Published December 24. 2012 4:00AM Updated December 26. 2012 3:22PM
Is this a key sign that the local economy is finally improving? Last week Ron Lyman, developer of the proposed but long-delayed Max's Place development at Route 1 and Spencer Plains Road in Old Saybrook, announced that he had a signed a lease agreement with Big Y to build a grocery store on the 19.6-acre site. Along with the new grocery store is another likely prospective anchor, a Kohl's department store.
The space needs of Big Y and of prospective tenant Kohl's meant that the size and configuration of the plans the town approved in 2007 needed to change. As a result, the developer is now seeking permission from town regulators to modify project permits already issued. The modifications would be to reflect the new site plan with a Big Y grocery store of 51,500 square feet and a department store like a Kohl's store of 55,500 square feet.
A preliminary meeting with the developer and Old Saybrook's Architectural Review Board (ARB) occurred in September. At this meeting, the board discussed with the developer the proposed design of a Kohl's department store for the site. Design modifications requested by the ARB members were discussed and reflected in the new plans.
The new Max's Place site plan was submitted by the developer to the town's Inland Wetlands Commission last Thursday evening for review and consideration.
The town's land use commissions approved in 2007 the developer's original plans for the retail development-a regulated activity permit from Inland Wetlands and a special exception permit from Zoning-with a condition requiring it include a grocery store of not less than 50,000 square feet.
Originally, Big Y had committed to Lyman that it would be that 50,000-plus square-foot store, but, early in 2009, as the economy suddenly began to soften, Big Y pulled out of the project. This meant the project stalled for several years until Ron Lyman could again get a grocery store to commit to the site.
In the meantime, while still seeking to sign a grocery store anchor, Lyman worked to meet the other land use permit conditions. One of these was the installation of a new, larger drainage pipe south of Route 1 to improve storm run-off drainage into the Chalker Beach neighborhood. Another step was that Lyman obtained a State Traffic Commission permit for the proposed project's road and traffic plan. He also sought and received relief from the Board of Selectmen on the required minimum size of the grocery store; the new minimum size set two years ago was 25,000 square feet, down from the previous 50,000.
Still, nothing could move forward without a grocery store commitment. Finally, this fall, as economic projections began to improve, Lyman got his commitment as Big Y decided to re-look at the Max's Place site. Now, with a signed grocery store lease in hand, Lyman and the Max's Place retail project can move forward toward construction.
"This will be a great project for the residents of Old Saybrook and I look forward to the ribbon cutting," said Ron Lyman. "It's been a long time coming."
If the town's Inland Wetlands and Zoning Commissions approve the requested project permit modifications, construction could begin early in 2013. Lyman has said that if these modifications are approved soon, a new Big Y grocery store could be open for business by early in 2014.
Attorney David Royston, agent for the developer, said that the Board of Selectmen would need to take one other action. That action would be a vote to ratify the new project site plan since it differs from the site plan approved by the town at a 2005 referendum. That town vote approved the sale of the town-owned but undeveloped Center Road West road segment to Max's Place to incorporate into the project.
The original Max's Place retail development first received Zoning Commission approval in August 2007. At that time, the site plan showed 106,749 square foot of retail space divided among several buildings on the site on Spencer Plains Road and Boston Post Road. As with the new proposal, that 2007 approval assumed the anchor would be a Big Y grocery store.