Pawcatuck resident and Mystic Spine & Sport business owner, Al Furtado, has a vision for 5,000 square-feet of vacant industrial space, but until Tuesday’s night Planning and Zoning Commission meeting that vision wasn’t compatible with the space.
Furtado wants to open a health club in a space inside a building at 100 Mechanic St. in Pawcatuck. The space has been vacant for almost three years, and according to the Economic Development Commission there hasn’t been a new lease within the building for five years.
The space, however, is inside the M1 manufacturing zone and health clubs have not been a permitted use.
On Tuesday, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted to change that by allowing health clubs to open with a special use permit in 10,000 square-feet of space or less inside pre-existing manufacturing zoned buildings.
PZC Member John Prue was the sole no vote in the change that broadens the uses allowed in manufacturing zones.
“I’m very troubled because I don’t see a health club being compatible with the industrial uses in that building,” PZC Member Prue said.
While a health club may not be a typical industrial use Furtado believes his business is well suited for the space because the health club will also be a CrossFit gym.
“CrossFit gyms require big open spaces, high spaces and are often in industrial spaces,” Furtado said, adding that the program requires ceilings to be at least 15-feet high for gymnastics and rope exercises and needs high walls to throw medicine balls up in the air.
Furtado’s application poses a larger question for the town, which like many New England towns is facing the problem of what to do with vacant industrial buildings many of which are mill buildings.
Commission members disagreed about whether the manufacturing zones were becoming obsolete and the permitted uses in those areas should be broadened.
“I could be wrong but I don’t see a whole long line of manufacturing companies knocking on our door looking to rehabilitate them,” Commission member Bob Mercer said.
The idea that manufacturing facilities are part of a series of jobs that are slowly disappearing is a popular one, but not shared by everyone.
Commission member Prue and resident Ed Hart both spoke during the public hearing that they believed manufacturing may begin to come back to the United States and Stonington.
Prue was concerned about what happens if the town beings to shrink the amount of manufacturing space in the town.
According to Blunt White the Chairman of the Economic Development Commission about 20 percent of the building at 100 Mechanic Street is vacant. The EDC supported the application and also wants the town to think about broadening the uses of the M1 zones.
“The risk of not doing anything is that the owner doesn’t have any cash flow coming in or not enough to pay insurance, maintain the building or pay taxes,” White said.
Following the result of the public hearing Mystic Spine & Sport will now have to submit and receive approval for a special use permit before being able to open the health club.