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Old Lyme gas station seeks to switch service station to convenience store, again

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Old Lyme — The Zoning Commission in a four-hour meeting Tuesday night continued discussion on issues that could help guide the direction of Halls Road into the future, including a convenience store proposal that has been denied multiple times.

The section of Route 1 lined with businesses, a post office, restaurants and views of the Lieutenant River serves as a connector between Lyme Street and Route 156, where Interstate 95 on- and off-ramps also are located.

An application from CPD Properties, tenants operating a gas station at 85 Halls Road, proposed the conversion of the service station to a convenience store that will sell prepackaged foods up to 24 hours a day.

The site was the subject of similar applications from the same company in 2013 and 2017. It was rejected both times.

The public hearing, which began last month, included back and forth by the commission and the applicant in addition to comments from residents. The commission voted to consider its decision at its meeting on Nov. 8.

Public objections this time around are much the same as they were during previous rounds, with residents complaining the expanded retail offerings would drive more Interstate 95 traffic to already congested Halls Road and drive out existing businesses like Andy's Deli and Market.

The site is identified in assessor's records as 0.63 acre with a 1,799-square-foot building. It's owned by Old Lyme resident Judith Hahn, according to the state business database.

Project engineer Kevin Solli, of Monroe-based Solli Engineering, said he was not involved with the previous, failed attempts at securing a special permit for the site improvements.

"What we believe is we've developed something that is better than previously proposed," he said. Examples cited during the presentation include a new one-way-in, one-way-out layout, more green space and sidewalks along the front of the property.

The project includes a 200-square-foot addition to the side of the building for storage.

Project attorney Amy Souchuns of Hurwitz, Sagarin, Slossberg & Knuff said the convenience store would bring in up to one car every 2 minutes, based on peak hour numbers outlined in the traffic study. She said industry standards assume 60% of those customers are passing by on their way somewhere else, and thus would have been on the road regardless of their stop at the convenience store.

Solli said traffic estimates are based on rates published by the Institute of Transportation Engineers in accordance with state Department of Transportation guidelines.

Members of the commission and the public expressed concerns about using industry standards to make assumptions about Halls Road.

Chairman Paul Orzel said I-95 heading toward New London narrows from several lanes to just two coming off the Baldwin Bridge, which creates an "instant bottleneck" that causes many drivers to get off Exit 70 so they can take Halls Road to Route 1.

The result is bumper-to-bumper weekend traffic on Halls Road from mid-June to Labor Day, he said.

Resident Joe Kelly, who lives on the Lyme Street side of Halls Road, said he uses the road multiple times per day. "I don't accept their analysis of the traffic. We're very unique here," he said, citing the road's placement between two sets of I-95 on- and off-ramps. "That really changes the traffic here, regardless of what the experts try to say."

Solli reiterated that those traffic conditions and the gas station already exist. "This project doesn't contribute to that. It doesn't exacerbate that. It doesn't make it worse."

Old Saybrook-based Attorney Howard Gould, representing the owners of the neighboring building, said the lot is "inappropriate" for a convenience store due to its small size. He said regulations don't allow expansion in such circumstances.

Gould said the proximity to I-95 has a direct impact on the application and the commission's deliberations. He cited truckers that he said use his client's property as "an outdoor restroom facility."

Souchuns said updates to the septic system, which have conditional approval from Ledge Light Health District, will allow for accessible, indoor bathrooms that will help address the neighbor's concerns.

Commission counsel Matthew Willis of Halloran Sage asked Souchuns if she believed the application was in keeping with the town's regulation on nonconforming lots, which prohibits construction of additions or new buildings on sites that don't comply with zoning regulations.

According to Solli, two issues that don't conform to guidelines on the site now would be fixed through the proposed improvements: a larger setback from Halls Road and less impervious surfaces.

While Souchuns said she didn't believe the application falls under that regulation on nonconforming lots for various legal reasons, she said the company would be willing to do the project without the 200-square-foot addition if the town's interpretation is different.

The company also is amenable to more limited hours and would agree not to install high-speed pumps for trucks if requested, according to Souchuns and Solli.

e.regan@theday.com

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