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Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News

(Photo by Eric O’Connell/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)

Unilever Proposal Moves Ahead; Indoor Sports Uses OKed—with Conditions—in Clinton

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On Sept. 9, the Clinton Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) approved a proposed zoning exception to allow for commercial indoor recreation use on the main level factory floor of the building of the Unilever property located at 1 John Street. A motion to approve the use with two specific conditions passed by a vote of 7-2.

One of the conditions of the approval prohibited indoor shooting ranges as part of the potential uses. According to the town’s zoning regulations, an indoor shooting range was a use that could have been permitted on the site with the zoning exception passed. At a public hearing on the change last month, some members of the public expressed concerns over that possibility. However, Michael Massimino, the owner of the property, stated several times that there was no intention of pursuing a firing range as a use.

At the Sept. 9 meeting, PZC member Michael Rossi made a motion to include as a condition to approval a prohibition on an indoor firing range as a permitted use. That motion was approved unanimously.

A second condition that was stipulated in the approval by the commission is a requirement that the final plans for the septic system design on the property be filed with the land use office and PZC.

Speaking with the Harbor News/Zip06.com, Massimino said, “It’s been a couple of years of due diligence on the property, so we’re very excited to move forward.”

Massimino said he couldn’t disclose much information at press time, but said there is one tenant who wants to move into a portion of the property to put in indoor turf should be ready to take occupancy in October. He also added a website should up and running within the next 30 to 60 days.

“Now that we have final approval, our next step is going through the permitting process,” said Massimino.

The total square footage of the building located at 1 John Street is 312,345, but the area affected by the approved change of use is 217,471 square feet.

Massimino said that one tenant is prepared to use about 44,480 square feet for indoor turf; as that tenant wanted to get to work in early October, getting the approval at the Sept. 9 meeting something of paramount importance.

Massimino said there are no other tenants for the rest of the space yet, however he is speaking with potential tenants who have expressed interest in potential uses such as basketball courts, golf simulators, and strength and conditioning uses. Additionally, Massimino said that he is working on a master plan for the entire property that will be presented publicly.

PZC member Michael Hughes stated that while he approved of the use, he voted “No” on the motion to approve because he felt that the PZC should grant approval on each section of the property affected by the application, not the entire area.

A Bumpy Process

Prior to its vote to approve the special exception, the PZC held lengthy discussions over items in the Connecticut River Area Health District (CRAHD) report on the application, which caused PZC member Gary Bousquet to remark “This is exactly what every single person in Clinton has been talking about with Planning and Zoning. We make the simple incredibly, insanely, difficult.”

One hour prior to the start of the regular PZC meeting, the commission held a special continuation of a public hearing started last month and at which speakers were allowed to speak only on the required report from CRAHD, which had not yet been delivered to the commission at the time of the public hearing last month.

The PZC was especially interested in what the CRAHD report had to say about the sanitary system on the property. Massimino said that with town assistance, the developer had done numerous tests on the property regarding the soils and wastewater disposal systems.

The CRAHD report delivered to the commission reviewed and approved the 40,480 square foot portion of the property where a tenant wants to put in indoor turf.

Consultant Planner John Guszkowski said in an email, “CRAHD determined the necessary size of the septic system to accommodate the projected flows from an indoor soccer space of 40,480 square feet, and further determined that the property at 1 John Street had demonstrated that their proposed septic area was large enough to accommodate those flows. The applicant still needs to provide final design plans for the septic system before they can get final approval for this facility. They’ll also need building permits.”

As for the remaining space that the special exception applies to, the developer will need further CRAHD approvals. “In order to activate any of that space beyond the initial 40,480, the applicant will have to return to CRAHD with modified septic plans (and to the building official with revised building plans),” said Guszkowski.

The public hearing was lightly attended, with only a handful of speakers.

“This is the beginning of a long-term development in town which to state the obvious is what everyone wants,” said Economic Development Commission Chairman John Allen.

John Garcia spoke of the high volume of kids in the surrounding shoreline area who play soccer and might look for chances to play outside of the school teams.

“We have an opportunity to give all the kids a chance,” Garcia said.

No one in attendance spoke against the application.

The sale of seven different parcels that make up the Unilever property was announced in late July. Since then, there has been speculation around town as to the future of the property, including the possibility of a brewery and restaurant on the property, as well as housing. However, no such application has been filed at time.

Massimino has said that he plans to be a regular on the PZC agenda for the foreseeable future as more development on the property takes place.

“I’m sure we’ll be in front of this board many times over the next 24 to 36 months,” Massimino said earlier in 2019.

The Unilever plant had more than 100 years of history in town, but in July 2011, Unilever announced that the company’s Clinton plant would close by the end of 2012. Since then, there have been multiple efforts to bring an indoor recreational complex to the building that until now had not materialized.

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