Vazhayil Babu bought a Meineke Muffler at 585 Main Street in 1994. The business is a nonconforming use for the property, but it pre-dated zoning regulations. It had been a repair shop in the 1930s before becoming a Meineke in 1988, according to Ray Rizio, an attorney hired by Babu.
A fire destroyed the building in 2006 and the muffler shop hasn't been back since. Though a nonconforming use is no longer allowed after six months or more of inactivity, Rizio says it had never been Babu’s intention not to operate a Meineke on the property.
An environmental clean up of the property contributed to the delay on plans to rebuild a Meineke on the site, according to Rizio.
The building was about 3,000 square feet. Babu is proposing to build a 5,000 square foot colonial-style building in its place, with six bays and a second floor office. He and Rizio came before the Planning & Zoning Commission last week with a proposed zone change for the back of the property, from an RC to a DB1, and a site plan application.
Rizio said the Meineke would have a total car care concept, making all sorts of repairs, as well as offering oil changes.
"We believe the building is beautiful," Rizio said. "It went through ARB (the Architectural Review Board). We think it fits into the colonial character of the neighborhood."
Rizio said there would be no negative impact on traffic and that the business would contribute to the tax base.
But there was a serious point of disagreement between Rizio and the commission during the hearing last Thursday. Chairman Rick Zini maintained that the proposed expansion of the building represents an expansion of a nonconforming use. If the commission approves it, Zini expressed concern that a precedent could be set for other nonconforming uses in town.
Rizio argued that the use was grandfathered and that no accessory uses are being proposed. He maintained that the new building conforms with town zoning and that its being larger does not represent an expansion of a nonconforming use.
There is also a question of whether intent to continue a nonconforming use that had not been active since 2006 justifies continuing that use again. Rizio mentioned court decisions he believes shows that the state of Connecticut favors a property owner’s intent as a deciding factor.
During the hearing, Babu admitted to having been willing to sell his property for different uses over the years, before moving forward with an application to rebuild his Meineke.
The P&Z decided to continue the hearing, allowing the commission to seek legal counsel on the application. The advice it receives will be included in the record for this application.