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Plan sprouts to redevelop Geiger's Garden Center

Updated 6:51 am, Friday, January 18, 2013
  • Mel Barr, land-use and planning consultant, describes a mixed-use complex for the site of Geiger's Garden Center on Post Road East to a Thursday meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission.   WESTPORT NEWS, CT 1/17/13 Photo: Paul Schott / Westport News
    Mel Barr, land-use and planning consultant, describes a mixed-use complex for the site of Geiger's Garden Center on Post Road East to a Thursday meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission. WESTPORT NEWS, CT 1/17/13 Photo: Paul Schott

 

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Geiger's Garden Center on Post Road East could be redeveloped into a new mixed-use complex, according to a preliminary plan presented Thursday to the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The new application follows a similar proposal briefly floated for the property in 2011.

The latest plan envisions the construction of 14 residential units and an approximately 9,800-square-foot commercial building to replace the garden center on the two-acre property, according to planning consultant Mel Barr. He represents the property's owner, Frank Geiger, who heads the eponymous garden business, and the property's contract purchaser, 1135 Post Road East LLC.

The proposal also calls for re-zoning a portion of the property from the Business Preservation District to the General Business District and also classifying the entire property as an "inclusionary housing zone." The site stands across the road from Greens Farms Elementary School. An IHZ allows multi-family housing on lots covering both commercial and residential zones, provided that 20 percent of the units are priced at "affordable" below-market rates.

"The existing buildings are old; they're outdated," Barr said Thursday. "None of them meet building fire codes at present and there'd be some advantage to putting in something there that was new and updated and met current standards. The proposal that we're suggesting is in keeping, we think, with the character of the Post Road area, where you really have some larger existing buildings."

If the new redevelopment plan were realized at 1135 Post Road East, it would be the first project in Westport to use an inclusionary housing zone, which was approved by the P&Z Commission in November 2010 as part of a far-reaching package of new affordable housing regulations. The 2011 pre-application plan for the Geiger property, which was proposed by a previous contract purchaser of the site, also intended to apply an inclusionary housing zone to the property. After it was presented to the P&Z during a preliminary hearing in July 2011, the proposal was later abandoned.

The P&Z did not take any action Thursday on the plan presented by Barr, but some commission members indicated they would be receptive to the project.

"I really like the rendering; I think it looks charming," Nora Jishishian said of an artist's sketch of the prospective development. "I think if there's a way to guarantee that that would be the development, I would support it."

P&Z Secretary Chip Stephens took a more skeptical view of the proposal.

"When you come to this commission, as we've heard other persons, and say `outdated houses with very little value that should be torn down,' it kind of goes against everything that I believe that this commission has voted on and that is the preservation of Westport as it is," he said. "It's sad in some cases that it's going to be true, but to Disneyify the town just for the sake of a larger building, possibly one that looks like the older one, it's kind of tough."

If the project moves ahead, it would require P&Z approval for both a site plan and the zoning district changes.

"The owner and client have to assess what they heard tonight and decide if they want to go forward with anything," Barr said in an interview with the Westport News after Thursday's meeting. "We have four new members on the commission and we'd love them to see our way."

pschott@bcnnew.com; 203-255-4561, ext. 118; twitter.com/paulschott