Thursday, January 24, 2013

Two Major Zoning Code Changes To Be Heard February 13

The Planning and Zoning Commission scheduled public hearings for two separate applications to introduce potentially controversial changes to the zoning code text. The public hearings are scheduled for the P&Z meeting on February 13th at 7PM.

One would open to intensive commercial development all land around Wesleyan, land on the eastern portion of Washington Street, and land in the South Cove area of the river. This application comes from a developer, Bob Landino, who wants to put a national chain restaurant with a drive thru window within the residential neighborhood adjacent to Wesleyan.

The other would prevent most properties immediately adjacent to Wesleyan from being used for anything except residential in the future. It would also impact land immediately adjacent to Middlesex Hospital and Connecticut Valley Hospital. This application comes from Ed McKeon, a resident who is opposed to the high intensity commercial development of the historic urban residential area between Wesleyan and Main Street.

MX changes: An opening to commercial development of residential areas in the South Cove and the Wesleyan neighborhoods
The MX (mixed use) zone applies to areas of the city that contain a mixture of residential and low-intensity commercial uses. Allowed commercial uses include professional offices, neighborhood stores, churches, bed and breakfast, and banks. Landino's application would provide developers a path towards building large, high traffic retail or restaurants with drive-through windows. The proposed text includes constraints on the design of any development, and requires each proposed development to undergo a detailed review before it can be approved.

The proposed text change would dramatically impact large and highly visible parts of our city. The historically residential gateways to the city have over the past century incorporated some low intensity retail. This mixed use was recognized in the zoning map, and the MX zone is found on Washington Street from Main Street to the railroad tracks, on the west side of Broad Street, on South Main Street, on Saybrook Road, and in the area of the South Cove from Silver Street to the River. In addition, the zoning code text currently specifies that land around Wesleyan not being used by the University (in the ID zone) is regulated by the MX zone code.

ID changes: Rigid restrictions on the Wesleyan and Middlesex Hospital areas
The ID (institutional development) zone applies to the land immediately around large non-profit institutions. The institution can develop land in this zone for virtually any institutional use. But if the land is not being used by the institution, its development is currently subject to the restrictions of the MX zone. McKeon's application would restrict the use of non-institutional land in the ID zone that has been residential to what is currently allowed in the RPZ (residential pre-zoning) zone. This would restrict the use of these properties to one or two-family residences.

This proposed text change would have a dramatic effect, but on a very limited part of our city. The only affected properties would be those immediately surrounding Wesleyan and Middlesex Hospital and Connecticut Valley Hospital.

City Planner criticizes McKeon's ID zone text change
Bill Warner, Director of Planning, said nothing about the developer's MX zone change proposal, but he expressed concerns over McKeon's application to change the text for the ID zone. He said, "The change will be a significant decrease in uses that 41 property owners will have." He went on, "We [would be] ... taking significant value of the properties." In a memo to the Mayor and the city's legal department, Warner wrote that there are currently 22 uses for property in the ID zone, these would be reduced to 2 uses by the zoning code text change. He told the Commissioners, "We'll send a letter out [to each of them] this week, ... making them aware ..."

After the meeting, Warner said that no notification was needed for the MX zone code text application, because its language would increase, rather than decrease, the potential uses of property.
A high resolution zoning map is available HERE.
Pervious articles on the zoning code text applications are here for the ID zone restriction, and here for the MX zone commercialization.
The Hartford Courant has covered the story.

1 comment:

Bob Dutcher said...

Your article on the zone change proposals is excellent, with one clarification. You said that Centerplan's proposal would open land on the "eastern" portion of Washington Street to intensive commercial development. That quoted reference may mislead the casual reader about the area of Washington Street which you mean.

Looking at the zoning map, the ID zone (which would be amended by Centerplan to essentially become an MX zone, available for commercial development), includes the western area of Washington Street, i.e. west of Main Street all the way to the Newfield/Vine Street intersection. Some people reading your article may not worry about that area but mistakenly think you mean that Centerplan is trying to change the zone in the "eastern" portion of Washington Street (as you say), i.e. east of Main Street. Obviously, we know your meaning (the area in question in the Centerplan proposal IS east of High Street), but some may think you mean Centerplan proposes to change the zone in the area of Washington Street east of Main Street.
Also, it should be noted that Centerplan's proposal would also open up for intensive commercial development High Street from Washington Street north one block to Lincoln Street. In other words, that block could eventually look like a series of Aresco Markets (now located on the northwest corner of Pearl and Liberty Streets). Actually, additional stretches of Lincoln Street, east and west of High Street, which are also now in the ID zone, would also become available for Aresco Market-type business uses under the Centerplan proposal, since they also would become subject to the MX zone conditions for development.
Hope those clarifications are helpful to your readers.

Submitted by Bob Dutcher