Norwich planners approve Cumberland Farms plan

Norwich — The second round of a contentious public hearing on a plan to build a Cumberland Farms gasoline station and convenience store on West Main Street started with a dispute over whether the hearing should be allowed to close Tuesday night. It ended two hours later with a unanimous vote in favor of the project.

The Cumberland Farms store is proposed for the corner lot at the junction of West Main Street and New London Turnpike, with an accompanying proposed development of an adjacent liquor store to replace the existing Universal Package Store, owned by Agranovitch Real Estate Holding Co. LLC, which is owned by Paul and Linda Agranovitch.

The Commission on the City Plan late Tuesday also unanimously approved the site development plan for the Universal Package Store.

The two businesses worked in partnership to redraw boundary lines for the two properties to allow both buildings and parking lots to be constructed. The two stores would share two entrances, one on New London Turnpike and one on West Main Street, replacing six existing curb cuts now on the two properties, improving traffic safety, project officials said.

The proposed Cumberland Farms also was designed to avoid disruption from the potential plan by the state Department of Transportation to restructure Route 82 with six roundabouts, one of the largest at the New London Turnpike intersection.

The project has faced stiff opposition from the owner of the Mobil gas station and convenience store located diagonally across West Main Street. Three lawsuits are pending in New London Superior Court filed by owners of the Mobil station and other nearby gasoline stations challenging city zoning permits for Cumberland Farms and a vote by the City Council last fall to eliminate a zoning regulation that had prohibited a new gas station from being located within 1,000 feet of another station.

At the start of the hearing, Joseph Williams, attorney for Cumberland Farms, described the Mobil station representatives as “our future competitors” across the street.

Attorney Harry Heller, representing the Mobil station, argued that his client had not had a chance to review new information, including a “voluminous” new traffic report — a description Williams disputed — submitted Monday, and asked that the hearing be continued until July to allow time to review the reports.

Williams said Cumberland Farms would object to another continuance to allow time for the opponents to review comments to previous questions, calling it “nitpicking.”

Acting commission Chairman Frank Manfredi agreed with Williams, but allowed Heller to add comments on the project during Tuesday’s hearing. City Planner Deanna Rhodes said the commission must close the hearing within 35 days of opening it on May 15 unless an extension is granted by the applicant.

Heller and Manfredi argued repeatedly over Heller’s testimony and Manfredi said he would not allow Heller to re-argue the entire case but only to present new information. Heller argued that the Cumberland Farms had inadequate parking and should be considered a restaurant because it had patio seating, and those patrons would stay longer, consuming parking spaces.

Commission member Art Sharron also angrily objected to an opposition traffic engineer’s testimony, saying he would not allow the engineer to tell the commission what to do.

Heller said failure to continue the hearing to allow more time to review the new information was grounds for a court appeal.

“There’s going to be an appeal anyway,” Manfredi said, “so I’m not worried about it.”

c.bessette@theday.com

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