J Crew ponders expansion

MANCHESTER - The Development Review Board will hold a preliminary review Wednesday, Oct. 9 of a proposal to add a single story, 400 square-foot addition to the existing J Crew outlet store building on Depot Street.

If approved, the addition would be constructed between J Crew and the BCBG Max Azria store, which occupies the middle of a group of three buildings. A courtyard presently separates the two buildings. The addition would be used to allow J Crew to include a children's clothing line.

The three buildings sit on town-owned property where the town hall, the rescue squad, police department and fire department used to be before they were moved in 1992 to their present location on Main Street on the north end of town. When the current buildings were constructed under the old town bylaws, they were limited to a maximum size of 3,000 square feet each, but since then, the town has enacted new bylaws which allow for larger construction, if certain incentives, such as greenspace, keeping buildings closer to a street and connected parking lots, are met.

The question the development review board will have to consider is whether or not these incentives can be applied to buildings constructed before the enactment of the new bylaws, or do they apply only to newer construction, said Lee Krohn, the town's planning director and zoning administrator. "It's an interesting ex post facto approach to the property," Krohn said Friday. "It's a fair and reasonable question whether the incentives could be allowed to apply."

What makes the proposal even more interesting is the group of three buildings that were built on the site of the former municipal buildings is that they were designed to be consistent with the setback and greenspace requirements which later developed and are now part of the town bylaws. The group of three buildings was built on a level grade to allow for easy connection in the future, he said.

This point was noted in a letter sent by Craig Hunter, the director of facilities for Vanderbilt MPD Corp., which leases the property from the town for the retail stores housed in the three buildings.

"Many of the incentives that were built into the new bylaw were based in part on how this property was developed," Hunter stated. "Since many of the new incentives actually match what we did back in the 90s, we believe the concept of a small addition is something that can be considered under the new bylaw."

The meeting Wednesday will be a preliminary review, designed to determine if an applicant has a reasonable chance of getting their proposal approved, before going to the expense of preparing blueprints and engineering studies for a project that is clearly out of bounds. No formal application has yet been filed, and the development review board and Vanderbilt are meeting on an informal basis, according to memorandum of understanding filed with the town.

The preliminary discussion is scheduled for Wednesday, Oct. 9, at the town hall. The meeting starts at 7:30 p.m.

UPDATE: The DRB gave a go-ahead to Hunter and Vanderbilt MPD to flesh out a proposal and make a formal application. They are expected to return at some future date for a further discussion of the proposal.


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