Developers Interested In E. Lyme 'Gateway'

East Lyme — Two major developers have teamed to apply for a zoning amendment that would allow them to build a commercial and residential village unlike anything else in the region.

Konover Properties Corp. of West Hartford and KGI Properties LLC of Massachusetts and Rhode Island have applied for a regulation change allowing a Master Development Plan for a 200-acre project adjacent to Interstate 95 at Exit 74.

The area includes property where The Shack restaurant and a driving range are currently located.

The project would include at least one big-box store with up to five “junior anchor stores” and hundreds of residential units. Following a lengthy application process, it would take 10 years to complete, according to the applicants' attorney.

A boulevard would snake throughout the village and the existing I-95 on- and off-ramps would be realigned.

The proposed site has long been targeted for major commercial development, with town officials picturing it as a “gateway” to the region. With that vision in mind, the town created a Gateway Planned Development District there.

In March 2003, developer William J. Schwartz presented his ideas for 167 acres between Exits 73 and 74, but the plan never progressed. Also that year, then-First Selectman Wayne Fraser made a bid to the governor's office to locate Three Rivers Community College in the Gateway District if it left Norwich.

While the Gateway District allows for “coordinated development” of separate parcels within the zone, the proposed amendment would allow a developer to instead offer a design that uses almost all of the land at once.

“Right now, the mechanism is not in place (to develop it this way),” said Theodore Harris, attorney for the applicant. Harris said there haven't been any applications for the Gateway District since its creation.

Harris said the developers are still working out the details and will provide a glimpse for the Zoning Commission when it considers the proposed amendment.

The first public hearing on the amendment is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. May 3 in Town Hall. If the amendment is approved, the applicant would need subsequent approval of the actual development plan.

A fact sheet refers to the proposed development as “Gateway Commons,” and says the developers have obtained purchase options on the majority of the nearly 200 acres.

The proposed amendment would allow anchor stores that are far larger than currently allowed, including one that could be as large as 140,000 square feet — the size of a Home Depot or the like.

The plan would also allow no more than five junior anchor stores ranging from 25,000 to 90,000 square feet. No more than two of those stores could exceed 50,000 square feet.

Of all the retail space, 25 percent or more would be occupied by stores that are smaller than 20,000 square feet. The residential units would be mixed use, Harris said, though he declined to provide specifics. Typically, such uses include single-family homes, condominiums and apartments.

•••••••••••Konover Properties Corp. is well-known around the region for a number of existing and potential projects.

The company once owned the Norwichtown Mall, which it sold in 2002, and was considered for construction manager of the Fort Trumbull development project in New London. The company also owned the former Ramada Inn in Norwich, among other properties, and had proposed tearing down the Wauregan Hotel in Norwich to make way for a new hotel.

Last month, Konover representatives met with officials in Norwich and Preston to talk about the former Norwich Hospital property in Preston. R. Michael Goman, president and CEO of Konover, told Preston officials the company is interested in a “mixed-use plan” of development.

In February, the town of Groton's Planning Commission denied an application by Konover to build a 200,000-square-foot Wal-Mart SuperCenter on Route 184. Konover has since filed a lawsuit in New London Superior Court appealing that decision.

In downtown Norwich, Konover Office and Commercial, a division of Konover Properties Corp., is the property manager and leasing agent for the 89,000-square-foot Mercantile Exchange. The $19 million building was built as a partnership among the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, the state, the city of Norwich and the Norwich Community Development Corp., with the city contributing $1 million, the state $6 million and the tribe $12 million, according to a press release.

In February, Konover finished a $3 million renovation of the 204-unit Eagle Pointe complex in New London, converting the subsidized housing to market-rate apartments.

In East Lyme, Konover owned the former Lulu's Steakhouse property off of I-95, and for a time planned to build a hotel there before selling the property to the Herb Chambers Companies.

According to the Web site for KGI properties, the company, established in 2001, is a joint venture between The Koffler Group and Great Island Development Group. It has developed approximately 1.5 million square feet of property, including retail centers in Taunton, Stoughton and Woburn, Mass., and Hooksett, N.H.
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