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Developer Seeks Firelite Plaza Zone Change

Developer Seeks Firelite Plaza Zone Change

A local developer hopes his proposal to amend the wording in current zoning regulations to permit a mixed-use development in one of the town’s two shopping districts is in keeping with the town’s plan for the future of Orange.

In 2015 the Town Plan & Zoning Commission (TPZC) updated its Plan of Conservation and Development to provide thoughtful consideration of how to ensure Orange moves ahead with the times while maintaining the spirit of its past.  Among the plan’s objectives is to address the need for more affordable and senior housing diversity in town.

In her presentation to the TPZC last month, Attorney Marjorie Shansky spoke on behalf of the applicant, 35 Old Tavern Road LLC, seeking a “text change” in current zoning regulations to allow residential units in shopping center districts.  “Your plan doesn’t just mention diversifying housing types; it says it over and over and over again.  It says it in connection with economic development.  It says it in connection with residential development,” she said.

Robert Sachs, a principal in 35 Old Tavern Road Associates that owns the Firelite Shopping Center property, said he is not seeking any other changes to the regulations.  “Right now, the height restrictions in this zone permit up to three story buildings and we do not propose any changes to that,” he said.  “The town’s own plan of development has that area designated for mixed use and we hope the board still feels this is the right location in town and is open to it.”

Sachs purchased the six-acre property last August for $3.8 million.  Once a thriving, busy center that housed eateries and retail shops, it is now vacant and slated for demolition.  “The existing shopping center has outlived its need and requires a complete facelift,” Sachs said.  “The retail market has changed and new centers won’t look like the typical centers we are all used to.”

Renovations have already begun on the former NuVita, and Passariello buildings and Patriot Bank located on the front of the property.  The 11,000 square foot parcel that borders Racebrook Road that formerly housed Farace’s Market and a liquor store has been renovated and is leasing to new tenants.

“If we gain the board’s approval on the text change we will come back before the board with a regular zoning application for a mixed use proposal,” Sachs said.

First Selectman Jim Zeoli believes the possibility of this location as the site for a mixed-use development has both “merits and considerations.”  “I do believe there is an opportunity here for a nice project, but not without addressing several concerns,” he said.  “How might residential units affect the overall operation of the retail center?  How will it impact neighbors?  Do we have the base to support a mixed use retail/residential development?”

Zeoli maintains he is open to looking at how mixed-use developments have worked in other towns.  “I would like to see different living options explored, but we must be concerned with each project and evaluate them on a case by case basis.  We don’t want to get overrun with inappropriate types of development that many of our residents have chosen to move away from and now live in Orange,” he said.

TPZC Chairman Ozzie Parente stressed that all that’s before the board is a proposal for a zone change, not an actual site plan for a mixed-use development.  He also pointed out that a zone change at the Firelite Shopping Center would also affect the town’s other shopping district located in the center of town on Orange Center Road.  “There did not seem to be a lot of strong opposition at our meeting but it’ early in the proceedings.  It’s important everyone keeps an open mind,”  Parente said.

The public hearing will be continued at the board’s August 6 meeting.

Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent

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