MERIDEN — A developer’s latest attempt to spur activity on a Murdock Avenue property hit another roadblock when a City Council committee recommended against a zone change for the parcel.
On Wednesday the City Council’s Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee voted 3 to 2 against a request to amend the city’s zoning map to allow more uses at the former Saab site on the Wallingford border. The proposed zone change will now go before the full City Council at its next meeting.
Mark Development LLC sought the zone change from an RDD to an M-4 zone for a 48-acre parcel at 850 Murdock Ave. Local businessman and developer John Orsini is a partner in Mark Development LLC.
The zone change to M-4 would have allowed more manufacturing and industrial uses on the property. The RDD forbids manufacturing uses that occupy more than 30 percent of the building. There are also some differences in setback and building coverage requirements.
The city’s Planning Commission had been asked to determine whether the proposed zone change fit in the city’s Plan of Conservation and Development and make a recommendation to the City Council.
The commission agreed unanimously this month that it met the criteria.
About six residents whose homes abut the property spoke out against the proposed change on Wednesday, citing concerns over increased noise, lighting and decreased property values. A 168,000-square-foot building is under construction, and residents said work begins in the early morning and continues seven days a week. They fear the zone change would bring construction, and industrial uses that could disrupt the quiet east side neighborhood.
After listening to the residents, Republican City Councilor Dan Brunet joined Democrats Sonya Jelks and Yvette Cortez in opposition. Committee Chairman Michael Rohde and member Bruce Fontanella, both Democrats, supported the change as an economic development driver.
Dennis Ceneviva, who represents Mark Development, explained before the vote that there are only three RDD zones in the city — the Murdock Avenue site, MidState Medical Center on Lewis Avenue and the Undercliff property on the city’s west side.
The Saab motor company had eyed the property for a potential world headquarters in the late 1980s, but after an ownership change abandoned the plan. The Research Development District is currently designed for headquarter offices, medical centers, stadiums and campuses. There is one building on the site, Flexo-Converters USA, a global paper bag maker that would be included in a zone change.
“It seems as if that zone outlived its effectiveness,” Ceneviva said. “There is one building now, the Flexo property. There is some opportunity in the 168,000-square-foot building. There is some interest in 100,000 square feet for warehouse and distribution, another party is interested in 63,000 square feet, a manufacturing company which would not be allowed in the RDD. The market is such that if you have manufacturing users who are aggressive on tax incentives I think it can be a positive for the city.”
Ceneviva added the property is currently being taxed as farmland and generates about $17,000 onto the city’s tax rolls. A switch to M-4 and new users with personal property would significantly increase the tax revenue. He said buffers would be in place to protect neighbors from light and noise.
City Planner Paul Dickson said the building could be allowed in the current zone but uses would be restricted. Also, any new construction would go before the city’s regulatory boards.
Orsini tried in 2009 to build an auto auction on the property but it was shot down after neighbors opposed the idea of tractor trailers hauling cars and other disruptions. Their arguments were similar in response to the current zone change request that would open the doors to manufacturing.
“I’m always swayed when residents speak out,” Jelks said. “I’m not going to be in support, but that doesn’t mean I won’t when it comes before the council. I want to get additional information.”
For now, I’ll “side with residents who live in the area,” Jelks said.
Brunet questioned the smaller setback required with the M-4 zone. He also raised the issue of vacant properties elsewhere in the city, including Research Parkway, that could be used for manufacturing.
“The (Plan of Conservation and Development) is a very generic document,” Brunet said. “It also talks about repurposing properties. There are empty manufacturing spaces we need to repurpose rather than making it easy for one developer. I do not like the setbacks. Fifty feet isn’t enough.”