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Friday, April 20 News

Southport neighbors oppose business move to renovated house

Plans to move a business into a renovated Southport house, which once was slated for condemnation, were debated at a public hearing Tuesday before the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.

The owners of 172 John St. in the Southport section of town want to change the zone designation for the property from residence B to designed commercial to house their business, Blue C Studio, currently in another building on the street. Owners Priscilla and Fred Lord also live in Southport, and lawyer John Fallon said they had decided to repair and renovate the dilapidated house rather than tear it down and start from scratch.

And, Fallon added, they filed the application to change the zoning use for the site with the understanding that there is no guarantee it would be approved.

The TPZ's hearing on the application, which includes a request for a special permit, was concluded Tuesday, but no decision was made.

Neighbors, who presented enough petition signatures to require a two-thirds majority vote by the TPZ to approve the zone change, repeatedly told the commission that John Street is too small for additional traffic.

They also expressed concerns that the business could expand or the property's use could change in the future.

Ann McGrath, who lives on Spruce Street, said her property would overlook the proposed 20-car parking lot.

"We really care about having a pleasant, safe and desirable neighborhood," McGrath said, adding area residents strongly oppose re-zoning the half-acre parcel. "It's always been residential."

According to Fallon, the property was actually zoned commercial until 1995, although several neighbors said it was never used as a commercial property. The fact that the property line is about 12 feet from the Metro-North train tracks, and the house has stood empty and in disrepair for years, Fallon said, shows that it is no longer viable for residential use.

"Yes, Mr. Fallon, we do like living there," said Spruce Street resident Stephen Stout, who said they deal with the closeness of the railroad tracks. "We're very happy." He said the John Street property is surrounded by residential properties, with the exception of 10 Spruce St., and could easily be a one or two-family house.

Stout said the applicant has not proven any hardship or compelling reason for the zone change. Demonstrating hardship is not required for an application to the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.

Several speakers talked about an undeveloped lot on John Street used for parking tractor-trailer trucks, though that lot is not part of the Lords' application.

"Five or six tractor-trailer trucks leave daily, and have to come in through Spruce Street," said Gaylord Meyer, a Representative Town Meeting member who lives on Spruce Street, adding that cars park on both sides of John Street. "John Street is overwhelmed and unsafe, and if you approve this you will compound an already unsafe situation."

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Fallon said the business deals with its clients through a virtual network and has eight full-time employees. He said the zoning regulations require 20 parking spaces. The parking lot would not be illuminated, because the office is not open at night, and a sidewalk would be installed in front of the property.

Residents of Southport Green, a condominium and mixed-use complex, also submitted a petition and letter in opposition to the application. Ann Paul, a board member for the Southport Green Association, said residents use Metro-North on a regular basis and walk along John Street to get to the Southport station. Cars parked on the street, some ignoring "no parking" signs, leave no room for two-way traffic. "It is a dangerous condition," she said.

The neighbors' concerns are legitimate, Fallon said, but contended that nothing in the application would exacerbate existing conditions. He also said any change in future use of the property would need to be approved by the TPZ.

"It is not in a historic district," Fallon said, but the Lords "restored it as if it was." He said neighbors talked about honoring the history of the mid-19th century home. "Who but the Lords, in the last 10 years, have honored this structure?" he said.