An application to permit a salon space shared by several professionals in a Post Road East commercial building was approved Thursday night by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

The approval -- from office to retail use -- was needed to open a Sola Salon Studio, which would house space to be used by a number of different salon professionals at 495 Post Road East, according to the applicants.

But that permission almost was not granted.

"I'm being an advocate for the people," said Chip Stephens, the P&Z chairman, questioning the plan. He said the proposal will affect neighbors' property and "their whole way of life."

Nearby residents had expressed a number of concerns about the application, including traffic and possible illegal activity that they said might take place in the rented salon spaces, during two earlier public hearings held on the plan.

But it was one resident, Stephens said, who brought up a point. "He said there were certain conditions on the use for the building when he bought his house," but those conditions -- applied in 1981 -- were determined illegal and unenforceable last year.

Those conditions included no retail or medical uses in the building.

"I can understand the folks' anger," Stephens said. "The neighbors weren't made aware of the change," he said. "Why weren't they notified when it happened?"

"It's on a local road and the building was put there because they agreed to the conditions," said P&Z member Cathy Walsh.

Stephens said if those conditions weren't enforceable, then the applicants' claims there would not be any massage or tattoo services offered at the salon also could not be enforced.

According to the applicants, the salons would be located in the lower level of the two-story building and would provide hair styling, eyebrow waxing and nail services,

Commission member Jack Whittle agreed that "the building was built with improper conditions." But, he added, "you have a zone with a permitted use and you can't restrict the use."

"What can we do legally?" Stephens asked Larry Bradley, the Planning and Zoning Department director.

But Bradley said the only reason the applicants need the change to retail use related to the number of parking spaces needed, not a zone change.

Whittle agreed.

"The matter is a site plan approval," he said. "You have to strip away the gobbledygook. This is an allowed retail use."

"What if the whole commission abstained?" Stephens asked Bradley. "The matter would be approved automatically," Bradley answered, adding that would be unprecedented.

Stephens said it would "send a message." "To whom?" asked Whittle.

"I just find something wrong with this," said Stephens. "It's just not right. I'm done."

"I want to vote against it," said Walsh. But Whittle cautioned that could be "problematic," adding, "What would be your grounds?"

Stephens could not get a motion to approve the application. "So I have a problem as chairman," he said. Walsh motioned to deny it but couldn't get it seconded.

After more discussion Whittle motioned to approve the application. "I don't see any other option here," he said.

The vote in favor was 4-3.

Commission members Whittle, David Lessing, Andra Vebell and alternate Kathleen Brannigan Fazio voted for the approval. Stephens, Walsh and Alfred Gratix were opposed.