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Statement on Proposed Big Y Gas Station
Members of the Halls Road Improvements Committee (HRIC) have heard from many Old Lyme residents opposed to the building of another gas station along Halls Road. HRIC is also opposed to this project, and we hope this posting will clarify the committee's position on the matter.
HRIC has no authority to approve or forbid particular projects. The committee is working with BSC to create a new master plan that will guide future development along Halls Road. When it is complete later this spring, its findings must be reflected in new zoning ordinances in order to become enforceable by the zoning board and other town agencies. These changes will also open up new opportunities for investment in mixed-use projects along Halls Road.
In the interim, developers who wish to build good will in Old Lyme should recognize the chief findings and broad outlines of the preliminary plans to date as a fair proxy for the general will of the town. Chief among these findings is that future development along Halls Road should be more in keeping with the look and feel of Old Lyme (taking Lyme Street as an example), and that future development along Halls Road should help to make that area more of a mixed-use town center in a village setting, as appropriate to our small town and its needs. We believe the land earmarked for the new gas station could be put to better and more profitable use under the forthcoming Halls Road plan.
HRIC believes the proposed "Big Y Express" clashes with the town's stated development aims on several fronts.
It is essentially a truck stop, aimed at drawing its revenue chiefly from through traffic on I-95. The chain's promotions to trucking fleets are just one indication of this aim. Town planning documents from as far back as the 1970s have expressly opposed such highway-focused development. HRIC also opposes it, favoring businesses that cater primarily to the needs of local residents.
There is an existing gas station (now Mobil, formerly Shell) a few hundred feet from the proposed site of the Big Y Express. When this existing station recently applied to add a convenience store to their business, they were turned down. The arguments against that expansion must surely apply with more force to the proposed Big Y Express, whose business model relies heavily on a convenience store.
The rapid rise of electric vehicles means the days of the gas station are numbered. To build a gas station on a greenfield site in this day and age seems a waste of scarce resources. The burdens of safe demolition and remediation make former gas stations very hard to repurpose or sell. They can linger for many years, as the unused gas station on Route 156 has done. The few charging facilities planned for the Big Y Express do nothing to remove these burdens, as its primary business remains selling gasoline and diesel.
If the proposed project thrives, it becomes a busy truck stop; a thing totally against the town's aims for Halls Road. If it fails, an important location along Halls Road will have been significantly burdened by remediation costs that may prevent appropriate development there for years. For the town, this is a lose/lose proposition.
The proposed project would significantly reinforce the 1950s strip center character of Halls Road today. That is exactly the opposite direction from the future development envisioned in the Halls Road plan. We hope instead to make Halls Road a mixed use area in which people live, work, and shop. We want the area to be friendly to pedestrians and cyclists as well as cars, and to present an image of our town that invites the visitor to stroll and browse the shops. A truck stop or a line of gas stations works against realizing that vision.
The Big Y is a valued part of this community. Their actions to date have built considerable good will in Old Lyme. In the interests of the future of Halls Road, we ask them to withdraw their proposal to build a Big Y Express there.