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Wallingford PZC may change regs to encourage electric charging stations

Wallingford PZC may change regs to encourage electric charging stations

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WALLINGFORD — The Planning and Zoning Commission may change the town zoning regulations defining vehicle fueling stations to include electric charging stations.

The current regulations don’t mention electric vehicle charging stations.

Town Planner Kacie Hand said Monday night during the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting that the modified zoning regulations would allow "vehicle fueling stations," not just gas stations, as an accessory to the primary use, by special permit on a case-by-case basis.

Hand said that sustainability is an identified goal in the town’s Plan of Conversation and Development from 2016, and that changing zoning regulations to include electric vehicles would be “keeping up with the technology and sustainability goals.”

The PZC voted unanimously Monday night to continue the public hearing on the issue to its July meeting.

Walmart proposal

The issue came up when SAI Group submitted a site plan application in February to build a row of electric vehicle charging stations at Walmart, 844 N. Colony Road.

The Salem, New Hampshire-based firm is managing a construction project to install high-speed electric vehicle charging stations nationwide for Electrify America, a subsidiary of Volkswagen of America.

Volkswagen’s Electrify America initiative is part of a legal settlement. The Environmental Protection Agency found that Volkswagen had installed programming the would report different emission levels during regulatory testing and real-world driving in tens of millions of cars worldwide from 2009 to 2015.

By order of the consent decree, Volkswagen is investing more than $2 billion over 10 years in an electric vehicle charging infrastructure network in the United States and working to create a greater awareness of benefits of zero-emission transportation, said Mike Moran, Electrify America head of communications, on Monday.

“We are certainly looking for opportunities to have electric vehicle charging stations where they meet several of the wants and needs of electric vehicle customers,” Moran said.

Besides being well-lit and visible to passing traffic, Moran said, they also look for locations close to amenities that would allow motorists to shop or “multi-task,” since electric vehicle charging “takes a bit of time.”

Wallingford’s Walmart was slated to be one of those locations.

“The charging dispensers are intended as an amenity to visitors of the Walmart center but are available to any (electric vehicle) motorist,” according to the project description by SAI.

The proposed charging stations, compatible with fast-charging electric vehicles and not tied to one brand, were to be installed in existing parking spots. The project would have consisted of four charging dispensers, screened equipment pad and a dedicated transformer.

Town weighs in

Town Planner Kacie Hand determined in April the site plan application should move forward as a special permit, which gives the PZC more discretion over granting permits.

“This office supports the use of vehicles that use alternative energy and the infrastructure to support them. However, these facilities must still be designed appropriately and responsibly,” a March 28 letter from Hand to SAI stated,

Hand’s concerns included the location of the charging stations, and “potential impacts to safety and traffic circulation,” her letter stated. According to the site maps, the charging stations were slated to be near Walmart’s Route 5 entrance, an area that’s traffic-heavy already.

Plan put on hold

The PZC was slated to discuss the special permit application during a public hearing May 13, but SAI requested a continuance a few days before the meeting.

According to an email to Hand from Rebecca Sharp of SAI, dated May 10, the firm was “redesigning due to the relocation” and there were “several items that still need to be verified before we can commit that the site can be built.”

The public hearing was postponed to June’s meeting, which took place Monday evening, but SAI withdrew the application last week.

Moran said that the company’s decision in Wallingford “is similar to actions we have taken elsewhere.”

He said that Electrify America looks for site hosts to set up freestanding stations in an existing parking facility, not build structures.

“There are a number of factors related to locating a charging site for optimal customer experience,” he said, “including its positioning for visibility from major roads, access to utility power, proximity to a retail amenity, customer safety and more … If a city or town’s permitting process requires us to not conform with these standards, we elect to invest in other locations.”
Twitter: @LCTakores