By James Lomuscio
UPDATE Tesla tonight moved closer to opening up a service center and perhaps eventually a dealership at 176 Post Road West, the site of the former the former Dragone Classic Car showroom.
The property at 176 Post Road West that was home most recently to Dragone Classic Cars.. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Dave Matlow for WestportNow.com
Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) by a 5-2 vote approved a text amendment that would facilitate a special permit-site plan application that would allow the Tesla facility. Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix dissented. State legislators have yet to allow Tesla to have dealerships in Connecticut.
Once the text amendment is legally effective, the P&Z will vote on the site plan, a vote which is expected at its December meeting.
In discussing the text amendment, Eric D. Bernheim, attorney for property owner applicant 176 Post Road West LLC, did not say Tesla by name, referring to it only as an electric vehicle (EV) automobile dealership, which does not include hybrids.
The reason for Bernheim played it close to the vest, as he had in previous meetings, is that a text amendment cannot be site specific.
For some P&Z members, the EV reference has regularly brought snickers since it is common knowledge that Tesla has set its sights on the location.
The text amendment 755 applies to four sites in town, those which are nonconforming automobile dealerships.
And that posed a problem for Stephens, who argued that once the text amendment and site plan were approved, that there be a sunset provision for 755.
“The town and the commission pretty much has shown favorability to having this electric car company come in,” said Stephens. “This is a very challenged property. My problem is there are other properties this may apply to.”
He said the implication for the other automobile properties on the Post Road is that it “could promote more density and problems.”
“I’d like the commission to do what it did in 1177 (Post Road East), to sunset this after it has been approved and done,” said Stephens.
“I think it’s a good idea, but I really think it might be a wise idea to sunset this so it doesn’t hit us later on,” he added.
The site plan application for the property in a general business district (GBD), AA residential zone seeks approval for an addition to existing building for an electric vehicle repair and maintenance facility.
It would to expand the building from its current 10,000 square feet to 17,000 to 20,000 square feet, increasing coverage from 17.86 percent to 29.23 percent, though currently only 25 percent coverage is allowed.
Tonight, Peter Romano of Landtech described landscaping and plantings that would serve as visual buffers on Post Road West.
During tonight’s hearing, Bernheim said he was not comfortable with Stephens’ suggestion to sunset the text amendment and instead said it should apply “to all four eligible sites.”
“This is not going to affect your property,” Stephens said. “If we sunset it, it doesn’t affect you but other properties in the future.”
The site, which had been a Saab dealership before the Dragone showroom, also requires ground contamination remediation, it was said.
Environmental consultant Doug Allen of HRP Associates hired by the applicant pointed out that while remediation had been done in the past, “We still have an issue with some contaminated soil.”
“It extends to the water table but not real bad and is at low levels, but remediating the area can only help the site,” Allen said.
Bernheim touted the planned project as aiding in cleaning up an area that otherwise would be ignored.
“This is a good thing that the site is going to be remediated because we’re adding a building,” he said.
This story has been updated with the vote details and clarifies Tesla currently cannot have dealerships in Connecticut.