Hoping to expand its future options -- and possibly parking -- a local auto dealer is proposing a zoning change that would allow limited use of property in an abutting residential zone for commercial purposes.
After hearing a presentation and some public comment at the last Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, the proposal was left open for discussion at a future meeting.
Text Amendment 666 would allow New Country Toyota and Scion of Westport, 777 Post Road East, the chance to build a three-level parking garage on a 2.5-acre parcel of land it is considering purchasing at 785 Post Road East. The site is just west of Ruta Court, which is off Long Lots Road behind Bertucci's.
"There is no specific building site plan application being proposed at this time," said Richard Redniss, principal with the Stamford-based engineering firm Redniss & Mead, representing the dealership. "Should the text be approved, New Country will begin to develop the site and architectural plans necessary for a special permit application."
New Country currently occupies just over 2 acres, part of which is in the GBD commercial zone and part in a Residence A zone, where Redniss said it would be allowed to provide limited legally non-conforming parking. The proposed change would allow the dealership to use up to 20 percent of the residential portion of the land "for vehicular circulation and parking," including construction of a structure that would have up to 30,000 square feet of floor area, with a height up to 35 feet.
Part of the amendment would also require that at least 80 percent of the residential land be "protected by a permanent conservation easement," which would make it essentially open space.
"We have a very uneasy feeling about what's going on," said Craig Heatter, who lives on Ruta Court.
"It's starting to look like not the best place to live in ... I'm very uneasy," he said.
Part of Heatter's concern is what he said has been inconsistent communication from New Country with neighbors. As no formal plans are being proposed at this time, however, there is no requirement that any communication at all be made.
New Country, meanwhile, sent letters to neighbors beginning last summer, stating it "has no immediate plans to expand the dealership building, (but) may wish to do so at some point in the future."
In his presentation, Redniss said a new garage -- if formally proposed -- would likely be similar to the one recently built on the west side of Wilton Road, just north of Post Road West, which features three compressed levels that adhere to the 35-foot height limit.
"You've got a weighty decision on this case," Representative Town Meeting member Matthew Mandell, District 1, told the P&Z.
Requests for zoning changes, he said, that propose encroaching into residential zones with commercial plans, are coming before the commission more and more, making this "part of a bigger issue."
"I think this is a bad idea," said Ellie Lowenstein, a former P&Z chairwoman.
She said past commissions didn't want to see Westport follow in the footsteps of communities such as Milford, which allowed such use changes. "I don't think we should expand," she said. "I don't think we should use residential land for parking."
Dina Carlson, who just moved to Ruta Court, said she was upset by the news.
"Before I closed on my house, I wouldn't have bought it, if I even knew there was a chance," she said, of a parking structure possibly being built nearby.
"I would prefer to look at a church or other residential, anything else here rather than a parking structure," she said.