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Mystic condos face opposition

STONINGTON — The Southport-based development group Edgewood Mac will have to wait at least two weeks for the Planning and Zoning Commission’s decision on its 55-unit condominium project proposed for the old Mystic Color Lab site. Neighbors who submitted a petition opposing the project could force a supermajority requirement for the application’s approval.

Commission members decided to continue deliberations at their next scheduled meeting on Sept. 2 after the public hearing on the $15 million Luxury Lighthouse development ended at a PZC meeting Tuesday night.

The property on Harry Austin Drive in Mystic was approved for a $30 million development submitted by previous property owners in 2005, and revised in 2008. Though the original project fell through because of financial problems, the approval of the revised project from 2008 remains. Edgewood Mac, which acquired the mortgage in 2009, submitted its own plan for a four-building, 162,482-square foot condo development in May.

At Wednesday’s meeting, which continued the public hearing that began on July 15, more than 20 area residents, commission members, and Theodore Ladwig, the lawyer representing Edgewood Mac, discussed a variety of issues, including the application’s classification as being in an Industrial Heritage Reuse Zone.

As Ladwig noted, the zone, intended to encourage development at abandoned factory and mill sites, requires developers to preserve pieces of the original structure when possible. The 2008 plan incorporated the western wall and tower of a mill, the only remaining parts of the original structure on the site. However, since that time, the remaining elements have decomposed to a degree that reusing them is no longer feasible, according to Ladwig.

“The IHRD zoning requires reuse of property and architectural features, but only where feasible,” he said. “The residential design of these condominiums we’re proposing is compatible with the residential neighborhood, near the YMCA, and with the greater neighborhood of Mystic.”

On Sunday, residents James and Tiffany Stanton started a petition that calls for the commission to reject the application, contending that the proposal does not meet industrial reuse standards. Eighty-three people signed the petition.

“Once you take the bricks away, there is no more historical reuse,” James Stanton said Wednesday.

Other neighborhood residents described the development, as depicted in renderings of the project, as out of place, specifically with regard to its height, which would reach 53 feet 10 inches at the peak.

Mary Rioux called the proposed design “cheesy” while at least two other residents said it had a “prison-like” feel.

Rioux also noted her surprise at the height of red balloons flown from the site earlier this month, as part of the developer’s attempt to show how the buildings would appear from various angles in the neighborhood.

“I was really stunned to find out that was really the height of the proposed building,” Rioux said.

Ladwig explained that the balloons flew at least 18 feet higher than the true height of the buildings on the first morning, but said that the issue was quickly rectified, with balloons flying at the correct height that afternoon and the following day.

“I don’t know which height they saw,” he said.

Commission members also voiced concern with the proposal, questioning Ladwig on specific height and square footage for the 2008 plan, which Ladwig said he could not provide because of a lack of detailed town records from the time. Ladwig, in turn, questioned the commission on why such measurements were necessary for this current application.

“It would be nice to know, but that’s not part of our application,” he said.

“It’s completely part of your application,” responded commission member John Prue, noting that the 2008 plans remain approved for the site, even if the new proposal does not pass.

In both his rebuttal to the public comments and in his closing statements, Ladwig emphasized the financial opportunities presented by the development, which could generate more than $200,000 in net revenue for the town per year, according to the financial report submitted with the application.

“Recent history says people are concerned that we have the fiscal ability to provide a high-quality education to our children,” said Ladwig, referring to this year’s budget fight. “As a planning commission, your job is to look forward to the needs of the town.”

Commission members will discuss the comments from the public hearing and possibly vote on the application, at their Sept. 2 meeting. If the petition submitted at Wednesday night’s public hearing meets a certain threshold of signatures, a supermajority of the commission must vote in favor of the application for it to pass, according to state statute.

Specifically, at least 20 percent of owners of area lots within 500 feet of the property in all directions must protest the application for a supermajority requirement, which would mean four of the five commission members must vote in favor of the application.

Town planning department staff members will review the petition, and if it meets this threshold, town attorney Thomas Londregan will be consulted as well, according to Town Planner Keith Brynes.

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