The sounds of Motorcycle Mania were the backdrop to the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting last night. The start of the meeting was delayed as Chairman Quentin Phipps reportedly struggled to find parking in the crowded downtown. Three regular members of the Commission, Vice-chair Richard Pelletier, Secretary Les Adams, and Nick Fazzino were unable to attend the meeting. Two alternates, Ken McClellan and Carl Bolz, served, and the Commission had 6 instead of the usual 7 voting members.
It was a long meeting, as three applications with public hearings raised controversial issues.
Joseph Rini, a land use attorney based in New Haven, spoke on behalf of a proposed zoning code text amendment, and a zoning map change (click on map to enlarge), which would allow the possibility of building an apartment complex on an approximately 7 acre parcel on Saybrook Road between Coe Avenue and Bartholomew Road.
The applicants for the zoning changes are a land-owner, Frank Moskey, and a developer, Joseph Mingolello. They own or have the option to buy the land, which is opposite the strip mall containing the great Indian vegetarian restaurant, Udupi Bhavan. This land is currently zoned R15, which allows about 3 houses per acre.
Rini said he had originally proposed rezoning the land to the B2 zone, to match the strip mall. However, Planning Department staff recommended the B3 zone, which has more restrictions on what can be built, but currently can only be applied along state highways, and does not allow multi-family units. The proposed zoning code text changes would allow for the B3 on “former state highways or other major roads”, and would allow “multi-family dwellings at a density of not more than 20 units per acre.”
Rini said the developer wished to build “upscale” one- and two-bedroom apartments, with rents in the $1800 to $2200 per month range. He said that the current housing market was strong in this range, with many young professionals, especially women, looking to rent.
Linda Healy, who lives adjacent to the proposed zoning change, read an articulate statement strongly opposing the proposed change, “To say that I’m extremely upset would be an understatement.” She objected to spot zoning which would benefit only a small number of individuals, and she expressed concern that her property would be devalued by an apartment complex next door.
Commissioner Bolz expressed confusion over how the Planning Department could support this zoning change. City Planner Bill Warner said that this area was suitable for an apartment complex because of its proximity to Pratt and Whitney, to the Medical Corridor on Old Saybrook Road, and to other towns in the southern part of Middlesex County. He also said the apartments would help support the small stores in the area, “It is in our growth area”.
At the suggestion of Rini and Warner, the Commission decided to continue the public hearing, to allow the applicant to address the concerns raised by Healy, and to allow other residents in the area to speak to the proposed changes.
Parking Concerns at Cooley Street Redevelopment Project
Michael Johnson presented his plans to convert a manufacturing building near the intersection of Cooley Street and Main Street Extension into offices and retail. His efforts to bring a new use to a historic building drew praise from all of the Commissioners, but the majority of Commissioners agreed with Catherine Johnson that a parking lot should not be placed between Main Street and the building.
Michael Johnson agreed to the reduction of parking spaces, but two Commissioners insisted that it was not the Commission’s role to dictate the location and number of parking spaces to a business owner. McClellan said, “Allow the business owner to make the decision.”
The amendment to prevent a parking lot between Main Street and the building failed, with commissioner Barbara Plum joining McClellan in voting against it (most Commission actions require 5 votes, so a vote of 4 in favor and 2 opposes meant the amendment failed to pass).
The application without the amendment passed by a vote of 5 to 1, Johnson cast the dissenting vote.
Atkins Street Subdivision Fails
A 3 lot subdivision of a 6 acre parcel on Atkins Street failed to pass. The subdivision would create 2 rear lots, connected to Atkins Street by a long driveway. Commissioner Johnson raised concerns about the placement of the houses on the new lots, and she was joined by McClellan in voting against approval. Thus, with a vote of 4 in favor and 2 opposed, approval was denied.