East Lyme's Gateway Commons big-box plans need revision to move ahead

East Lyme - Developers said Thursday they need to revise the master development plan for Gateway Commons, a proposed commercial and residential village, in order to move forward with plans to bring a big-box store to the area.

The developers' representatives said they will seek approval next month to relocate the planned entrance into the retail component 300 feet south of the original location.

During an informal, nonbinding discussion with the Zoning Commission Thursday, the representatives told the commission that they haven't been able to acquire the land they need for the access road at a reasonable cost. The developers, Simon Konover Co. of West Hartford and KGI Properties of Providence, have not yet submitted a formal plan for the commercial component of the project.

In 2008, the town approved a master plan for the development, proposed on roughly 200 acres between Interstate 95's Exits 73 and 74, but the project stalled during the economic downturn. The developers are now building 280 rental apartments near Exit 73, after receiving final site plan approval from the town for the residential phase.

The master plan for the retail phase calls for building an entrance off Flanders Road near Exit 74. The access road would stretch from its intersection at Flanders Road through the retail area, which would include one big-box store and up to five junior anchor stores.

On Thursday, Theodore Harris, attorney for the developers, said they have been unable to reach an economically feasible agreement to purchase a parcel of land off Flanders Road for the proposed access road. The parcel holds the East Lyme Driving Range and the former location of The Shack restaurant, Harris said. Town records show a 28-acre parcel in that vicinity is owned by 296 Flanders LLC, a Stonington-based company.

Developers are now proposing building the entrance farther down the road, closer to Interstate 95's Exit 74 ramps. That road would allow construction of the anchor store at Gateway Commons - developers are negotiating a lease with Costco and have a letter of intent from the wholesale store - but its proximity to the highway ramps could restrict how many junior stores the state Department of Transportation allows in the commercial development.

Large developments near highways require DOT approval because of impact to traffic and roadways.

DOT could mandate construction of a new access road farther away from the highway ramps in order to alleviate any congestion from the junior stores.

The developers are also trying to convince the DOT, which is already planning to reconstruct the Exit 74 overpass, to at the same time widen the overpass to six lanes, said John Mancini of BL Companies, the project's engineering firm. The widened overpass could alleviate some traffic concerns and eliminate the potential need to relocate the access road.

The developers need to move the approval process for the commercial phase forward "at some speed" for the Costco lease to go through, Harris said.

Construction of the anchor store, which would take about two years, is also critical, he said, because the anchor store would not only attract smaller stores to the retail area but also generate revenue for the project's roadway improvements.

The Zoning Commission will continue to review the issue at 7:30 p.m. on Aug. 7 at Town Hall.



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