by Terry Rogers
Zack King, owner of EasySpeak, Penney Square and the former M&T Bank building, came before Milford City Council on Monday, January 24 to request a conditional use for the bank building. King and his wife, Marissa, recently purchased the property and were requesting the conditional use to temporarily move a church and offices from Penney Square during renovations of that property.
“The proposed conditional use is mainly for temporary usage,” King said. “We have a church tenant and some office tenants across the street in Penney Square that we need to temporarily relocate to be able to finish work on Penney Square. What the proposed use for the bank building long term is a wedding venue, event space, concert hall type of plan. The proposal tonight is for the change in conditional uses mainly to give us the option to put two tenants in that space for a period of about a year, year and a half at the very most.”
King pointed out that working in historic buildings often led to challenges that could extend the construction and rehabilitation process. He stated that the entire building will need to come under fire suppression and water lines will need to be run while architectural and engineering plans will also take time.
“So, we would like to bring those tenants over there which will allow us to finish Penney Square and give them a home for at least another year in the meantime,” King said. “So, the overall plan for the bank building. Being an event venue and event space, I think it’s going to be a great addition to Milford, a great use for that building. Capacity is going to be pretty high there, so it will bring many people to Milford on a regular basis on the weekends for weddings, events, shows, concerts, thinks like that. I think we are going to see a huge uptick in localized tourism for Milford.”
King also acknowledged that he knew the idea of putting a church into the bank building would meet with mixed reviews. He stated that he did not need to seek council approval to move the church as the building was zoned in a way that would have allowed him to simply relocate the church without coming to council. However, because he needed to also move office tenants, he would require a conditional use to split the building into two separate uses. King plans to do some exterior renovations to the bank building, adding an entrance for the office tenants where the former bank drive-thru window existed. Councilman Andy Fulton asked if King knew how long he needed the conditional use to be in place.
“I would be fine with taking a conditional use with a time date on it,” King said. “I would think two years to be safe. I hope it is only a year, but it depends on a lot of factors. Like I said, architectural, getting water lines in there while the church is in the space and potentially the other tenants. We are going to be working on the bank building. We can do exterior where they are going to be occupying the basement or second floor. There will be ongoing construction while those tenants are there. We really anticipate the full venue being open within three years. Again, we’d like to work as quickly as possible and not delay anything.”
Councilman Todd Culotta commented that there may be a need for a time limit on the conditional use but did not see why it was necessary just to move the church across the street. He questioned whether council could just give King the conditional use for the future and, should King choose a different option for the old bank building, there would be the ability to shift plans.
“I think we would appreciate that,” King said. “Mainly, overall, as I think we’ve tried to improve the town quite a bit and I think pretty much anything we have said so far has come to fruition. I think putting a timeframe on it is just, I don’t know that there is a not a level of confidence that what we say we are going to do we will do, so I would prefer not having our hands tied in that situation. And we would like to ask for a normal conditional use and, again, saying we don’t really need it at this time. Our main plan is to just have the church over there on their own, but if something does not go to plan, the fire marshal comes back and says something’s changed, there could be delays. It happens.”
City Solicitor David Rutt pointed out that a conditional use runs with the land and it remains based on the approval given. If at some point in the future, King wanted to change his plans for the bank building, he could abandon the conditional use and it would lapse. Although council had a right to put a limit on the conditional use, that was uncommon as they were based on the use of the property.
Councilman Dan Marabello expressed some concern that without a limit on the conditional use, there would be no way to prevent the church from remaining in the old bank building, a situation that he felt would not be the best use of the building. Rob Pierce, City Planner, reminded council that the building was zoned in a way that would allow a church and that council would not be required to approve that use. Councilwoman Katrina Wilson asked if the church would be returning to Penney Square once that building was renovated.
“The church has been aware since they moved into Penney Square that it was always a temporary space for them,” King said. “The moving to the bank is again an extension of this temporary tenancy. We are building a restaurant space in Penney Square and plan to have that restaurant open in less than a year, so they will not be moving back to Penney Square. I’ve had multiple conversations with the church and told them we will try to do whatever we can not to displace them in the long term, but they’ve known since the day we signed the lease with them originally that we didn’t have a home for them on a permanent level. That was never our intention when purchasing buildings downtown, but we are trying to extend the time they have a place to worship as long as possible.”
There was no public comment during that portion of the presentation. Council approved the request by a vote of seven to one.
“Mr. King has generally always stayed with his plan and executed the plan accordingly,” Councilman Mike Boyle said. “I think it’ll be a great addition to the downtown. It will definitely bring people down as a venue more than any other use.”
Councilman Andy Fulton agreed, stating that the conditional use would allow the Penney Square rehabilitation to continue while Councilwoman Nirmala Samaroo believed the plans for both buildings were a benefit to downtown.
“Zack and Marissa have been great for Milford and do a lot for our community as far as dining options,” Councilman Culotta said. “I look forward to their plans with the Penney Square building and with their decision to purchase the bank, which we’ve struggled with for many years now with our last proposed use. I look forward to the exciting things they are going to do this summer.”
Councilman Jason James pointed out that the approval simply created a multi-use building which did not add any undue issues with the downtown area while also allowing the church time to find a new location.
“I am very excited about the bank location being rehabbed and used for events,” Councilwoman Wilson said. “You know, there’s no doubt in my mind that this organization is forward and straightforward with their intent. I am sad the church has to relocate but at the same time happy that the King’s are working with them. The previous church as been there for a very long time and I am happy you are working with them. I think it is a wonderful enhancement that can benefit the entire city. It’s a bonus.”
Councilman Marabello cast the only no vote, expressing concerns that the conditional use was open ended.
“I have faith Zack will do what he says, but I would prefer a time limit, three years or whatever,” Councilman Marabello said.
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