He also expressed concern over possible noise from the inn, which would include a banquet facility and restaurant. He said he could hear concerts from Harkness Memorial State Park, even though it is farther away than Seaside.
Neighbors called on the commission to use its legislative power to stop the zoning changes from going through.
Edward Lamoureux, who lives in Ridgewood Park, commented on the fact that the proposed changes are the third set that Steiner has proposed. Steiner first proposed zoning changes in 2003, according to Steiner’s attorney Lewis Wise.
“I call on you to really look at this and say this is really far from the tree that the apple fell from,” he said.
Jacques’ wife Kathy waxed poetic, telling the commission, “Our neighborhood right now is our kingdom and the zoning commission, you are the defender of our realm.”
State Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, attended the hearing and said during a break that she was also concerned about how the zoning had changed over time and what adding a commercial use such as an inn would mean for the neighborhood.
“That’s a very different use in a neighborhood, in a residential neighborhood,” she said.
Cheryl Larder, who is on the Board of Finance and does not live near Seaside, told the commission that amending zoning regulations inevitably drags out the project timeline.
“What I want to suggest is every single time a text amendment comes before you, there’s a process that comes after that,” she said. She explained that neighbors would appeal any changes granted and if changes weren’t granted, Steiner would file an appeal.
The Planning and Zoning Commission decided not to ask Steiner questions during the hearing, though time was allotted for that. Commissioner Dana Award decided not to recuse himself from the hearings, as Wise had previously requested. Award’s house abuts the Seaside property.
The public hearing is set to continue at 6:30 p.m. July 16 at Town Hall.