Any individual or corporation may submit applications to change the zoning code text, at a cost of $160. All applications are scheduled for a public hearing, a date in February might be selected by the Planning and Zoning Commission at their January 23rd meeting.
Such a public hearing would be about the impact of this text change on all MX zones. These are found on Washington Street from Broad Street west to the railroad overpass, South Main Street, a portion of Saybrook Road, and parts of the south cove on the riverfront. The change would also affect all of the land around Wesleyan, because its ID zone designation stipulates that if Wesleyan is not using a property, it is regulated under MX code. If the text change is approved, individual developers in any of these areas could submit applications for specific commercial projects, these would include detailed site-specific architectural and engineering plans.
The proposed text changes do not make commercial development an "as-of-right" use, but they allow developers to apply for a special exception for such use. While greatly relaxing constraints on what land can be used for, they impose several constraints on the design of a new development.
All developments under this proposed special exception section would be required to include at least two of the following uses: retail, restaurant, upper story professional office, and upper story residential.
Drive-thru businesses would be allowed, as long as "the drive thru is not located between the front of the building and the street."
The design and other constraints appear to derive from an appreciation that MX zones include residential neighborhoods. The proposed text regulates deliveries, traffic, signs, lighting, dumpsters, and the street-scape. All development applications under this proposed special exception "shall be reviewed by the Design Review and Preservation Board and their opinion and recommendations will be a part of the special exception process."
Here are some highlights of the proposal:
- Buildings must be at least two stories, oriented to the street or intersection, and "utilize existing and surrounding building lines and materials, to the extent possible."
- Parking must be oriented to the rear of the structure and must be aesthetically screened from all areas, unless a developer convinces the Planning and Zoning Commission that parking between the street and the structure will increase pedestrian activity.
- Bike racks will be required and "pedestrian amenities shall be considered and may be required, such as benches or public art."
- Large trees shall be preserved when possible, and street trees at least 20 feet in height shall be planted.
- All signs must be attached to the structures.
- Loading docks and dumpsters must be located at the rear of the building and be screened from sight.
- Lights must be directed away from residential zones "unless specifically designed to enhance a pedestrian linkage."
- A landscaped buffer zone must screen any commercial use from neighboring residential use, "In order to protect the integrity of residential zones, sufficient buffering shall be required when a property in this zone abuts a residential zone or potential incompatible land use."