Planning and Zoning: Gas station progresses

The Planning & Zoning Commission continued two public hearings at its meeting Monday, June 8, and closed a third.
The hearing for the 30-unit mixed income housing development on Old Danbury Road proposed by Patrick Downend will be continued. Further action was tabled due to an outstanding wetlands application.
The public hearing regarding the Miller-Driscoll building renovations and additions was also continued.
After a debate over signs, parking and nonconformity, the commission closed the hearing on a proposed renovation of a gasoline station and convenience store at 46 Danbury Road. A resolution is expected at the next meeting on June 22.
The station is to undergo a full refurbishment, which will include replacing underground fuel tanks, demolishing the rear building, and adding a driveway and parking area accessible from Route 7. There will no longer be any auto repair services offered on-site and the convenience store will be expanded and renovated.
The applicant, having contracted through a new distributor, is unsure of his brand, which will either stay Mobil or become Citgo, adding a new dimension to the issue of sign nonconformity.
The town’s conventional regulations dictate that one wall sign and one ground sign are to be allowed. At present, the gas station has two canopy signs and an internally illuminated ground sign, which is nonconforming.
Instead of removing signs, the applicant proposed refacing the ground sign and removing its internal lighting, and instead, using external lights.
“Is that really the right standard,” asked Commissioner Bas Nabulsi, “reducing a nonconformity? When we did, for example, the historical society, we didn’t allow them to simply reduce number of signs; we required them to meet the sign regulations. It seems to me this application needs to meet the sign regulation, not simply reduce the nonconformity.”
Chairman Chris Hulse agreed with Nabulsi’s point.
Nabulsi also pointed out that color nonconformity should be counted against square footage. “If the entire town adopts the idea that we can splash a color logo of any size and not have that count against the sign regulation, I think things could quickly spiral out of control,” he argued.
According to Casey Healy, attorney with Gregory and Adams, fully conforming is not an option. “It is literally impossible to bring this site into conformity because it is less than one acre in what is supposed to be a five-acre zone, and the use is not permitted,” he said.
Town Planner Bob Nerney agreed. As he put it, “I think that is a true statement. It is not possible to put a square peg into a round hole.”
The commission resolved to allow the existing nonconformity if square footage is not added to the canopy. The gas station was built in 1946, prior to zoning regulations. All existing nonconformities are therefore grandfathered, which was a deciding factor in the commission’s decision.
The applicant plans to start the modifications next spring and expects to be done by the fall.

Future agenda items

A public hearing for Westport Day School at 372 Danbury Road, a school for special needs students, is scheduled for June 22.
A public hearing regarding the renovation of an existing grass field at Middlebrook to artificial turf is also scheduled for June 22.