A proposal by Goodwill Industries of Western Connecticut to relocate its Westport store again encountered criticism and doubts from local business owners and residents during a Planning and Zoning Commission hearing last Thursday night.

Following a Nov. 18 hearing on an application to move the thrift store from its current location at 1572 Post Road East to a new and larger site at 1700 Post Road East, Goodwill representatives were again forced to take a defensive stance in response to concerns voiced over the proposal.

"What happens if there's a change of business policy or a new CEO, and we start having a lot more truck deliveries and a lot more beeping?" asked Paul Levi, who lives near the proposed site on Woodhill Road.

Nearby merchants also inquired about the relocated Goodwill's store impact on traffic, and said they fear the new store could attract more crime to the area.

"To have this kind of element coming into our neighborhood is ludicrous," said Tina Dragone, owner of the Tina Dragone women's clothing store at 1687 Post Road East. "We're just a little afraid of this type of element coming in."

Dragone added she had submitted to the P&Z approximately 32 pages of arrests, including larceny and shoplifting incidents, linked to the existing Goodwill store.

John Fallon, Goodwill's legal counsel, delivered an impassioned response, arguing that Goodwill's presence had demonstrably benefited the town.

"I take great umbrage ... to her [Dragone's] comment about an element coming into our neighborhood," he said. "We have been in this town 50 years. We've been contributing in this town as a not-for-profit at this location since 1996. That's the element that we are."

Reached after the meeting, Westport Police Capt. Foti Koskinas told the Westport News the store does not stand out as a hot spot for criminal activity.

"Goodwill is really just like any other retail store in town," he said. "In terms of incidents like shoplifting and people trying to pass off counterfeit bills, it's about the same number as we get at other stores like Stop & Shop and Walgreen's.

The proposed site, however, appears more amenable to some prospective neighbors.

Larry Weisman, the legal counsel for the Westport Tennis Club, said his client and Goodwill had worked out an agreement to relocate a right-of-way easement at 1700 Post Road East. The tennis club is adjacent to that property, and the easement would allow club members to use part of the Goodwill site to gain access to their destination.

Goodwill has had a store in Westport since 1960 and has been based at its current location since 1996.

The new proposed outlet would be located at the site where the Peppermill Steak & Fish House formerly stood. Goodwill already has a contract in place to buy the 1700 Post Road property, Fallon said. The 1572 Post Road store, which measures approximately 8,000 square feet, is also owned by Goodwill.

Fallon and Goodwill Western Connecticut President David Turner also faced an extensive round of questioning from P&Z commissioners on issues such as parking, lighting and the role of a prospective donation center on the premises.

"I have real concern ... with respect to donation center activity," said P&Z Chairman Ron Corwin. "I do not see an accessory [use] that would be acceptable."

Turner countered that about 75 percent of the merchandise donated to the new Westport store would be sold on-site and that the donation center would not become a de facto distribution center for Goodwill stock.

Public debate of the proposed Goodwill store relocation has now ended.

The Planning and Zoning Commission has 65 days from its Thursday meeting to render a decision on the application. If the P&Z approves the proposal, Goodwill officials hope to begin construction of the new store "well within" the next year, Fallon told the Westport News.