Parking rules at issue in review of Post Road project
Updated 6:50 am, Friday, December 16, 2011
Amid an influx of new retailers in downtown Westport, a local developer is proposing to build a new commercial building and gathering space at 100 Post Road East.
Old Westport Town Hall LLC, whose principal is town resident and SIR Development President Robert Haroun, has applied to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a series of zoning variances that would allow him to demolish an unused bank kiosk and construct a one-story building that would include approximately 4,200 square feet of retail space. Another feature of the plan would be an outdoor plaza.
"The intent is very synonymous with Old Town Hall next door -- to have a plaza and seating, to have areas where people can congregate and sit," Haroun said. "It adds to the vibrancy of a town. We really want to establish 100 Post Road East as an area where people congregate."
The proposed building in the Business Center District would be constructed next to Old Town Hall, which now houses a Spruce Home & Garden store. Old Town Hall, also owned by Old Westport Town Hall LLC, formerly housed a TD Bank branch, for which the 400-square-foot kiosk offered drive-through banking services.
A new commercial storefront at 100 Post Road East would join several other recent and impending retail additions to downtown Westport. Spruce Home & Garden and a new Nike outlet both opened last month, while an Urban Outfitters store is scheduled to open across the street at 101-107 Post Road East within the next few months.
Old Westport Town Hall LLC's proposed building would accommodate one or two tenants, one of which could be a food establishment such as a deli, Haroun said.
Variances sought by Old Westport Town Hall LLC for the prospective development would affect property features such as landscaping, loading space, as well as the site's outdoor storage and display.
Parking, however, emerged at Tuesday's ZBA meeting as the most scrutinized variance requested by the developer.
The firm plans to reduce the parking lot at 100 Post Road East from 36 spaces to 25 spaces. That proposed total would conform to one part of section 29-11 of the town's zoning regulations, which calls for a ratio of one parking space for every 180 square feet of new floor area in the BCD. But Old Westport Town Hall LLC maintains that 29-11 also mandates that the 1 to 180 ratio be fulfilled by adding new parking to the existing 36 spaces at 100 Post Road East.
Mel Barr, a land-use consultant representing Old Westport Town Hall LLC, told the ZBA on Tuesday that complying with 29-11 for the proposed building at 100 Post Road East would require approximately 60 parking spaces. That obligation, he said, would necessitate construction of an elevated parking deck or an underground parking facility.
"What's driving this request is the parking section in 29-11," he said. "That section creates an extreme hardship that we're trying to deal with. We're looking for some reasonable, allowable development on this unique site."
ZBA members pondered, however, whether 29-11 would, in fact, require Old Westport Town Hall LLC to install more spaces in the existing parking lot at 100 Post Road East, or whether that regulation could be satisfied solely by adhering to the 1 space to 180 square feet ratio.
"The question I ask is whether or not we can determine that the hardship is not so much site-specific, or is it site-specific with respect to this regulation," ZBA member Douglas Bowen said of 29-11.
ZBA members eventually agreed to defer a decision on the requested variances until they receive an interpretation of the intent of 29-11 from the Planning and Zoning Commission.
On Jan. 5, the P&Z is scheduled to issue an interpretation of the regulations regarding whether Old Westport Town Hall LLC's parking plan requires a variance.
The ZBA will then resume its review of the requested variances for 100 Post Road East at a Jan. 10 hearing. If the ZBA approves those variances, Old Westport Town Hall LLC would then need to gain site plan approval from the P&Z.
If approvals are secured from the ZBA and P&Z, construction of the new commercial building at 100 Post Road East would begin next spring, Haroun said.
No leases have yet been signed for the prospective development.