Former Liberty Rock Motel to become self-storage facility

The site of the former Liberty Rock Motel on Rt. 1 at I-95 Exit 34 is slated to become the home of Lock Up Milford, a 669-unit self-storage facility.

The Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) approved various applications at its Dec. 15 meeting to allow the project at 417-421 Bridgeport Ave. to proceed. These included a Coastal Area Management Site Plan Review, site plan approval, and changes to the zoning regulations.

The vote was 7-1 in favor, with chairman Benjamin Gettinger voting against it, expressing concern about how the project would affect adjacent homeowners, and saying the project falls under the category of storage, which was formerly banned in the commercial zone.

Speaking in favor of the project, board vice chairman Edward Mead said he believed the project would improve a property that he said has been a vacant eyesore for seven years.

Attorney John W. Knuff presented the application on behalf of Lock Up Milford, which received a change of zone from Corridor Design District-3 (CDD-3) to Corridor Design District-2 (CDD-2) for the portion of the property at 417 Bridgeport Ave., thus unifying the zone on the combined properties.

Liberty Rock Enterprises LLC owns the properties. Liberty Rock lists Christian L. Trefz of Westport as member and manager. Knuff said that Trefz, owner and operator of the adjacent McDonald’s restaurant, purchased the property at 417-421 Bridgeport Ave. in 2009 and had the Liberty Rock Motel torn down. Lock Up of Milford has a contract to purchase the properties, a contract that will take effect now that the project has P&Z approval.

Knuff said the parcels have been vacant since that time, despite attempts to market them for development. He said the parcels have been vacant because they include two zones with five different zones in close proximity.

While the parcel has “a fair amount of traffic” passing it daily, he said the traffic volume is less than a retailer would receive along Rt. 1 between Exit 39 and the Orange town line.

Knuff said the project was designed to resemble a “first class office building” with the use of a brick façade, glass and landscaping. He said the project would provide an attractive entrance to Devon.

Knuff said the project has received approvals from all city departments. He disputed a request from public works director Christopher Saley, whom he said requested the applicant widen the road at the rear of the property known as Lawmen Drive to 10 feet with a 5-ft. wide sidewalk alongside it. Knuff said Saley had originally requested a 16-ft. wide road, which Knuff said, “would push it into the ballfield.”

Project Engineer Rob Baltramaitis said the road is currently 8-ft. wide. He said the existing sidewalk on the Bridgeport Avenue side of the property would be replaced due to its existing poor condition. A driveway connecting to the McDonald’s property is part of the plans.

The combined parcels are 1.25 acres in size. The building would be 85,025 sq. ft. in size, of which 63,000 would be rentable space. The three-story building with a sprinkler system is designed to allow customers to drive into an interior area to unload their vehicles.

Baltramaitis said an underground stormwater management system would hold 20,000 gallons of water in three sets of 24-inch perforated pipes that would be 160 ft. long with the intent of reducing peak stormwater run-off from the site.

The lighting system is designed to avoid off-site spillover, and no lights are planned for the side of the property facing Concord Street. Four to five mature trees will be removed from the site and replaced with other trees and shrubs, said Baltramaitis.

Bob Soudan Jr., president of the Northfield, Ill.-based Lock Up, said the hallway and units are fully carpeted with video surveillance throughout the building. He said each customer is given a unique access code, allowing the company to track who is in the building. An office overlooks the unloaded area to provide an additional measure of safety and security, he said.

Soudan said office hours would be Monday to Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. with reduced hours on weekends. Storage access would be 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily. He said there would be 10 exterior and four interior parking spaces, which he said is sufficient for a building of this size and type.

Larry Smith, vice president of development for Lock Up, said the Wall Street Journal refers to the company as the “Nordstrom of the self-storage” industry. Smith said the company targets a higher demographic than its competitors.

“We build, own and operate for our own accounts,” said Smith. “Seventy-five percent of our customers are female. They feel very safe and secure in the type of facility we operate.”

Warehouses and storage buildings were previously not permitted in the CDD-2 zone. Knuff said a self-storage facility is different than a warehouse because there will be no tractor trailer deliveries. Soudan said a self-storage facility is a landlord-tenant relationship in which the tenants are responsible for what they store.

Knuff said the application allowing these facilities in the CDD-2 zone change restricts self-storage facilities to properties with a main driveway located no greater than 200 feet from an entrance or exit to a limited-access highway.

Public Concerns

Four adjacent property owners expressed concern about how the project might negatively affect them. Holly Allen of 24 Concord Ave. said her property abuts the property in question. Allen was concerned about lights shining in her windows and said she has lights from McDonald’s shining on the back of her house. Allen requested holly shrubs be planted at the property border because she said their sharp edges would prevent people from cutting through her property.

Peter Giannettino of 10 Concord Ave. said he owns two adjacent properties. He was concerned about the lighting and the size of the building, saying, “It’s bigger than any building in the area. It is right in our backyards.”

David Hussey of 20 Concord Ave. said he wanted Lock Up to replace a fence that was knocked down during Hurricane Sandy in 2012. Hussey said he was not against the storage units.

Gregory Galik, owner of Autoworks of Devon at 409 Bridgeport Ave., said he was not opposed to the project, but was concerned about what he said was the lack of communication regarding the project.

“There’s not much of a buffer between my property and theirs,” said Galik.

Galik also said the building size is a concern. He was also concerned about how the project would affect the traffic on Bridgeport Avenue, which he said is “really bad” with many accidents in the area.

Knuff said he “had several phone calls with Holly” and reassured her that there will be no floodlights shining in her yard, and the building will actually buffer her from McDonald’s. He said the holly shrubs in the plans reflect her wishes for plants that will not tower over her yard or drop leaves. He said the existing damaged fence would be removed.

“I think our building plays the functional role of a fence,” said Knuff. Responding to concerns from Gettinger regarding neighbor impact, Knuff said the project would have less effect than a motel, a 24-hour health club, a bowling alley, or housing, all of which are permitted in the zone.