The South Windsor Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday evening narrowly approved removing a cap on the size of grocery stores in the Gateway Zone.
The Gateway Zone, which includes The Promenade Shops at Evergreen Walk, had a restriction that no grocery store could exceed 22,000 square feet.
During a public hearing on the matter, Town Manager Matthew Galligan, who requested the zone change to enhance the town’s ability to recruit businesses to the area, said that the initial restriction may have been in place to protect Highland Park Market when it was a tenant in town several years ago.
Highland Park Market was about 22,000 square feet, according to Galligan. Now that the business is no longer in South Windsor, Galligan said that it made sense to lift the restriction to enable him and town staff to recruit other grocery stores or allow current stores in South Windsor to expand into the Gateway Zone.
To give the commission a better sense of how large grocery stores are, Galligan said that Stop & Shop on Ellington Road is about 64,000 square feet, while Geissler’s is 26,600 square feet. Target and Lowe's, by comparison, are 122,000 and 150,000 square feet, respectively.
Galligan also noted that Gateway Zone was the only zone that had such an “irregularity.”
“Twenty-two thousand square feet is not great for a market,” Galligan said.
But two residents - Gary Bazzano and Cindy Beaulieu - spoke out against lifting the restriction entirely.
During their comments to the commission, Bazzano and Beaulieu each said that they favored putting a cap on how large a grocery store could be.
The concern, Beaulieu said, is that a big-box store, like Wal-Mart, which sells groceries, could come in without a cap on store size.
“That’s not the type of thing we want lining Buckland Road,” said Beaulieu, who suggested placing a cap of perhaps 50,000 or 60,000 square feet on grocery stores in the Gateway Zone.
But Galligan said that he did not favor putting a cap on grocery store sizes for two reasons. First, there were other zoning regulations - such as how buildings have to look - that ensure that the right type of businesses open their doors in the Gateway Zone. In addition, Galligan said that any caps would hamper his ability to recruit stores like Whole Foods, if they choose to look at South Windsor. Galligan also said that stores may also want to expand, and the cap could prove to be an unwanted stumbling block.
Galligan also dispelled the notion that Wal-Mart would be interested in opening in South Windsor.
“This is not their market,” Galligan said. “Wal-Mart is not coming to South Windsor.”
The commission ultimately removed the restriction without a cap by a 4-3 vote.
Commissioner Bart Pacekonis voted against removing the restriction.
“The Gateway Zone is our special zone in South Windsor,” he said. “If you remove caps … it becomes like other areas in town.”
Pacekonis said that he was concerned that, because supermarkets generate more traffic, that there should be a cap of about 50,000 square feet in the Gateway Zone.
William Carroll Jr. and Elizabeth Kuehnel also voted against lifting the measure without a cap.
But Chairman Patrick Kennedy, who voted with the majority, said that the best way to ensure that a grocery store is the right fit is through the design regulations.
Lavina Wilson, Mario Marrero and William Butter joined Kennedy in voting to remove the restriction altogether.