Costco Plan

Maybe Costco isn’t dead after all.

The Planning and Zoning Commission extended the two year deadline to apply for a site plan by a year in a split vote, 3-2, as news of ongoing negotiations between property owners and Costco was publicly disclosed Thursday night.

Costco notified the town is was withdrawing earlier this year after a contentious process that included multiple lawsuits regarding new regulations pushed through by departing Inland Wetland Commissioners, and Costco withdrawing an application after it was revealed that the then ILW chairman worked to alter a peer review report that was initially favorable to the plan to against it.

In 2015, Planning and Zoning passed the Planned Development District, or PDD, that would allow Costco on a site owned by Wayne Cooke and his family. According to the zoning laws, the applicants have 24 months to file a site plan, and 5 years to complete the project.

Attorney Kevin Crusadean, representing Charles Weber who owns parcels in the PDD, acknowledged that the regulations to not specifically state the Commission may extend the deadline, and do not specifically state they may not. He stated the issues included the project being complex, having multiple property owners, and major issues in additional approvals.

Those issues include a need to change power lines, something property owners have been working on with Eversource.

Authority

From the viewpoint of the Commissioners, the question was one of procedure, not the merits. All agreed the extension was no issue, and they are often granted in other areas; it was likely an oversight such a provision is not included for a PDD. However, a ruling is subject to appeal, something that town attorney Bill Aniskovich made clear.

“This puts us in a grey area of the law,” he said. Aniskovich referred to a memo write by Danielle Bercry or Brenner, Saltzman and Wallman, which shows conflicting regulations, some that allows extensions, like on the 5 year limit to complete a PDD “after public hearing for good cause demonstrated to the satisfaction of the Commission.”

“Unlike other areas of your regulations that specifically authorize you to grant extensions, this section does not contain that language to grant an extension of the 24 month period. So wile it may make common sense, given the time frames that are laid out in various sections of your regulations, the legal question is do you have the authority under the regulations to grant the extension, and frankly, the simple answer to that is no; …there is nothing in your regulations that authorize you to rant an extension.

‘There is also nothing in your regulations that prohibits you from granting an extention.”

For Aniskovich, it was impossible to give an interpretation of a regulation that doesn’t actually exist; and he stopped short of “reading into the regulation” on behalf of the Commission. Essentially, the Commission would need to determine that on their own.

“Having said that, the Commission can do whatever it wants, subject to an appeal,” he said. “I would not be doing my job if I didn’t tell you that granting the extension where there is no expressed authority I your regulations or in a statute opens the Commission up to a vulnerability. That’s not to suggest that a court would overturn your decision, but it is vulnerable.”

Chairman Chuck Andres had no issue with the merits of the extension. “I would say, yeah, not a problem. The standard in my mind is has there been a change in circumstances, has there been a change in the law, has there been a maor development of a place, are there other things that would make it different…things really haven’t changed. I would not have any problem granting an extension…that said, I do have a problem seeing that we have the authority in the regulations.”

“That’s the problem I’m having, we don’t have it in our regulations,” he said. “That said, we probably should.”

Andres concerns was shared by other Commissioners, and the issue because judging the intent of the regulations, which would clearly allow an extension, and the letter of the law, which does not expressly state an extension can be granted for the 2 year filing limit, but does state an extension can be granted in other areas, including the 5 year limit to conclude a PDD application.

Andres suggested an amendment adding the authority, and potentially making it retroactive, something that Commissioner Marcia Palluzzi agreed with.

“Given the specifics of this case, you’ve got a number of property owners, which is highly unusual…when I factor in what happened with the wetlands situation, they haven’t been given due process, and they are being penalized for it in our inability to authorize an extension.”

Commission Joe Chadwick felt the same.

“We have the option to review every place else, we do not have a clear and compelling reason to not do it here, except for the fact of whatever drafting error, whatever fell out of someone’s word processor…I can’t find a reason to say why we shouldn’t do it.”

“We do this with all the other situations, said Commissioner Joe Vaiouso. “He’s asking for one year, that’s not unreasonable.”

Ultimately, the Commission felt that the request was reasonable, and voted 3-2 to allow the extension, with the sides split on the authority issue. Voting for was Palluzzi, Chawick and Vaiouso; voting against was Andres and John Lust.

Costco

While opponents of the Costco plan were successful in getting the withdrawl from Inland Wetlands, first selectman Jamie Cosgrove continued to reach out to Costco, and property owners kept a dialogue open. But the delays and actions of opponents, like the Branford Citizens for Responsible Development (BCRD), a group formed to stop Costco, and the Branford Land Trust, costs escalated. In their application, Costco spent tens of thousands responding to inaccurate filings and delay tactics from both groups, and ultimately actions by ILW chairman Daniel Shapiro and Diana Ross, whose actions were exposed in an email trail exposed as part of a BranordSeven.com investigation, led to Costco realization that it could not get a fair hearing.

