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GCI Outdoor: Local Roots, Big Vision

By Meghan Peterson, PhD.

Ever wonder what the latest happenings have been on Killingworth Road en route to school or work? Well, you may have noticed construction of GCI Outdoor’s new warehouse and office facilities between Three Oaks Plaza and Little City Road.

GCI Outdoor originated in 1996 and is a “leading manufacturer of portable, built-to-last products for the outdoor industry,” with headquarters right here in Higganum, Conn.[1] And it all began with a man by the name of Dan Grace designing the “Everywhere Chair,” which is a unique, patented hillside adjustable chair. Two years later, Jeffrey Polke joined as co-owner and with him, brought a wealth of retail, marketing, sales experience and acumen to the table.

How did an outdoor/camping product company make its business home in Haddam and find success? Typically, it begins with an idea, a vision, and yes, a proposal to the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission.

At a September 22, 2016 Commission public hearing, Polke explained that GCI Outdoor had been in Haddam for a decade at the location of 66 Killingworth Road.[2] The company had reached a point of outgrowing the original warehouse, however. He noted that he and his business partner were renting a warehouse in Wallingford, which was becoming expensive (and which they were outgrowing as well) and that they ultimately would like to build a warehouse in Haddam. Polke added that he wants to bring business, commerce, and more people to work in Haddam – and that Haddam has treated his company well and that he feels the Town is supportive of local businesses. At that time, a number of residents expressed support for the proposal. They noted the promising addition of business to area restaurants and gas stations – as well as the increase in tax revenue for Haddam as well as the expansion of local jobs. Other residents expressed opposition to the idea of a warehouse built behind their residential properties and raised concern over the notion of spot-zoning. Polke’s proposal requested a zoning change from residential to industrial park zone, which is a limited industrial zone, explained Haddam Town Planner Liz Glidden.

It was also pointed out that the entirety of Route 81 – from Higganum Center all the way down to Clinton – is “spot-zoned,” as it has the mix of commercial, residential, and industrial zones. Various members of the Commission observed that there was “a little glimmer of hope” that the Town was finally going to be “inviting to industrial development.” To this point, Commission member Wayne LePard explained that there has been a manufacturing operation in his neighborhood on Candlewood Hill Road – and that he “welcomes them…they are quiet and unobtrusive and did not drive down the value of his property.” Residents noted that the warehouse proposal presents an opportunity to help ease the burden on taxpayers.

Six months later, on March 2, 2017, the Commission held a public hearing and public meeting on the topic of a special permit to allow development and construction of a 30,000 sq. ft. warehouse building; a 4,900 sq. ft. office building; 16 parking spaces; loading area; and “related site improvements.”[3] Jeffrey Polke, the applicant on behalf of GCI Outdoor, Inc. was present, as was James Cassidy, engineer from Hallisey, Pearson and Cassidy, and Attorney Paul Geraghty, from Geraghty and Bonnano.

Polke described the plan to the Commission and the public assembled there. He explained that the hours of operation would be weekdays, 8:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m., with no weekend hours or special operation hours expected. The property is serviced by a private well and on-site septic system (the latter having been previously approved). Polke added that the goal is to preserve a number of the large trees on the property. Along these lines, he noted that the warehouse would be one story and that the office building would also be one story with a gabled roof to have a chalet-look. Earth tone colors were proposed in order that the structures blend in with the surrounding landscape.

Further discussion revealed that the surrounding area of the site is mixed use as well as “largely developed.” In addition, Cassidy, the engineer, stated that the proposal meets or exceeds all Town industrial park zone requirements. Moreover, the tallest building (that is, the warehouse) would be under the maximum height requirement.

One resident expressed concern over the old character of the proposed site and how it would be preserved. In response, Polke said that he would be more than happy to look into this. To that end, Polke toured the site with the original owner. Ultimately, that portion of the property has remained nearly untouched by construction of the new warehouse and (future construction of the headquarters). As happened at the September 22, 2016 P&Z Commission Meeting, residents also expressed support for the proposal, noting the potential for additional employees to utilize other area businesses, that the hours of operation would not conflict with Haddam-Killingworth High School hours, that truck drivers would support area businesses, and that GCI Outdoors is an “asset to the Town.”

After the public hearing and meeting, the Commission unanimously approved development of the new GCI Outdoor warehouse and office building. Polke describes the zoning board approval process as “quick and easy,” that the zoning board has been “great,” that people at Town Hall have been “exceptional,” and that Town Planner Liz Glidden was “instrumental in getting everything done that needed to be” in a four-month time frame. Construction on the warehouse is anticipated to be completed around June 1, with construction on new headquarters (on the same lot) beginning once the warehouse is finished.

According to Polke, approximately 5 employees will be employed in the new warehouse. At this point, it is yet to be determined how many of those will be local residents. That said, approximately 25% of GCI’s current employees are “local to the Higganum/Haddam area.” In addition, GCI uses “as many contractors and services from local business as we can, such as snow removal, HVAC, and cleaning services.”

In closing, Polke says that GCI Outdoor has been “embraced by the community.” And once construction is complete, there will be an open house at some point for residents to visit the warehouse as well as headquarters.


[2] P&Z September 22, 2016 minutes:

[3] P&Z March 2, 2017 minutes:

One Response to GCI Outdoor: Local Roots, Big Vision

  1. jeff smith

    March 12, 2018 at 8:17 am

    Very nice to see a local business growing.