Garbo taking lobster firm from borough to Groton site

Stonington — Garbo Lobster Co., one of the borough’s few remaining ties to its seafaring heritage, will move its operation to Groton, where it has purchased property along the Thames River.

Company owner David Garbo said Tuesday that he will be placing the Water Street property up for sale within the next few days. A selling price will be determined as early as today.

Garbo, who bought the former fishing dock in 1979 and opened his business three years later, has built it into one of the country’s largest lobster distributors. Each year the company ships millions of pounds of lobsters to customers around the world from its Water Street location and one in Canada.

Garbo has been considering selling the property for the past few years because of repeated complaints about noise and truck traffic from neighbors Osborn and Inger Elliott. Garbo said Tuesday he has spent $49,000 in legal fees defending himself against the Elliotts’ charges.

He said “the straw that broke the camel’s back” came last month when a New London Superior Court judge ruled in favor of the Elliotts that the borough Zoning Board of Appeals had illegally issued him a variance to build a small deck. He could be ordered to tear it down.

In the past, the Elliotts had charged Garbo was violating his zoning permit because he was running a trucking business instead of a lobster company. Borough officials disagreed and took no action against Garbo, who promised to make some changes in his operation to lessen noise and traffic. A large group of residents and commercial fishermen turned out at a hearing to support Garbo.

“I’ve been considering this for a while. It was a tough decision. But I just don’t want to be hassled anymore,” he said.

Garbo also thanked residents for their support.

Garbo’s attorney, Mark Branse, said the Elliotts have been harassing his client for the past decade.

“The Elliotts have sent a clear message to all remaining businesses in the borough: It only takes one or two people with enough time, money and perseverance to harass your operations to the breaking point,” Branse said.

Garbo purchased a site in Groton near Interstate 95 several years ago in case he had to leave the borough. Neighbors there filed three lawsuits against Groton City zoning officials over their approval of the permits Garbo needed. Two suits have been decided in Garbo’s favor and he said he expects a third to end the same way.

Inger Elliott said she and her husband only filed one lawsuit and that was against the appeals board and not Garbo.

“We won that. The reason we won it was purely on legal grounds,” she said, adding she and her husband have also incurred costly legal fees.

“I thought this is what he wanted to do years ago. It makes sense for him because his business is a trucking business and when you are a trucking business you need to be near a major transportation artery,” she said, pointing out the borough with its narrow streets is not near a major highway.

“Stonington Borough is very special. It’s a place we want to have commerce. The question is what type of commerce it can contain,” she said.

In a deed filed in Town Hall Monday, the Elliotts sold one of the two homes they own behind Garbo Lobster to a New Jersey couple for $775,000.

Borough Warden Andrew Maynard said the borough was sorry to see Garbo leave.

“We wish him the best of luck. If he’s thinking of reconsidering or wants to maintain some type of business here we’d be happy to have him,” Maynard said.

He added, “We always believe that business decisions would lead him to where things made the most sense. I regret that time has come. We’ve enjoyed having him here and working with him. He’s always been accommodating when we’ve made requests and we’ve never turned down anything he’s asked for.”

First Selectmen Donald Maranell, who has been a strong supporter of keeping Garbo in the borough, said the town and borough have done everything they could to help him. In return, he said, Garbo “has bent over backwards to make everyone happy.”

“If the neighbors continue, you can’t blame him. He had to make a decision from a business standpoint and for his quality of life,” he said. “Stonington’s loss will be Groton City’s gain. I congratulate Mayor (Dennis) Popp. He’s getting a real great guy and a wonderful business.”

The property contains three buildings with 10,000 square feet of space on two lots with a long dock. It is zoned for marine commercial use.

Michael Blair of Pequot Properties, who has the real estate listing for the property, said Tuesday that it will be an attractive one for businesses because of its location in the borough and along the harbor.

“I think it’s one of the more unique properties in southeastern Connecticut,” he said.
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