Since then, Cosgrove cleaned up the Inland Wetlands board, including letting Shapiro go when his term was concluded. But before that term ended, Shapiro and his supporters on the Commission rushed through new regulation, making applications even more difficult.

Immediately, four separate lawsuits were filed by town property owners, and a lengthy process ensued where the new regs were rescinded, and then done properly. But the process denied Costco a fair hearing, and delayed the process for over a year in total.

Ultimately, Costco sent a letter to town hall, stating they were pulling out of the potential exit 56 location.

From here, opponents have a right to appeal the decision, but it would likely make little difference. An appeal would essentially stay the decision, meaning that even if an appeal was successful, Costco and the property owners would still have time to file. The appeals process would simply give them time to prepare an application, if that is the intention.

According to sources, the issues now are cost. The initial plan, if approved, would have included Costco making improvement to local roads and exits, at their own expense, it is unclear if that has changed. Costco’s initial application also requested no tax breaks, but with the added costs due to opposition and the actions of the Inland Wetlands Commission in their application, it is unclear if they would be looking for tax breaks in a new application. And the actual cost of the land is something that is still part of the negotiations.

We will have more information as it comes in.

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(27) comments

Guest

Open Letter to Penny Bellamy: PLEASE drop your feud with Wayne Cooke! As noted in the article, there are other property owners involved besides Wayne who do not deserve your never-sated thirst for vengeance. Also, the Town really would benefit greatly from enlightened, thoughtful development in this area. We need the jobs and the tax revenue that CostCo would provide. Most businesses are fleeing the state, we need to welcome those who want to expand here.

Pat Santoro

Why is Diana Ross still on the town payroll?Insubordination and agregious actions are not acceptable.I keep hearing that because she is a union employee,she is untouchable which is not true,the fox is still in the hen house.

scjerry

It's worthwhile to view the long term efforts of our neighboring Guilford, GCRD in their efforts to intelligently direct the development of the Rock Pile. Please take the time to read this, among many other issues explored on the GCRD website: https://guilfordcrd.wordpress.com/2010/11/17/why-did-costco-withdraw-from-guilford/ . Brick and mortar retail is in trouble. Closure of many
franchises is testament. Check Guilford' tax records to verify grand list increases.

Steve Mazzacane Staff
Steve Mazzacane

Its common for those opposed to Costco coming to point to the struggling retail sector, but it's a claim that ignores the facts and nuances of the sector. While the Macy's and Sears of the world are struggling, they have suffered from over expansion and the downturn of malls. Costco earnings and revenues continue to climb, its stores are more of an experience than a simple shopping transaction. One can easily rail against all retail with a generic claim on the downfall of retain, but its overly simplistic and ignores the facts specific to Costco. Wal-Mart, Macy's Searns and Costco are all different beasts, with very diferent business approaches, and while lumping them all toether seems helpful for those opposing Costco, its a misleading representation of the company. 

Guest

Thanks for your link, but the article is mostly BS. Yes, developing the 'Rock Pile' was more expensive than their proposed Branford expansion and Costco has a history of developing back lots. But, the 'Rock Pile' was an easy development compared to the Costco Waterbury store site.

Concerning the viability of retail, stores that opened at the 'Rock Pile' or now the Guilford Commons, are all in direct competition with Amazon and other on-line retailers with the exception of a grocer that makes Stop & Shop look inexpensive. Months after opening, there isn't very much traffic there, it will be interesting to see who goes first and who lasts the longest.

Guest

Brick and mortar has clearly suffered a decline given the disruption caused by online shopping...it's foolish to say otherwise. It is equally foolish---absurd actually---to argue that all traditional retail is in trouble. The big box phenomenon is exactly the market response to online. Online has actually hurt Main Street more than Costco---if you can't scale you can't make money. And then there's online retailers like Amazon that are actually going to be building brick and mortar locations to drive sales and lower return costs. So like Steve says---people who hate Cooke, er, Costco will use any "article" to support their opposition. Bottom line is...a small group of cranks should not be allowed to stop hundreds of thousands of dollars of commercial revenue that will support needed projects like Walsh and the Senior Center and keep residential tax rates down. Go Jamie..finish the good work you and your team have started.

