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PZC hears plans for library, housing and auto dealership

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KENT—The Planning and Zoning Commission got its first detailed look at the proposed site plan for an expanded Kent Memorial Library April 11 during its regular monthly meeting.

The plan, developed by Wyeth Architects of Chester, includes a general overhaul of the historic library and connects it to the former firehouse located on library land. The new area would become the main entrance and lobby with access to both sides of the structure. The firehouse, which has a large assembly room on the second floor would be accessed by a new code-compliant staircase and an elevator, while book stacks for the library and a storage area for the annual summer book sale would be located downstairs.

In the library, office spaces would be established in the north section of the building and the reading room would be retained in the oldest part of the structure, the 1922 memorial building erected after World War II.

The Architectural Review Board got a pre-application look at the plan last week and will consider it formally at its next meeting. The Zoning Board of Appeals must also weigh the plan as it involves an expansion of a non-conforming use. After those two agencies have issued their findings, the Planning and Zoning Commission can consider the site plan.

Sam Callaway, chairman of the Library Association’s building committee, said the facility is “simply put, running out of space.” He noted that libraries are no longer just repositories for books, but are now “community and cultural centers for towns.”

Architect Leonard Wyeth walked the commissioners through the site plan, saying that the whole area will be affected by the projected. He pointed out that some setback lines would barely be skirted while one already passes through the firehouse.

Commission members appeared to be most concerned about parking. At present, the library has no designated parking area and patrons park on the street. The new plan shows the concrete apron in front of the old firehouse would be reconstituted with an asphalt drives on the southern border, near The Villager restaurant, a paver-covered plaza for the annual book sale, and a walkway to the new main entrance. Two handicap accessible parking places are currently shown on the plaza near the main entrance.

Whether those parking spaces can be approved is not yet determined, Callaway said, because they might block emergency access. “We’ve never had handicapped spaces before and we very much want them, but we don’t want them to cause problems for emergency access. That element is little up in the air.”

PZC member Sarah Chase asked where they could be placed if they aren’t close to the library entrance. Discussion centered on designated spots on Main Street.

Library Director Sarah Chase said that a verbal agreement has been reached with Kent School to provide off-site parking in its lot at 23 North Main St. in front of its engineering building. “Most of our events are after hours, but we could use it all the time. They feel it is under-utilized for them,” she said.

While the agreement is still in negotiation, Marshall said, “It would be 70 useful parking spaces for us—70 more than we have now.” 

PZC alternate Chris Harrington asked if the plaza might not be used for parking, but Marshall pointed out that the summer book sale is an important fundraiser for the library and attracts many visitors to the town.

Parking was a problem for other applicants as well. Jason Doornick and Charles Norwald, who recently opened Motoriot at 21 Bridge St., are applying retroactively for permits to operate their business. The young men travel the world buying up and restoring vintage vehicles, predominantly Land Rovers. Most of the restoration work is done overseas and the business’s U.S. headquarters is in Stamford. They opened the local showroom this winter.

PZC members questioned them closely about the number of parking spaces their lease allows them, and about the other businesses located on the site. Iron Horse Customs is still located there, as is a Volvo repair facility and a landscaper.

“I always had difficulty finding a place to park when I took my Volvo there,” said PZC Chairman Wes Wyrick.

Land Use Officer Tai Kern said that zoning regulations call for a total of 33 parking spaces for all the businesses on site and that technically the lot provides 52 spaces. Some of these are consumed by outdoor storage for the landscaping business, however.

Doornick said his vehicles can be parked both outside and in the building and usually total 15 to 20. He said his five or six employees largely park off-site. Parking at the back of the lot is not included in his lease.

Chase noted that the town recently spent “a considerable amount of money redoing its sidewalks,” and that the intent was to keep cars off them.

Currently, Doornick and Norwald have not gotten a state license to operate an auto dealership in Kent, apparently under the misapprehension that their Stamford license covered this new activity. Kern informed them that licenses are “locational.” To get the license, they need the approval of the Sewer Commission, Fire Marshal and Planning and Zoning.

The issue was tabled until next month.

The commission received an application from Kent School to construct a three-apartment building for staff housing on its campus. The proposal changes a plan approved in 2003 and updated in 2020. Under the new plan, three of the original houses would be eliminated and the apartment building would replace them.

The PZC members expressed enthusiasm for the change when presented in a pre-application discussion last month, but this month Wyrick said he wanted the school to give a new site plan that clearly shows the changes.

That issue will be taken up again in May.

Kathryn Boughton
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