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Tesla Eyes Former Dragone Motors Property

By James Lomuscio

Denied a dealership and service center in Westport’s Saugatuck area last year, electric vehicle manufacturer Tesla appears to be eyeing the space recently vacated by Dragone Classic Motors at 176 Post Road West.

WestportNow.com Image
The former Dragone Classic Motors property at 176 Post Road West. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com

At tonight’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) meeting Eric D. Bernheim, attorney for property owner applicant 176 Post Road West LLC, did not say Tesla by name. He referred to it as only “a company that sells exclusively electric cars, not hybrids.”

The reason Bernheim played it close to the vest during the pre-application hearing before the P&Z is that a text amendment is in the works for two options the property owner is considering to expand the existing building’s coverage.

The applicant wants to expand the building from its current 10,000 square feet to 17,000 to 20,000 square feet, Bernheim said.

That means the coverage on site would increase from 17.86 percent to 29.23 percent, though currently only 25 percent coverage is allowed.

The first option Bernheim said would be for the dealership to piggyback on an amendment that has allowed the Honda and Volvo dealerships to expand on Post Road East in a general business district (GBD) Residential A zone.

The problem for 176 Post Road West is that it is in a Residential AA zone, which would require a text amendment.

The second option, Bernheim said, would be to have a zone change, making it highway service district zone.

Commissioner Catherine Walsh said she was comfortable with the first option, since the property,”has a history of being a dealership.” Prior to Dragone, it was a Saab dealership.

At the same time, she had concerns about the size of the proposed project and asked if the addition could be a separate building. Bernheim said that was not an option.

Commissioner Chip Stephens agreed the size posed problems.

“When I first heard about this I was excited,” Stephens said. “Then I looked at the size.”

Stephens also pointed out that under Connecticut law, electric car dealership are not allowed.

“This is designed for something that is maybe down the pike,” he said. “Should the state not cooperate in the next few years, we’ll have a 20,000-square-foot building just sitting there that can become a Target or a Walmart.”

Commissioner Neil Cohn said he preferred the first option, adding that he supported an electric car dealership coming to town.

“It is the future,” he said. “I would like to work it anyway we can help it.”

P&Z member Michael Cammeyer agreed.

“I don’t want to be an impediment to an electric car company coming to this location,” he said. “I don’t want to impede something like this. Why not have our residents be able to use this to their advantage?”

P&Z Chairman Paul Lebowitz Paul said that while he did not share Stephens’ and Walsh’s concerns about the building’s size, “If we’re left with a shell, that’s something to grapple with.”

Westport resident Bruce Becker, newly elected president of the Connecticut Electric Vehicle Club, said that the facility would serve more as a service area in which most visits would be 30 minutes or less and twice a year.

“There are no oil changes,” Becker said. “The emphasis is on making the car operate well.”

It also would not be a dealership in the traditional sense with cars on the lot, but a place where a car that had been ordered could be picked up, staying on the lot no more than a day, he said.

“This is primarily a service facility,” Becker said. “The cars are made to order, and they are on the lot for a day, and then they leave.”

He also stressed such a dealership would suit the town well.

“Westport is the leader in the state in electric car adoption,” Becker said.

Obviously in favor of the project, even though it was only a pre-application hearing, Cohn asked, “Could his car company consider having an education center?”

“I think we could use this to promote cleaner transportation in Westport,” he said.

Bernheim said that was all part of the company’s business plan.

No date was set as to when the applicant would return to the P&Z.

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