Guest

It's always the strategy of proponents of Costco to denigrate the motives of those of us who like to proceed carefully, particularly when there are collateral negative impacts. I don't have anything against Cooke and I thought he was treated badly by Unk. But the Costco complex includes ... what seven more stores, stores that may not appear enthusiastic given Connecticut's declining population. NPR this morning reported that CT is the 2nd worst place to retire in the US. And, yes, real estate taxes are part of the reason, but this project is not the panacea. I pointed to the Rock Pile in an attempt to see what tax revenues we here in Branford could realistically expect to see from this development. So why can't we have a rational exchange of views without questioning each other's motives and bombastically charging absurdity and name calling when it is not called for. This project isn't just about Costco. Seven empty properties garners no grandlist increases.

Steve Mazzacane Staff
Steve Mazzacane

The basis of your comment is misleading. There is no proposal for 7 new buildings. The sites were always approved for development. Costco opponents have worked to sell fear: "Oh my god, 7 new sites!" or "Oh my God, its bigger than the Big Y development," when in reality all the plan does it take parcels and combine them in one plan to improve traffic flow. All of the lots in the plan were always able to be developed. Its not new. - Second, tax revenue is 700-800 rand, but the economic impact is far greater. Combine that with a new middle school, Atlantic Wharf, and the TOD plan, we are working to attract younger residents. Costco helps serve young families. So while tax revenue is great, there are other broader positive impacts. --- Finally, "we" don't have final say, the law does. We cannot just make up or own rules, using criteria that is not legal to make a decision. If someone wants to open a pet rock company who are we to stop them, despite knowing it will fail? --In general, motives are questioned when one gives the same opposition talking points over and over, no matter how many times it has been debunked. At some point, that is absurdity.

Guest

Steve, I agree that economic development can be a good thing. But we have a chicken and egg issue w/r taxes. Most 30 year-olds can't afford to live in Branford, (my kids can't afford the taxes and they make $150K/yr) and most service workers employed here live inland, which is where the majority of Costco's workforce will live, except for management. Branford will continue to have a declining student enrollment for the foreseeable future, since Costco management kids won't make a dent. The over-50 set will continue to be Costco's major clientele. And now we will have Costco at Exit 74, which they chose because of a prior committed DOT budget of $140M (80% by the government) to redo the accident-ridden interchange. How fortunate for them to piggy back on an interchange re-do, but its good business. Think about a debt-ridden state doing an Exit 56 redo w/o good ole Trump funds. As to absurdity, I'm glad BCRD agrees with me. I don't read their website stuff as an independent. I read your absurd rehashes, though, and they suck, so thanks for the compliment .

Guest

The opposition has played its hand. The fact that Diana Ross is collecting a pay check and Shapiro walked away unscathed will only embolden the Con group. The Con group was well organized and had a plan. The pro group spent their time deflecting accusations and innuendos. It’s the same strategy being used across the country by left leaning groups. We've seen it on many occasions. There is now proof of their inexcusable actions. Hopefully the Pro's have learned from their past experience should Costco decide to return.

Steve Mazzacane Staff
Steve Mazzacane

First, the median income in Branford is around $45,000, household is around $75,000. If your kids make $150,000 a year and can't pay their taxes, you should have spent more time teaching them how to budget. Second, Branford taxes are relatively low, when considering the benefits included in those taxes (like trash removal) they are more than reasonable in a state like CT. Finally, an anonymous insult from someone who spends enough time on this site to comments repeatedly is comical; if you don't like whats written here, don't read it. You wont be missed. We will all be quite OK without you forcing yourself to read something you dislike.

Guest

Branford taxes are low when you compare the services you get for them. Look at other Towns, like a Guilford or a Clinton, they have to pay for trash pick up or they could take to their trash to the transfer station and pay by the pound and their taxes are higher than Brantford. I make nowhere near $150,000 a year and I am able to well afford my real estate and car taxes, it is called living within your means!!! Costco would be a great asset for the town!!

Guest

When my annual property tax payments exceed my annual mortgage payments, something is out of line somewhere......

Steve Mazzacane Staff
Steve Mazzacane

Its not all that out of line, even in the rare event it does happen. Why? Because your mortgage is set over 30 years, and your property value has risen. So while a mortgage payment was set at what you paid for the home decades ago, the taxes are based on current values. So congrats, your investment increased in value!

Guest

"When my annual property tax payments exceed my annual mortgage payments, something is out of line somewhere......". Me, too, $5,800 in Property Tax and $ZERO monthly mortgage payment. Yours is a false argument.

Pat Santoro

Steve is correct,the goal is to bring Costco to Branford.The intervenors,BCRD and the Branford Land Trust and the Cooke family enemies are destructionists.Costco,I'm certain have done the demographics,I am sure they didn't put on a blindfold and put a random push pin in a map and Branford popped up.The BLT walking around wth black halos presenting themselves as this golden organization.How about the destruction of Medlyn farm? Oh,by the way,your lack of permit walkway is falling apart,any structure over 200ft (walkway is 240ft)requires a permit,removal of berm required a permit,but you are above the law.

