A special exception application calling for construction of a two-story, 25,000-square-foot structure on Park Avenue, described by applicants as a "hospital," was denied Tuesday night by the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.

The TPZ voted unanimously to deny the application at its meeting in McKinley Elementary School.

The developers, RDR 5520 LLC, had hoped to construct the two-story medical building on 2.2 acres at 5545 Park Ave., in a Residence 3 (R-3) zone.

The TPZ determined that the building was not, under town zoning regulations, a "hospital" and therefore could not be granted an exception. The commissioners also discussed other issues of the application, including traffic, the main issue of Stratfield area residents who opposed the proposal during the TPZ's Sept. 28 and Oct. 12 hearings:.

"It is not a hospital, it is an arm of a hospital," said TPZ commissioner Jim Kennelly. He said the "spirit" of allowing a hopsital in a residential zone was to move an actual hospital facility, like St. Vincent's or Bridgeport Hospital, to the zone, which would be a need, rather than its offices.

The developers, represented by Fairfield lawyer Ray Rizio, had planned to make Bridgeport Hospital the tenant and argued that deal made the building a hospital, which is one of the special exceptions allowed for a residential zone. The building, as proposed, would have included surgery facilities, offices for Bridgeport Hospital, radiology facilities and possibly a sleep center.

"Hospitals use all kinds of other facilities for things like billing departments," said TPZ commissioner Richard Jacobs. "That does not make those offices hospitals."

About 20 to 30 employees would have worked at the hospital, according to the application, and it would have been in use Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and on Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

"A hospital is a place where a person can go for urgent care," said TPZ commissioner Matthew Wagner. "It is a place that is open 24 hours a day, possibly with an emergency room and ambulances."

Wagner said that the letter of intent provided by the applicants did not prove that the proposed building would conform with that definition of a hospital.

The commissioners also said that the exception is made typically for a building that has residential patients, which this project did not appear to anticipate. For example, a convalescent or nursing home could also be granted a special exception and those also have overnight residents.

"There is a difference with this application in that staff and patients will come and leave throughout the day", said TPZ Vice Chairman Bryan LeClerc. Then, citing a typical nursing home, he said that "while staff may come and go, patients generally don't."

TPZ Chairman Seth Baratz said while there would be some benefit to the community to allow the proposed building, it simply did not meet the requirements. "A hospital has 24-hour nursing care, and I'm not seeing a lot of that," he said. Baratz added that the building would be more like a clinic and a medical office, which is not allowed under the regulations for the property. In addition, he argued, the only beds appeared to be in the sleep center -- no more than 10 -- and that center might not even be a part of the final hospital plan.

To gain an eventual building permit, the developers would need a "certificate of need," from the state Office of Health Care Access, according to town Planning Director Joe Devonshuk. However, he said, the certificate was not necessary to approve the building at this point in the process, but would need to come later.

Kennelly was the commissioner most outspokenly opposed to the project because of traffic concerns. He said that even with a proposed round-about, many hospital patron would come via the nearby Merritt Parkway, but use local roads from other parts of town. He also said while the traffic circle might relieve parkway traffic, it would not help with traffic volume from local streets.