WALLINGFORD — Plans to build a larger Toyota of Wallingford north of its location on Route 5 have “taken a few steps back,” said Gary Greenalch, an engineer representing the car dealership.
Toyota of Wallingford is on just less than four acres at 859 N. Colony Road. Parking around the 21,500-square-foot facility has become scarce, Steve Zion, owner of the dealership, told the Record-Journal in June. To accommodate his growing business, Zion said he planned on building a 15,000-square-foot facility on eight acres at 1148-1165 N. Colony Road across from Staples Plaza.
But after the Zoning Board of Appeals denied a variance on Monday that was necessary for the project to move forward, the future of the new dealership is in limbo.
“I’m really not even sure where we are going with this now,” Greenalch said.
Zion was unavailable for comment Wednesday. Greenalch, an engineer with Pacesetter Construction in Branford, attended Monday’s ZBA meeting as Zion’s representative. The board voted 3-2 to deny a variance to reduce the required landscaped area at the front of the eight-acre property. The intent of the waiver, Greenalch said, was to keep the business as far as possible from residential neighbors at the rear of the property. In return for a reduction of landscaped area fronting Route 5, Zion was willing to provide a 30-foot landscaped area in the rear of the site.
“We were actually trying to do the best for everyone in this situation,” Greenalch said.
The variance was denied because the land is vacant, meaning there are no conditions “grandfathered” in, Town Planner Kacie Costello said. An approval of a variance is based on the applicant’s ability to prove a hardship. No hardship was proven in this case, Costello said.
“There’s no reason they couldn’t supply the front landscaping requirement,” she said.
Landscaping is defined as being green, with grass, trees or other plantings, Costello explained. The push for landscaping “is part of a push to keep Route 5 beautified.”
That the variance was denied “was a little disappointing,” Greenalch said.
The variance was necessary in order have the application considered by the Planning and Zoning Commission. Greenalch said the variance was also important because the frontage on Route 5 would allow Zion to display his cars and accommodate customers and employees. Costello said she understands dealerships need plenty of parking, but “the requested parking was quite significantly higher than required regulations.”
Even without the frontage available for parking, there is plenty of space on the property, she said.
Zion purchased the property for the proposed dealership years ago. Costello said he purchased the land through a limited liability company, the North Colony Development Group, in 2005. Clearing has taken place on the property over the last year, with two homes demolished in the spring. Although the property was purchased eight years ago, Zion waited to clear it and plan a new building because of economic conditions.
Costello said Zion could revise his plans to include landscaping on Route 5. This would allow him to apply directly to the PZC and have the application reviewed during the commission’s next meeting. If Zion decides he can’t build the dealership without the variance, he can present his plans to the ZBA six months from now, Costello said.
Neither Greenalch nor Costello could comment on what would happen to the existing dealership if the new facility is eventually built. The dealership on Route 5 is worth $1.58 million as of the town’s 2012 Grand List, said Town Assessor Shelby Jackson. Zion pays $41,622 annually in real estate taxes, Jackson said. The dealership pays another $10,243 annually in personal property taxes. This tax covers business equipment, such as computers, desks, filing cabinets and any other equipment necessary to the business, Jackson said.
The property where Zion is proposing a new dealership is on top of a hill, which helps with visibility, Greenalch said. Zion has previously told the Record-Journal that he wanted to build around the natural contours of the property. The property could be somewhat tough to develop because of the topography, Costello said. But Costello said she’s supportive of development in the area and doesn’t see a problem with a car dealership, as long as there is front landscaping.