MERIDEN — Mayor Kevin Scarpati is calling on the City Council to review city zoning regulations in the wake of this week’s vote allowing self-storage units in a west side plaza once home to Stop & Shop.
The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals granted the variance after the applicant, DealPoint Merrill, proved a hardship because the city’s existing zoning regulations don’t provide any designated zones for self-storage. Each of the seven existing self-storage operations in the city were also granted ZBA variances.
“I am disappointed in the decision made by the ZBA but understand we need to fix our regulations,” Scarpati said.
Scarpati had a conversation with City Council leadership to avoid future zoning hardships. The measure would likely be handed off to the council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee, chaired by Councilor David Lowell.
Lowell said he would welcome a review with input from City Planner Paul Dickson and other city staff.
“As a City Council that also has the responsibility of being the zoning body, we have to balance our responsibilities of zoning with our responsibilities of being business friendly in the community,” Lowell said.
Now that the variance has been granted, the sale of Centennial Plaza on West Main Street is contingent upon getting site plan approval for the storage units from the city. Should it succeed, DealPoint Merrill is committed to spending $8 million to $13 million on improvements.
West side residents wanted the city to lure another grocery store to the plaza after Stop & Shop closed in November. Over 70 comments opposing the plan, including those from nearby business owners, were read into the record at the ZBA meeting.
Scarpati said he and Economic Development Director Joseph Feest contacted several grocery store operators, even some from out of state, but only had the power to refer them to the property owner. He did not name the grocery chains they spoke with.
“We can only do so much, we can’t negotiate leases,” Scarpati said. “We certainly set up several conversations but they were unsuccessful in landing a tenant for a number of reasons. I think there were a number of factors.”
Scarpati also questioned the repeated assertion that the Railroad Salvage store being vacant for more than two decades was proof the plaza could not attract retail tenants. Because Stop & Shop controlled leasing at the site, Scarpati questioned the grocery chain’s motivation to fill the space with another retailer that could possibly compete with Stop & Shop on some product lines.
Cornerstone Property President Bruce Fischman explained that Stop & Shop held a master lease on the whole property. Stop & Shop and Cornerstone, the owner of the plaza, both tried to fill the space, he said.
In its presentation to the ZBA, DealPoint Merrill said the self-storage operation would be climate-controlled with no outdoor storage sheds. It would occupy the vacant spaces at Stop & Shop and the former Railroad Salvage, leaving three retail businesses between the buildings. The company recently completed a self-storage operation in New Britain and another in Nanuet, New York.
DealPoint Merrill points to a marketing report that shows an oversupply of grocery stores in the area and an under supply of self-storage units based on the city’s population and number of renters.
Daniel Dannenhoffer owns and operates Security Storage on Chamberlain Highway and North Plains Industrial Road in Wallingford. Both have 180 units each, with Wallingford providing vehicle storage.
Dannenhoffer said there could be some need for self-storage expansion, but not as many as DealPoint Merrilll is proposing, adding he feels many customers don’t want to pay the cost of climate-controlled units. The city’s west side currently has storage operations across the street from Centennial Plaza, and another at Lincoln Plaza.
“Are they trying to drive the rest of us out?” Dannenhoffer said. “From time to time we fill up but it’s been a while.”
Storage units in the area can range from $65 per month to over $200.
A site plan for the proposed self-storage facility will be submitted to the Planning Commission for review.