Guest

You go Pat! Tell it like it is!!!

Guest

Amazon has more to do (now) with Costco not returning to the site (given the improvement costs needed) than anything else

Guest

Diana Ross is still in office because she didn't do anything wrong. Cosgrove et al defamed her reputation and now are sweeping it all under the rug. The IWC regulations changes were in development for over a year before the Costco application, and put on hold during the Costco hearings to avoid any apparent conflict of interest. They were not "pushed through". The BCRD has nothing against anyone, they want to protect the environment, promote the POCD, and support responsible and sustainable development in Branford. BCRD used the democratic process to express its opinion. Just because large land owners want to do sell their land to large corporations doesn't mean ordinary citizens can't protest. The components of the original Master Plan have already changed (ie Hal Brown property) and they still need IWC approval. So all of this is just more wishful thinking. Let's move forward and find a solution for Exit 56 that is sustainable and prevents urban sprawl.

Steve Mazzacane Staff
Steve Mazzacane

The more time passes the more some will try to revise history, but the BCRD employed a process of literally making things up, throwing as much nonsense at the application as humanly possible to muddy the waters, and to make it look more complicated than it actually was. Keith Ainsworth, their attorney, was repeatedly corrected after spewing nonsense, and their so called expert was debunked repeatedly. The members stared a website that is mostly fiction, spreading fear and misinformation like the a standard political party. What they did was not protest, it was an attempt to mislead the public. And there is no one with a brain that would consider what Ross did as proper, there is a reason the Commssion chose not to respond when Costco specifically asked them about it. That would have been very good legal advice; there was no way to explain that behavior. And yes, regs were pushed through without state review to be done before Shapiro was not reappointed. Thankfully, Cosgrove runs the town, and instead of 4 ongoing lawsuits, smarter and cooler heads prevailed, the regs were walked back, and the process moved forward properly, saving the taxpayers hundreds of thousands in legal fees.

Guest

Steve, I suspect that Costco corporate management decided to walk when they became aware of unethical behavior on the part of the IWC. They did ask the IWC for an explanation and correction. That did not happen. The Connecticut shoreline isn't their only target for expansion, and also their planned East Lyme store is proceeding well. Expanding there will gain more new members, which is the growth that Costco measures. To address the opinion that retail is dead, Yes many shopping malls were extended beyond their demand. However, we have shopped at Costco when traveling. Their stores are crowded with shoppers everywhere. One in southern San Jose was like Times Square on New Year's Eve (shop only midweek at mid morning). I do hope that Costco reconsiders the Branford expansion, many people will benefit from it. But, their corporation will avoid the risk to their reputation in cases like Branford, where town officials acted unethically, and a vocal opposition plays loose with facts, was too muck for them to stomach. Costco's, like all corporate executives have to act in the best interest of their shareholders and they decided to target other locations for expansion.

Pat Santoro

The BCRD is no innocent entity as they try to make it sound.The vendetta against the Cooke family is still going strong and these neocons have always felt they are above the law and have empowered their agenda with lie after lie.Is Diana Ross guilty,a resounding YES.Connecticut is an employee at will state,if you are in a union you can plead your case to them if you feel you were wrongfully terminated.
The IWC has too much power,they are an offshoot of the DEEP,which is another big joke played on the taxpayer.In March of 2016,Steve proved the case against Ross,just type in Diana Ross,corruption and collusion and the string will pop up.Read it and come to your own conclusion.

Pat Santoro

http://www.branfordseven.com/business/corruption-collusion-and-lies-mar-inland-wetlands-peer-reviewer-in/article_9dd8e85c-efa9-11e5-be76-37de52947c5c.html
Really, not guilty,read this report.

Guest

Steve: Your long term coverage of the Cooke/Costco news has been superb! Both in detail, and in accurate un-bias, factual fairness.

Guest

Rumors are going around town that "unk" will partner with Wayne Cook in a hot dog truck down on Long Wharf. If this is true I would like to be the first ( 1st ) customer.

Guest

No,it would be a Granite truck,DaRos would make 100% profit.Partnering with the Devil is not in Wayne's wheelhouse.

MarcioWilges

It does not matter what type of business that you are running and we all know that a physical store incur a lot more costs for storage and manpower as well. However, that does not mean that the concept of a brick-and-mortar store will totally be eliminated. There are still consumers who prefer buying things off the shelves as opposed to having to wait a few days for their items to arrive.

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