Seaside developer proposes zoning amendment to allow inn
Waterford — Farmington-based developer Mark Steiner, the state's preferred developer for the former Seaside Regional Center site, has submitted proposed amendments to the town's zoning regulations governing the Seaside Preservation Zoning District including one that would allow construction of an inn on the property.
The changes, received Monday by the Planning and Zoning Commission, come a week after state Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, and state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-20th District, proposed an amendment to three legislative bills that would require the Department of Administrative Services to sell the property by Jan. 1 or reissue a request for proposals.
"What we're looking at doing is a five-star type of operation that would be very much a world-class resort," Steiner said before the meeting on his plans for the former institution for the developmentally disabled. The developer did not attend the meeting.
He said condos are still part of the plan. Seaside is still zoned to contain up to 122 units.
Planning Director Dennis Goderre said during the meeting that the commission has 65 days to set a public hearing and that Planning and Zoning intended to consult experts about the proposal.
A group of about 10 neighbors attended the meeting, which did not include a public comment period. The residents later spoke about their concerns, saying they are worried about noise, lights and traffic.
Magonk Point Road resident Brian Carey said that at a past hearing, Steiner explicitly said he would not build a commercial facility on the property. His neighbor, Susan Radway, said that in that hearing Steiner had proposed food service for residents but not for the public.
"This is exactly what he said he wouldn't do," said Carey.
Other proposed changes include privatizing roads within the development. A street located outside the property would provide access to the public beach abutting Seaside, according to the proposal.
Steiner said the road would be located on an adjacent parcel of private land, which he said he intends to purchase. The parcel is located on the east side of Seaside.
Debby Green, who lives on Woodsea Place, said she was concerned about the conditional phrasing of the regulation that would allow for the street to run around Seaside.
The addition states, "The street may be located outside the Seaside Preservation District."
Steiner first began vying for rights to the property in 1999, a few years after the decommissioning of the institution. The property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and includes two buildings designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert.
Since the state chose Steiner, managing member of Seaside in Waterford LLC, as the preferred developer, he has struggled to cobble together the funds to purchase the property. He still faces foreclosure on his home in Avon for failing to repay a $650,000 mortage and he has been ordered to make $35 a week in payments to satisfy a judgment by American Express. Steiner declined Monday to identify what people or entities would provide financing for the purchase of the $8 million property and the $100 million development.
Steiner said considerations of locating the inn in the nurses' building designed by Gilbert are in an "evolving state." He said he began looking into rehabilitating the building after the nonprofit Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation requested that he do so.
He said he planned to either rehabilitate or reconstruct other buildings on the property, including the main hospital designed by Gilbert and duplex cottage and superintendent's building designed by Fred S. Langdon.
First Selectman Daniel Steward, who did not attend the meeting, said before the meeting that he approved of the changes as long as plans met certain conditions. For example, he said private roads would still need to be accessible to emergency and town vehicles.
As for the proposal, Steward said "It's probably pretty good news because, basically, we were concerned somewhat for the financing."
Steiner said he is "confident" he can score financing, but said investors will not provide financing until approvals are granted.
Goderre wrote in an email before the meeting Monday that Steiner cannot apply for a building permit until he has submitted a site plan and special permit application to zoning and a wetlands application to the Conservation Commission.
"There will likely be other state or federal agencies that will require approval as well," he wrote.
Steiner said that when he applies for a special use permit, the commission will determine whether the development will negatively impact the neighborhood. The developer said that one aspect the commission must examine is the impact of the development on traffic.
DAS Staff Counsel Jeffrey Beckham wrote in an email, "The State will take any action necessary to facilitate an application for the approvals required at the local level," but said zoning approvals are a strictly local position.
"We are monitoring his progress in getting local approvals. As long as we are satisfied his progress is adequate, we will fulfill the sales agreement," he wrote in a later email.
Slow progress has been a contentious issue throughout the roughly 20 years that the property has sat vacant.
Ritter said that she and Stillman proposed the amendment in the state legislature out of frustration with the amount of time it is taking the department to sell the property for development.
"The purpose of filing the amendment is really to serve as a wakeup call to the state," said Stillman.
Ritter said she was not aware that Steiner had submitted the proposal. She said that the amendment was placed about a week ago "for the sake of discussion."
She said that soon after filing the amendment, the department reached out to her for a meeting. She said that in the meeting, the department informed her that due to contract obligations with Steiner the amendment could not legally pass.
Beckham wrote in an email to The Day, "The issue is, we have a sales agreement in place and we can only work with one designated developer at a time."
Steiner said that he was aware of the amendment, but declined to comment on it.
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