A variance was needed for commercial use of part of the property within a residential zone, which will include improvements to the parking area, facade renovations and the relocation of some trash bins.
"This is a very old shopping center," Lawrence Weisman, the lawyer representing Equity One, the owner of the commercial complex at 374 Post Road East that includes Trader Joe's and several other stores.
"I was in fifth grade when it was built," he told the ZBA. "I say it because the first variance was granted in 1950."
He said, in total, three variances for the shopping center have been granted over the years. One was to expand parking, and another to build the adjacent Wells Fargo bank building.
"We want to put new skin on the building," Weisman said. He said his clients also want to lower a raised parking area on the property and reconfigure the parking. He said there are currently 273 parking spaces on the property, but many of the 129 in the back area aren't used much because they are on the incline. Only one parking space would be lost in the reconfiguration.
He said there is no expansion of the existing structure, with the renovations including the installation of retractable awnings, trellises and an overhang. "Nothing else will change, the building won't get larger," Weisman said.
The owners also plan to move some trash bins that are now at the back of the building and used by all the businesses except Trader Joe's, which has its own. He said the area where the bins will be placed does not abut any residences. "It seemed to be the best plan," he said.
He said the plans also call for upgrading a walkway neighbors use to get to the plaza, which is now just a muddy track. "We will put steps there," he said. Trees will be planted around the area "to make it more attractive." He said the owners also plan to put in a second loading space behind the building, but "that doesn't need a variance," he said.
The only objection to the variance came from Valerie Jacobs, who said she was representing Save Westport Now. "This application will decrease the green space" on the site, she said, adding the group objects to relocation of the trash bins into a residential zone.
"This application should be turned down because it (will create) noise, smell and rats," she said. She said a hardship doesn't apply in this case because the property owners made a "voluntary decision" to upgrade the site. "In other words, it's the result of it's own doing and not a legal hardship," said Jacobs, a former attorney.
Weisman, responding to Jacobs, said he didn't think "we need a variance for the parking" since it was already approved and "the dumpsters are in a residential zone and always have been," he said. "We are just moving them to a more convenient place."
The ZBA approved the variance by a 5-0 vote.