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Waterford rejects Seaside zoning changes

Waterford — After months of deliberations, it took the Waterford Planning and Zoning Commission about 20 minutes during a special meeting Monday to vote down Farmington-based developer Mark Steiner’s proposed amendments to the zoning regulations of the Seaside Preservation Zoning District.

The commission voted 3-2 in favor of the amendments, which would have allowed for the construction of an inn and other commercial development on the coastal property off Shore Road. But Steiner’s proposal required at least four votes in favor to pass due to the success of a neighborhood petition opposing the zoning changes for the property of the former Seaside Regional Center for the developmentally disabled.

Commissioner Dana Award, who voted against the changes, said before the vote that he viewed deliberations as being about the principle of allowing commercial development in a residential area.

“I think it’s higher than Seaside — although Seaside is the topic — I think it’s higher than that,” he said.

Steiner, or anyone else New London Superior Court deems to have standing, may appeal the decision in court, according to Attorney Robert Avena. Appeals must be filed within 15 days of the town publishing a public notice of the commission’s decision. Avena said he expects official notice to appear in the newspaper by Monday.

Commissioner Edwin J. Maguire suggested after the vote that the commission remove the section of the proposed amendments allowing for commercial development, and vote on other aspects of the proposed changes.

The changes also included the privatization of roads, alterations to how the public would be able to access coastline, and Department of Planning and Development-proposed clarifications of permissible off-street parking and delivery practices on the property.

Maguire voted in favor of Steiner’s amendments, saying at past meetings that he believed the type of development the changes would allow — Steiner has proposed building a five-star resort managed by Ocean House LLC embedded in a neighborhood of luxury condominiums — would significantly increase tax revenue for the town.

“What do we do with all this work?” Maguire asked the commissioners, referring to the zoning approval process that began in June with public hearings and included meetings that at times lasted nearly three hours.

Commissioner Joseph A. Auwood voted against the amendments, and Commission Chairman Gwen Hughes and Commissioner Joe Bunkley voted in favor of them.

Hughes indicated at past meetings that she was apprehensive about allowing commercial development in a residential area, but said Monday she supported allowing an inn given provisions in the amendments that would have reined in other development.

Steiner declined to comment before leaving Town Hall.

“We have to digest this,” said his lawyer, Lewis K. Wise.

Located off Shore Road, the state-owned Seaside property contains two buildings designed by famed architect Cass Gilbert, best known for designing the Woolworth Building in New York and the Supreme Court building in Washington. The buildings have fallen into disrepair since the property went into disuse almost two decades ago.

Steiner has been contracted with the state to develop the property for almost 15 years. He first presented a conceptual plan to the state in 1999 and originally planned on developing an age-restricted condominium community. He has requested changes to zoning of the property a total of three times, in 2003, 2010 and this spring, roughly a year after a lawsuit over the 2010 changes was dismissed.

Seaside neighbor Kathy Jacques filed a lawsuit against the commission in 2011 to protect the property’s historic buildings.

Initial public hearings and meetings for the recently proposed changes drew wall-to-wall crowds, largely comprising neighbors who were vocal in their opposition to any commercial development on the property. In contrast to the hubbub of past deliberations, the meeting Monday was attended by only a handful of residents and town officials.

Dimmock Road resident Susan Clancy, who opposed commercial development on the property, said she was pleased with the result and thought the vote could have gone either way.

“We have this process that we go through and it worked,” she said.

She added that she did not think Steiner was a credible applicant given his record of financial problems. A judge in May ordered the foreclosure sale of Steiner’s Avon home.

Jacques, who spearheaded the petition for the higher vote threshold, took a moment from a conversation on her cell phone as she walked to her car after the meeting to say she was too exhausted to discuss the vote.

“But I’m happy,” she said.

t.townsend@theday.com
Twitter: @ConnecticuTess

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