Shelton developer to appeal zoning denial of Canal Street plans

Developer John Guedes poses in front of the Riverview Retail Center, currently under construction in Shelton, Conn. Aug. 11, 2021.

Developer John Guedes poses in front of the Riverview Retail Center, currently under construction in Shelton, Conn. Aug. 11, 2021.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

SHELTON — Developer John Guedes’ plan to bring more apartments to Canal Street has stalled — at least for the moment.

The Planning and Zoning Commission, at its meeting Tuesday, voted 3-3 on Guedes’ request for a modification of special exception to turn the vacant second floor of his two-story building at 131 Canal St. into apartment space. The tie vote meant a denial of the request.

Chair Virginia Harger and commissioners Ruth Parkins and Jimmy Tickey voted against the application, while Elaine Matto, Charles Kelly and alternate Peter Laskos voted in favor.

“I was shocked,” Guedes, a Shelton resident and owner of Guedes Associates and Primrose Companies, told Hearst Connecticut Media about the commission’s decision. “We will be filing an appeal.”

Plans for the 12,847-square-foot retail and commercial building were approved by P&Z in 2016, and the building is completed, sitting vacant for years until just recently, with a restaurant moving in to a first floor space, soon to be followed by an optometrist office. The second floor, however, has remained vacant.

Parkins and Harger, at the meeting, stated concerns about having apartments in the site, which was approved with retail and office occupants in mind. Guedes told commissioners during the hearing process that a lack of interest - and his desire to finally fill the building - led him to seek this shift.

All commissioners agreed that the apartments would be filled, but Parkins said she preferred to see the mixed use remain, citing concerns about parking as well if apartments would be going into the space.

“As I indicated in my comments during the meeting, my vote against the change in use for this application from commercial to residential is because I feel the space still lends itself to be commercial in nature,” Harger said.

“I specifically mentioned other tenants that could be a perfect fit, such as a dance studio, theater group or coffee house,” Harger added. “Professional photographers need large floor spaces too and fitness centers, martial arts or yoga studios, could be a great fit for this location and be the kind of activity that tenants in all the adjacent new apartment buildings would patronize.”

Guedes said he was “disappointed” with the reasoning of Harger and Parkins in voting against the proposal.

Tickey said downtown will benefit from mixed use development including residences, shops, eateries, and more small businesses.

“We cannot grow downtown lopsided with only apartments,” Tickey added. “That is what the commission originally intended for this building — mixed use. Further, it is reasonable to ask for documentation about handicapped accessibility prior to approving.”

Some commissioners voiced concern about a lack of handicapped access to the second floor. But Laskos stated that the application should be approved, with the building department having final say over the requirements for an elevator.

The second floor, according to the application, would have had five one-bedroom apartments, two two-bedrooms and one studio apartment. To make the change, Guedes sought a modification to the adopted special exception approved in 2016.

“There is no expansion,” Guedes told commissioners in prior meetings on this application. “Everything remains in the footprint that already exists.”

Guedes, who has handled numerous development projects along Canal Street over the years, said his shift to apartments comes as demand remains high downtown. People are signing leases for units coming online now or soon at three separate major developments along Howe Avenue.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com