MERIDEN — The city’s Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously Tuesday night to approve a special exception for a health care service facility to occupy the former Macy’s at the Meriden Mall.
The panel also granted site plan approval during the remote meeting.
MedCraft Healthcare Real Estate sought approval to redevelop the vacant 180,000 square foot former department store for health care uses.
Representatives from MedCraft presented detailed drawings of a health care facility with new canopies, new facade and landscaped parking areas. Milford attorney Amy Souchuns, who represented MedCraft, lived in Meriden for many years before settling in Wallingford.
“I spent a fair amount of time there and am excited to bring this opportunity and development to the city of Meriden,” Souchuns said.
The city’s zoning laws describe health care use as services and treatments not performed in a traditional doctor’s office or a hospital. This could be dental, eye health, physical therapy, occupational therapy, and other therapies and services, she said. The new facility would generate taxes and be called the Meriden Retail Health Center.
Tenants have not been announced. The project is the third retail conversion MedCraft has completed.
The site plan approval is a departure for the ZBA, who was recently granted the power to approve site plans that required special exceptions. Member also expressed gratitude that the city’s Planning Department had foresight to allow uses other than retail at the mall.
Only two members of the public commented on the proposal, one to praise it, the other had questions about entrance signage. The facility will be connected to the mall on one level.
City Planning Department Director Paul Dickson told ZBA members the project met all city site plan and erosion control criteria.
“This is probably one of the most exciting ones we’ve had,” said ZBA vice chairman Mark Dupuis. “The presentation was just excellent. The only drawback here is it would have been nice to actually do this in person and have the stuff out on the table. There was a tremendous amount of staff work on this. It’s a step forward, in the Plan of Conservation and Development to do something in the retail area where we’re going to be facing some challenges in the months and years to come.”
The city’s Economic Development office also supported the project.
"I'm excited about this," city Economic Development Director Joseph Feest said two weeks ago. "This has been thoroughly thought out. This is a big step for us.
Medical services are merging themselves into one-stop shopping. This is a trend in the medical field."
MedCraft Healthcare representatives worked with Feest for over a year on a possible location in the city, looking at both large and small sites. The company completed a health care project in Stamford several years ago.
The city's location in the middle of the state and access to highways was a plus, said an attorney for the company.
"They have been searching in the area for a year," Souchuns said. “They see the need and demand for this type of service specific to the market area."
The total investment depends on the amount of equipment and the needs of individual tenants. Leasing efforts will begin after city approvals.
The Macy's property, which has been vacant for a year, could be the first in the state to be repurposed and occupied. Macy's, like other struggling retailers, shuttered many of its stores nationwide, leaving mall owners and towns and cities struggling to fill them. Trying to find another retail user for the 180,000 square foot building is unlikely given the current climate.
MedCraft plans extensive improvements including more windows, new canopies, and reconfiguring the drive-up and parking lanes.
Health care services are allowed in the existing C-2 zone with a special exemption. The POCD drafted last year, noted that similar mall properties have been reconfigured to allow for diverse uses such as residential, academic and health care.
It further notes that "Meriden can help to ensure that the mall is in a good position to adapt to future change by creating a flexible regulatory environment with zoning that will not present a barrier to ongoing success," according to information submitted by MedCraft.
Macy's owns the building, but Namdar Realty Group owns the mall property and will share some of the parking areas required for the proposed health facility.
The existing entrances on each of the three floors will be maintained and enhanced, including the installation of new canopies providing screening from the weather. The building facade will be upgraded with new finishes, including metal panel and cultured stone.
Windows will be added across all levels.
MedCraft also proposes drop-off lanes and accessible parking spaces "The property is well-positioned to accommodate the health care service use. Even after the proposed site mod-ifications, the minor work on certain landscape islands and drive aisles will occur on the adjacent property at 450 Lewis Avenue," according to the application.
"MedCraft's design is a notable improvement from existing conditions," according to the plan summary. "The proposal adds architectural interest to a stark building with large blank walls and little visual interest. Its height and scale remain consistent with the surrounding structures."
The plan will not alter the essential characteristics of the area or adversely affect property values in the neighborhood, but stabilize them, the application states.
"I'm excited about this," Feest said recently. "We've been working with them for over a year. I think they will be very good corporate citizens."