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June 12, 2024

Wallingford OKs EV charging facility that might be a 1st in U.S.

Contributed The site plan for an electric vehicle charging facility approved in Wallingford.

The Wallingford Planning & Zoning Commission this week unanimously approved a special permit and site plan for a privately developed facility devoted exclusively to charging electric vehicles that could be the first of its kind in the U.S.

The plan submitted by Gem Property Group LLC will develop a 2.04-acre vacant lot at 1 Miles Dr., across the street from Wallingford KinderCare and close to two hotels — Fairfield Inn & Suites and Homewood Suites by Hilton.

The facility is approved for up to 38 charging stations, 36 of which would be under a canopy and two that would be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It would also have a 3,000-square-foot retail building, which is expected to house a convenience-style store to provide packaged food, beverages and other items for people waiting while their vehicles charge.

The commission approved the plan with conditions that the design of the building would look more like a “convenience center” and not a convenience store, Town Planner Kevin Pagini said.

Overall, the site plan includes a total of 69 parking spaces, though only up to 38 would be dedicated to charging.

Elizabeth Verna, a principal with Verna Builders & Developers, said her family owns Gem Property and has owned the land on Miles Drive, less than a mile from Interstate 91, for more than a decade. She said the decision to seek approval for a large EV charging facility was made because demand for new office space is so low.

“We thought it was a great location for something new and different, “ she said. “We wanted to do something which was all EV, only EV.”

Verna said Gem Property worked with the town first to amend its Watershed Interchange (WI) District zone, which restricts uses for land near I-91 to protect the town’s “public drinking water supply resources while allowing low intensity uses and emerging technological development.”

Thomas J. Daly, the U.S. service line director for SLR Consulting in Cheshire, which worked with Gem Property on the project, said the town needed to update its permitted uses in the zone because EV charging was not listed among them.

“EV, wind, or battery storage — these are new, emerging things,” Daly said. “Most zoning regs are a little more 1950s’ looking than modern.”

Pagini said the existing zoning regulations need to be updated because they allowed for EV charging only as an accessory use and not as a primary use.

Daly said he is not aware of any similarly sized facility devoted exclusively to EV charging anywhere in the United States.

“There might be one in Pennsylvania, and the town said there is an eight-unit one down in Delaware,” he said. “Maybe in California, but not that I’ve seen.”

In February, the town of Orange approved a 8,384-square-foot facility off of I-95 that would feature an EV showroom with charging stations, but it will also include a Noble gas station, as well as a convenience store, ice cream stand and drive-thru coffee and sandwich shop. A Noble gas station with up to 20 EV charging stations is also planned in Windsor, according to Town Planner Eric Barz.

Daly noted that large facilities devoted exclusively to EV charging are already a trend in the United Kingdom.

“This layout is very similar to what they have in the U.K. right now,” he said, adding that SLR has an office in the U.K. and staff there provided advice on designing the facility. 

According to PlugShare,  a mobile and web application that provides information on EV charging stations nationwide, Connecticut has 2,853 charging stations. That includes 1,050 in the Hartford-East Hartford-West Hartford area, and 708 in the New Haven-Milford area.

PlugShare notes that some EV charging stations are free, while others charge a fee. There are 131 free charging stations in the Hartford-East Hartford-West Hartford area, it said.

The state launched an Electric Vehicle Charging Program in January 2022, a nine-year program that provides incentives for residential and commercial light-duty EV charging equipment. It is overseen by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA) and administered by Eversource Energy and The United Illuminating (UI) Co. 

Verna said she planned to contact various state departments to investigate the potential for incentives to assist in developing the facility.

It does not yet have a tenant, but has already drawn interest, she said. 

“I just thought, because it is a new use, it was probably better to get all the approvals in place and then go out and market the property to someone who would like to lease it, like an EV company,” she said.

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