CuriousCT: What's the deal with that building off Exit 75?

East Lyme — A large maroon building is boarded up. Overgrown weeds obscure its walls, trash adorns its parking lot, and it's been tagged with graffiti.

The building sits on a 3.2-acre site immediately off Exit 75 of Interstate 95 on the left going toward Waterford on Boston Post Road. It's owned by car-dealership owner Herb Chambers. And according to Timothy Londregan, managing partner of Londregan Commercial Real Estate Group, plans to redevelop the land are taking shape.

"We have generated interest in the property from another gasoline, convenience store company that is particularly excited about the 'brand name' restaurant that we also have significant interest from to locate on the site, even without the municipal utilities," Londregan told The Day in an email. "If we are able to put the two uses together, we just may achieve another great development for southeastern Connecticut."

As part of The Day's CuriousCT initiative, a reader asked: What's going on with the vacant building at Exit 75?

East Lyme Planning Director Gary Goeschel noted the issue of a lack of town utilities on the site, although he admired the accessible location right along/off the highway.

"There's no sewer and public municipal water out there, it's all well and septic," Goeschel said. "I would think to redevelop this parcel, we would need to bring probably sewer or water out there in some capacity. Maybe you could get a septic and a well on there that would work.

"I think at the confluence of Route 1 and I-95, it's a great location. It's easy to navigate from a transportation perspective. I would think anything that is some sort of transportation-type use or retail use would do really well," Goeschel added.

That said, any buyer would have a project on their hands. Goeschel acknowledged the building has essentially been demolished by neglect. And then there's the issue of utilities, or a lack thereof, which, he thinks, was a primary reason for the demise of past businesses.

"It's relatively close to the headwaters of the Niantic River, and rumor has it the well got contaminated with brackish water so you need to drop a new well or connect to municipal water to make that a viable spot for some sort of restaurant," Goeschel said.

According to Vision Government Solutions online database, the site has been appraised at $494,500 and is zoned commercial. The vacant building on-site was built in 1976. The property is on the market for $1.9 million.

Goeschel, Londregan and East Lyme Zoning Official William Mulholland all said that the site used to have a pancake house and a motel until about the early-1990s. According to a Day article from 1995, this was called the Homestead Motel and Restaurant. Lulu's Steakhouse then enjoyed a popular but short-lived stint on the property from February 1996 to November 1997. In some of the ensuing years, Foxwoods Resort Casino had a tourist information center there.

Goeschel said he believes the building has been vacant since at least 2003, when Chambers bought it.

Numerous attempts to redevelop the property since the Lulu's era have been unsuccessful. Chambers had planned a Saturn dealership on the property, but it never panned out. According to a 2007 article from The Day, Konover Properties Corp. owned the property and planned to build a hotel there before selling to Chambers.

Londregan said the visibility, as well as a 90-foot-tall pylon sign on-site, are positives. The lack of utilities has turned away suitors, he said,  but prior uses "seemed to have functioned just fine with well water and an on-site septic system.

"Having been a corporate real estate manager myself, and knowing personally many individuals in that position for other national retailers and national chain restaurants, the problem often lies in the site selection process, as most 'nationals' have municipal water and sewer as a site requirement for the property to be considered," Londregan said.

s.spinella@theday.com

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