Waterford drops Seaside condo plan age restriction

Waterford - The age restriction is gone, but the historic buildings are going to stay at Seaside Regional Center.

The Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday voted unanimously to accept the town planner's recommendations to eliminate the provision that the luxury condominiums, proposed by developer Mark Steiner, be limited to those ages 55 and up.

The commission also agreed with the planner's recommendation to keep language in the zoning laws that would require Steiner to keep the historic Beaux Arts buildings at the former sanatorium and home for the mentally disabled.

Steiner, who was stuck in Hartford traffic and missed the commission's vote, said after the meeting that he was encouraged by the commission's decision.

"It's been a long, long time," Steiner said. "Reality is setting in."

Steiner has an agreement with the state to purchase the 32-acre site and is planning to build between 80 and 120 high-end units on campus.

Commission Chairman Edwin McGuire said the commission considered testimony from Steiner and the public and advice from town staff in coming to its decision.

Only the four commissioners who were present for the entire Seaside zone change process voted on the amendments. The changes needed a four-fifths vote to pass.

In his recommendations, Planning Director Thomas Wagner wrote that "there are insufficient reasons" to retain the age restriction and that doing so would "limit the market and feasibility of the project."

In the three public hearing sessions on the zone changes, some town residents worried that if the age restriction was removed, it could overburden the public schools with an influx of new students.

Wagner said there was "sufficient information" about the ability of the school system to accommodate any potential school-aged children who might move into the Seaside development.

Steiner maintained throughout the hearings that the condos would be marketed as second homes and would not appeal to younger families with children.

Resident Debby Green, who lives adjacent to Seaside, said she wanted the restriction to remain, considering Steiner has not submitted any updated designs for the property since requesting the change.

In considering the historic Cass Gilbert-designed buildings on the site, Wagner wrote that the existing language "provides sufficient discretion to the commission to consider what level of redevelopment is feasible and prudent."

Steiner had sought a zone change permitting the demolition of the buildings because the structures on the Seaside site have fallen into disrepair since the state shuttered the facility in 1996.

Wagner, however, countered that "the concept of replacement historic structures presupposes the demolition of one or more of the buildings" and "the historic structures must continue to be the focus of any adaptive reuse of the site."

Wagner also recommended that if Steiner needs to renovate any of the buildings, renovations should be consistent with the U.S. Department of the Interior's standards for historic properties.

The commission also ruled that Steiner could build additions to the structures, provided they are architecturally consistent and extend only to the height of the original structure. A private dining facility for residents of the Seaside development was also approved.

Steiner took the denial of the second zone change request in stride, saying that he had members of his development team who are "very familiar with Cass Gilbert." He said he was still working on financing for the property and that the $250,000 deposit due to the state was in escrow.

Next, Steiner will submit a site plan, though he declined Monday to state a strict time frame for the development.



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