Zone Change Paves the Way for Winter Club Plan
A Killingworth entrepreneur has received approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) that will enable the developer to submit plans for a restaurant/steakhouse at the site of the former Winter Club at 251 Boston Post Road, Madison. The developer sought to obtain a “text amendment” to current zoning regulations to create what is referred to as a Planned Development District (PDD) at the former Winter Club property, which would begin the process for final approval for the site to become a restaurant once again.
Despite some resident concerns that this action is a measure that will lead to unfettered development, a PDD overlay is not a wider blanket approval for any or all development submissions to the PZC, according to town planning and zoning officials. This specific PDD is for the Winter Club site only and, according to zoning officials, is an exemption to a specific property that factors in proposals that successfully demonstrate an alignment with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development and all other zoning regulations.
Some of the confusion lies in the misunderstanding that if a PDD is approved, the action would lead to wholesale changes to zoning regulations and permitting of large-scale development in other areas. While it is correct that a “text amendment” to allow for a PDD designation would, in theory, allow other applicants to seek a PDD for other parcels under that same text change, the designation of a PDD is not an approval. It does not guarantee a developer will receive a green light for a particular project.
The property at 251 Boston Post Road is owned by Frasher Lulaj, who operates Killingworth’s La Foresta restaurant. Lulaj’s attorney, Jeff Beatty, said he is pleased that Madison officials are taking the time to review alternative zoning procedures that allow for consideration of projects such as the Winter Club proposal.
“We are very happy that the Planning and Zoning Commission approved our text amendment, and we look forward to submitting our application for a master plan at the property,” said Beatty. “We also look forward to answering any questions at the public at a public hearing to be held on our application of our master plan. At that meeting, members of the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and to speak in favor of the proposed development of the site and against the proposed development of the site. Ultimately, the Planning and Zoning Commission will decide whether or not they think what we are proposing to do is something that would benefit the community and is an appropriate way to develop that site.”
According to Beatty, Lulaj has not yet submitted a master plan. The Winter Club proposal, and any other proposals submitted to the town under the auspices of a PDD, is mandated to follow the traditional zoning process moving forward, which includes a public hearing where any resident can provide input.
According to town officials, only four properties are currently seeking to submit applications under a text amendment PDD provision. Those include a long-planned project on two parcels located off of New Road near exit 62 of I-95, the former Winter Club restaurant’s property, and a project under consideration at Barberry Hill Farm located on Boston Post Road across from Lowrey Field.
According to Town Planner Erin Mannix and town regulations, a PDD is a very specific and narrow designation that permits an applicant to begin the application process under the auspices of the text amendment.
The existing PDD regulation states, “Planned Development Districts (PDD) are intended to provide an attractive alternative to the subdivision of land, to diversify Madison’s overall housing portfolio, to encourage open space and economic development by allowing residential, commercial or a mixture of uses in a comprehensively planned setting. The PDD requires sensitivity in design in order to achieve a development that will be complementary to adjacent land uses while advancing Madison’s planning objectives. The provisions of this Section are designed to permit modification of the strict application of the standards and provisions of these Regulations…”
According to town records, the PZC amended its regulations in 2019 to allow for the creation of these one-off, site-specific Planned Development Districts as a concept. In essence, a PDD is the result of a recognition by the PZC that there are properties in Madison that would benefit from an easing of current zoning restrictions but still allow the town to retain municipal control and oversight of project proposals to ensure that no unfettered development can occur.
One of the other potential projects seeking the same text amendment is being submitted by Branford developer Adam Greenberg for a housing development on land formerly belonging to Barberry Hill Farm. According to town records, Greenberg purchased 5.8 acres at the rear of the 17.5-acre farm from the owner for approximately $2.4 million last November. Greenberg has not submitted requests for approval for a PDD for this site, though an exemption would be required to proceed with this project, and most officials involved in zoning issues said they expect that request will be submitted soon.