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March 29, 2020
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Unilever Application Gaps Lead to Continuation of PZC Public Hearing

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Public hearings for two proposals, one for a brewery and the other for apartments, both in the old Unilever property on John Street in the middle of downtown, have been continued to Monday, March 2 at 7 p.m. in Town Hall, due to incomplete information and other concerns.

The developers who submitted the proposals said some of the information requested is dependent upon studies and approvals from a variety of state agencies, including the Department of Energy & Environmental Protection and the state Historic Preservation Office, and that they will submit the information as soon as it becomes available.

The Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) opened both public hearings on Feb. 3.

One application is for a 24,321 square-foot brewery and restaurant that would take up a portion of the large headquarter building. The other application would allow for the conversion of an office building on the property into apartments.

The Concerns

Several items required for the PZC to make a decision on either application were not turned into the land use office as of the opening of the hearings. Those items include studies related to the septic system and traffic flows on the property.

Due to the size of the property, and the septic systems that would need to be in place on the property, the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection is responsible for that approval process, as opposed to the regional health district.

In addition to the required traffic flow and septic analysis, the applicant also is filling out a historic building application. Consultant planner John Guszkowski said that, while this application is not required by the town, if the building is determined to be worthy of historic preservation, it would help qualify the applicant for tax credits.

“If the building is deemed to be historic—i.e. it is on the National Register of Historic Places—then some of the cost of improving/restoring the building can be reimbursed through tax credits. There are many conditions about the materials allowed to be used and the specific architectural character of the building to be maintained, but many developers believe that the tax credits are worth the cost and time of that documentation,” said Guszkowski.

The developer said that the application with the National Register of Historic Places is still pending.

Michael Massimino, the owner of the property, and Christopher Gagnon, an agent for the development, stated that several of the studies and approvals they were waiting for were dependent on each other, which was preventing them from submitting every document as needed. For example, Gagnon said the State Historic Preservation Office needs to review the application for compliance with landscaping, architecture, and building access before final renderings can be presented to the PZC.

Land use officials in Town Hall said that because the review process for the various studies and reviews can be lengthy—particularly at the state level—it makes it difficult for them to determine whether the documents will be submitted in time for the next public hearing.

That timeline could become an issue because, now that the public hearings have been opened, since there is a clock counting down how long the commission has to act on the applications.

The commission has 35 days from the opening of a public hearing to close the application, and 65 days following the closure of a public hearing to render a decision. However, the applicant has 65 “free-floating” days of possible extensions that can be requested at any time.

PZC Chair Michael Rossi warned the applicant that if the studies are not ready while the public hearings are open, the PZC would be forced to deny the applications as incomplete. The developer could then re-apply.

The Brewery Hearing

The application for the brewery lists Kinsmen Brewing Co. as the potential tenant. Plans for the brewery show a taproom, banquet hall, brewing area, and kitchen on the first floor in addition to offices and storage areas. The proposal features a large outdoor patio on the first floor and an upstairs with a mezzanine and lounge area. The application states the brewery will be open seven days a week.

Massimino told the commission that the brewery portion will be on the main level of the building, not on the second floor. The commission asked the developers to distinguish between the hours of operation for the manufacturing of the beer in the brewery and the hours of operation for the restaurant.

Two members of the public spoke in favor of the application. Todd Darling praised the development as progress, since the property has been vacant for nearly seven years. He also stated he believed the development would be able to handle traffic flow because the Unilever factory was able to manage a large number of employees coming and going at different times during its years of operation.

Phil Sengle recalled that a previous study from the town, done in 2014, specifically cited a brewery and restaurant as potential uses. Sengle argued that the development would draw millennials and other young people to Clinton.

One person spoke in opposition to the application. Judy Rasmussen lives on John Street and directly abuts the property. Attorney Keith Ainsworth addressed the PZC on her behalf and submitted a petition to intervene on the application. Ainsworth noted that his client doesn’t oppose the application, but rather is concerned about the potential impacts it could have on her property.

Ainsworth pointed to the lack of information about the septic system and lighting plans as key issues of concern. Ainsworth argued that the PZC should not have even opened the public hearing, citing the lack of necessary information. Since the developers have been submitting their applications piece-by-piece, as opposed to as a whole master plan, Ainsworth said it was difficult to judge the full potential impacts of the developments.

Apartments

The second application discussed at the hearing was for the apartments to be developed in a former office building located at 9-15 John Street.

Massimino said that, rather than condominiums, which had been initially planed for the application, the proposal now calls for several multi-family units available for rental. The units would be 1,000 square-feet at minimum, with a maximum of 1,400 square feet. There would be 41 total apartments, with nine two-bedroom units, and 32 single-bedroom units.

The building currently has two floors; Massimino said the plan is to add an additional floor. The center of the building will be used for additional storage and common amenities for the residents.

During this portion of the public hearing, no member of the public spoke in favor of the application. Ainsworth told the PZC that his client is intervening on both the brewery and the apartment application. Ainsworth said he had the same concerns for the apartment application as he did for the brewery application, since this application was also missing septic design approval.

John McHardle spoke neither for or against the project, but said it was one that could drastically transform the town.

At the start of the apartment application public hearing, PZC member Amandeep Singh said on the record that he owns a property that abuts this application. Singh said he would recuse himself from the application if anyone wanted him to, but there were no objections to Singh’s involvement.

Massimino declined to comment on the evening, but said he and his team would take all the information and questions raised into consideration and provide answers to the commission going forward.

Ever since the Unilever property was sold in summer 2019, its future has been a source of speculation in Clinton. In fall 2019, the developer was granted permission from the PZC to use a portion of the property for an indoor turf field. In January, the developer officially dubbed the project Station’s Landing. The proposed development consists of a brewery, a recreation area, residences, and a commercial work area. A website from the developer, stationslanding.com, features more information about the project.


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