Proposed development met with resistance in Middletown

4:46 p.m Tuesday, March 7, 2017 Middletown
The properties at 1811 and 1835 Central Avenue — Big Al’s Muffler shop and a former Nationwide Insurance office — have sales contingent on the buyer getting all of the appropriate approvals from Middletown. A proposed O’Reilly Auto Parts store at the site has been met with opposition from downtown Middletown business leaders. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

A proposed auto store’s design has met opposition from some downtown Middletown businesses, who say it does not complement the area’s zoning plan that requires buildings to be storefront businesses.

A developer has proposed to demolish two buildings in the 1800 block of Central Avenue to build a new O’Reilly Auto Parts Store between Grimes and Charles streets and to erect signage and have parking in front and on the sides of the store.

The approximate investment is nearly $2 million — about $1.2 million for construction and about $485,000 for land costs, according to city records.

Both parcels are in UCC zoning district that requires review and approval from the City Historic Commission.

The Historic Commission last week approved the demolition of both buildings and the proposed new wall signage. However, the commission denied the building materials for the proposed building because it was not natural stone as well as a proposed pole sign for the business, according to City Planner Ashley Combs.

Combs said the commission also denied the site plan with the proposed parking in front and on the sides because it did not comply with requirements for the current zoning district.

Mallory Greenham, executive director of Downtown Middletown Inc., was one downtown business leader who spoke against the new business development.

“The prospect site for O’Reilly’s is the at the main entrance to the downtown Middletown historic business district,” she said. “What is built on that lot will serve as an unofficial gateway to downtown Middletown and will also set the tone for future infill development.”

Downtown Middletown Inc. attended the Historic Commission meeting to speak specifically on behalf of the new Downtown Master Plan, she said. The new downtown plan has is currently under review and has not yet been approved by City Council.

One aspect of the plan is bringing buildings close to the street with no parking lots in front, complementing and extending the existing urban development pattern, and minimizing the negative impact of parking.

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Mike Robinette, owner of the new Liberty Spirits distillery, also spoke at last week’s meeting, expressing concerns that the proposed design for the auto parts store did not jive with the downtown plan.

“We’re not opposed to an auto parts store,” he said. “We’re opposed to how this was presented and opposed to a strip mall.”

Robinette said he and other downtown stakeholders will strongly oppose this plan and, if needed, will engage legal counsel to stop the project as proposed.

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The developer could appeal the Historic Commission’s decision to the city Board of Zoning Appeals, according to Combs.

The city Planning & Zoning Department has not yet received an application from the representative of O’Reilly Auto Parts to be heard by the Board of Zoning Appeals.

“Even if the Board of Zoning Appeals approves variances that were requested and denied by the Historic Commission, O’Reilly will still need to get Historic Commission’s approval before being able to proceed with building the store,” Combs said.

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