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Article Published November 23, 2021

One Approval, One Withdrawal for Clinton Unilever Redevelopment Applications

By Eric O’Connell/Zip06.com

The developer of the former Unilever property recently had one application approved by the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) but opted to withdraw a second one. The town hopes to see the developer before the commission again soon.

On Oct. 18, the PZC approved an application from the developer of the Unilever building that allows for more flexibility in the Transit-Oriented Development Overlay District (TODO) zoning district in which the property resides.

“The proposed text amendments to the TODO were approved by the PZC, which provide some more flexibility of development at the Unilever site, including being able to do a zero-lot-line subdivision of property,” Consultant planner John Guszkowski explained.

Guszkowski further explained that this allows for the main building and the factory floor to be served by two septic systems.

While that application was approved, a second application was withdrawn after the commission members expressed serious reservations at a November PZC meeting. That application would have expanded some of the allowable uses in the zone. The theory was that by expanding the allowed uses, the owners could more quickly attract tenants to the property and get it developed.

In a statement of use in the application, developer Michael Massimino wrote that he was seeking PZC approval to allow commercial, institutional, cultural, residential, municipal, artisan, light manufacturing and assembling, fulfillment center, research and development, laboratory, retail, office, restaurant, and brewery uses in the TODO.

The commission members, as well as land use staff, were especially concerned with a lack of a master plan for the property. As such, Guszkowski said the developer opted to take those considerations to heart and withdraw a second proposal.

“I believe that they heard the PZC’s and staff’s concerns that the project had become a bit to ad-hoc, with small changes being proposed here and there and a lack of focus on the intent and purpose of the master plan. So, they’re taking a step back and will hopefully return with a well-considered and comprehensive proposal,” Guszkowski said.

“I think it is a good sign that the developer and applicant is taking a slower, more deliberate approach to the re-use of the former Unilever property. As I said, I think they heard the concerns expressed by the town, and are proceeding thoughtfully,” Guszkowski added.

In a letter of withdrawal from the applicant it was stated that after considering the thoughts of the PZC, the developer will hope to have a new application before the commission early next year.

This is the first application concerning the Unilever property that has been proposed in almost two years. In early 2020, Massimino filed an application via 1 John Street Clinton, LLC, to build a 24,321-square-foot brewery and restaurant into a portion of the large former Unilever headquarters building on John Street. That application was withdrawn in March 2020. Massimino vowed he would resubmit the brewery application again, but did not have a timeline.

The application for the brewery and restaurant application was pulled mostly due to a lack of a master plan for the entire building and concerns over the timeline needed for the state to review an application for historic building preservation.

The Unilever building had had nearly 100 years of history in Clinton before it closed its doors in 2012. Since then, there were several plans to redevelop me the property, but none ever came to fruition. In summer 2019, the property, which had been owned by Unilever, was sold to Massimino.

While there has been tremendous interest in the future of the property, ever since the brewery application was pulled there hasn’t been much in the way of visible progress on the site.

In early August there were again rumblings that the developer was back with more applications. Zoning Enforcement Officer Kathy King told the Harbor News she and Guszkowski had conceptual conversation with Massimino in August.

Town Council Chair Chris Aniskovich said that Massimino has been in regular conversation with the town all along and requested patience when it comes to developing the property.