EAST HARTFORD – The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously on Wednesday to approve Tesla’s application to build an auto service center, but potential buyers will still have to go out of state to purchase the electric cars and parts .
After a public hearing in which all came out in favor of the project, the PZC voted to revoke a permit approved in April and approve a new permit to build on the same lot at 300 Connecticut Blvd.
Differences between the two applications include the specification under the new permit that the facility would not sell any new or used vehicles. The original permit described the project as an “electric car showroom and service center,” while the new permit designates it as an “automotive service center.”
Thomas Rechen, an attorney for McCarter and English representing Tesla, said the facility described in the new license application would not sell vehicles, parts or any other products under any circumstances and would only service vehicles.
“I won’t go with any brake parts in my hand,” Rechon said.
The new permit, filed by East Hartford, CT (300 Connecticut) LLC, outlines uses for the facility, including car servicing as well as “delivery and indoor storage of new and used automobiles, energy products and offers, and parts and accessories.”
Michael Bula, chief financial officer of Manchester-based Marcus Communications, told the public hearing that he and some of his employees are Tesla owners who would like to have their vehicles serviced nearby. He said he was shocked that none of the local car dealerships who fervently opposed Tesla’s move to Connecticut participated in the public hearing, given their aggressive lobbying of the legislature and the government. lawsuit they filed against Tesla.
“You know you’re fighting a losing battle when you use legislation to block them,” Bula said of the car dealerships’ efforts.
City planner Jeffrey Cormier said the new application indicates the facility would primarily be a service center rather than a showroom, and Tesla has operated a similar service facility in Milford for years.
“I’ve never heard of that one, so if they’re going to do the same thing here, it looks like the state is allowing them to rent there and they’re allowing them to service vehicles, so it’s a good redevelopment of the site,” said Cormier.
Hoffman Auto Group filed a lawsuit against InSite Development Services, the original filing entity for the first permit, in June. Hoffman alleged that proper procedures were not followed when the PZC approved InSite’s special use permit application. The issue cited was an incident in March where InSite was involuntarily temporarily dissolved by the State of Illinois for missing a royalty payment.
Under current state law, licensed automakers are prohibited from selling directly to consumers. In recent years, there have been pushes for bills that would allow direct sales from automakers, especially for electric cars. Auto dealers, including Hoffman Auto Group, have regularly lobbied against these bills, saying selling directly to customers would put many jobs at risk in addition to hurting the auto market by killing competitive pricing.
Bula said that in addition to Tesla, other electric car makers, namely Lucid Motors and Rivian, were looking to sell in Connecticut.
Will Cross, Tesla owner and moderator of the Tesla Owners Connecticut Facebook group, said he would like to see more people go electric in Connecticut, but the difficulty of buying from some manufacturers and the lack of service centers repair deter consumers. He said living in Union, the closest place to buy a Tesla is Mount Kisco, New York, and the closest Tesla service center is a mix between Milford, Boston and Warwick, Rhode Island.
“Just the convenience of East Hartford…you could bring more people with electric vehicles” to town, Cross said.
Cross said that in addition to distance, the Milford Service Center has always been backed up on appointments, with wait times of over two weeks for an appointment. An additional service center would make it easier for owners to get their cars repaired as-is.