Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Updated Posting: P&Z Takes on MX and Floating Zone

Features of  Version 1.2

I have included the following information to help you evaluate the proposed zoning changes in light of existing zones and allowable uses.

- Zoning Code Section 60 identifying all currently allowable uses in MX zones. (Section 60)

- The existing Zoning Map hosted on the City of Middletown website. It was nearly unreadable at the size allowed in this post, but the website will allow you to zoom in. It may be helpful to see the Floating Zone map and MX zone maps included below in the context of their surroundings.(Zoning Map)

- The link to the Planning Departments presentation on the Floating Zone was faulty. The link below the map in this post is now working. Or if you don't want to scroll: (Floating Zone)

While no agenda is posted on the city website for Planning and Zoning Commission meeting scheduled for Wednesday, April 23 at 7:00 PM, two items (at least) may be worth your time to come out and speak 
about. First, the commission has taken on "cleaning up" the MX zone and the first of their amendments is scheduled for a public hearing. second, most likely under Other Business Affairs the commission will be discussing the adoption of a Floating Zone to be applied over portions of the Riverfront Development area.

MX Special Exceptions on the Chopping Block this Wednesday

The following public hearing notice is posted on the city website:




1 Proposed text amendment to the MX Zone to remove Sections 60.02.01, 60.02.04,
60.02.09, 60.02.17, 60.02.28, 60.02.33. A copy of the existing and proposed text is on
file in the office of the Town Clerk. Applicant/agent City of Middletown/Planning
Conservation and Development Z2014-2

                                                                            Daniel Russo, Chair
                                                                            Planning and Zoning Commission

Although with the turn in the weather, you really should get out and take a walk, if you can't get to the Town Clerk's office in time, below are the Sections as they appear in the Zoning Code. The parenthetical references are to Section 44 Special Exceptions where complete description are located. TD indicates the uses is also allowable under special exception in the Transition Development Zone. The proposal is to remove these uses from the MX Zone only.
  • 60.02.01- Ambulance Service (44.08.01) ZONES:TD, MX
  • 60.02.04- Fraternity and Sorority Houses (44.08.04) ZONES:TD, MX
  • 60.02.09- Neighborhood stores (44.08.09) ZONES:TD, MX
  • 60.02.17- Banking facilities with the drive-up windows (44.08.12) ZONES: TD, MX
  • 60.02.28- Existing Neighborhood Restaurants not to exceed 1800 square feet. Drive-thru permitted by Special Exception. (Amended effective 7/30/04)
  • 60.02.33- Retail Sales and/or Rentals of Used Automobiles (44.08.33)
    ZONES: MX (Added effective 10/25/89)
Clearly, the commissions has gone after the low hanging fruit is this useful but tentative first attempt at pruning the overgrown MX Zone, but just because the fruit is low hanging, doesn't mean it is ripe for the picking. Bill Warner originally offered up the Neighborhood Store claiming, "I think we have enough convenience stores."  However, given that the full description of Neighborhood Store (44.08.09) includes bakeries, barbers, tailoring and more, and urges the commission to consider uses that "serve the immediate neighborhood adequately" such a broad stroke may have unforeseen consequences for the many residential areas in MX zones.

The commission is to be commended for taking on this daunting task despite Bill Warner's initial observation that the MX is "all built out" (despite a pending lawsuit involving an entire block of Washington Street) and that MX zone amendments are not really a priority.  It may be that leaving some of these special exceptions would have no effect on most of the MX zones, but it can't be a bad thing when the Planning and Zoning Commission is, well, planning and zoning.

However, as with all things P&Z, the process has been a little convoluted and contentious. The MX revision process began with some informal discussion, initiated by chairman Russo, among the new commission towards the end of last year. It evolved into a collective decision to propose a 3-month moratorium on any proposals within the MX. After some press coverage about the possibility of a moratorium, not wanting to appear anti-development, but also adding some concerns about the logistics of coordinating and posting more meetings, chairman Russo proposed adding time for MX zone discussion "in full view of the public" to each regularly scheduled Wednesday meeting. Russo successfully defended this proposal despite commissioner Devoto's, assertions that a moratorium would be a "cleaner"approach that would both prevent any proposals coming forward while sections that applied to them were under revision and would also set a clear deadline for the commission. Commissioner Emery also noted that it was perhaps a bad idea to let the press dictate their decisions.

So there they sit, at the bottom of the agenda under Other Commission Affairs, in full view of any member of the public who has sat through all public hearings, new business and everything else on the agenda except motion to adjourn. While chairman Russo has often repeated the importance of conducting these discussions in public, his emphasis seems to be on the public listening, but not speaking -- at least not until amendments are drafted and put under New Business on the agenda.

There are, however, two items on every agenda that allow for public comment: Item 4: "PUBLIC COMMENT ON ITEMS ON THE AGENDA WHICH ARE NOT CURRENTLY SCHEDULED FOR A PUBLIC HEARING" and Item 9:  "PUBLIC COMMENT ON TOPICS WHICH ARE NOT OR HAVE NOT BEEN THE SUBJECT OF A PUBLIC HEARING." Combined with the public comment for current public hearings, that pretty much covers any item on the agenda, including Other Commission Affairs.

Floating Zone Proposed for Riverfront Development

Currently listed under Other Commission Affairs and working its way toward a Public Hearing is the adoption of a Floating Zone for a portion of the proposed Riverfront Development area. This is perhaps the most significant change in the zoning code proposed in a long time and specifically tied to the most significant planning undertaken by the city – the Riverfront Development.

The underling issue is that the Riverfront Development Area cuts through a variety of zones with different allowable uses and land use restrictions which may not allow for the type of development envisioned for the area. The theory is that a Floating Zone would contain zoning codes that would allow for the desired uses in the Riverfront area and would "hover over" existing zones. The Developer would "pull down" the floating zone to a specific site and propose a development that conformed the Floating Zone requirements. The approval process would remain the same for any development.

Bill Warner originally broached the idea of the Floating Zone and sent commissioners an article outlining the basic concept and benefits.A presentation  by his office outlines the existing conditions and proposed changes to the Riverfront Development area. This  concluding slide proposes why the Floating Zone should be applied in this situation.

 Due to limited permitted uses, the Commission is in control and any development proposal will have to seek special exception approval from Commission.The 5 existing zones allow uses by special exception that might occur in the area – office, retail, multi-family, reuse of historic buildings and recreation.Because of differences in zones one use may be allowed in one zone but not across the street in another zone.The zones have all different lot areas, densities, mandatory setbacks, height requirements and mandatory parking requirements which could very well result in an undesirable pattern of development.The varying uses and other requirements will result in a need for cumbersome variance and zone change requests and piecemeal public hearings. The risk of being denied will discourage developers from even looking at the area.The entire area should be zoned in a way that “opens the door” for a developer to submit their very best plan. It should also be zoned in a way that retains the Commissions legislative authority. In this way a developer can propose whatever they think is best and the Commission, after a public hearing, will have broad and liberal discretion to approve, modify and approve or deny any proposal.

While claiming it ensures the commission"broad and liberal discretion" here, the conclusion of the article states, "The zoning board will have very limited discretion at the site-planning stage, and you will be largely protected from any changes." This may very well be the solution that facilitates the best development of the riverfront, but as usual I urge a great deal of caution and transparency on the part of the commission and a great deal of involvement by the public. Please take a look at the full text of the Riverfront Development Floating Zone and attend this Wednesday's meeting.


Lee Osborne said...

Why does the electronic "eye" not yet acknowledge that the court has fully rejected all items in the lawsuit by Jennifer Proto which claimed that the city's Planning and Zoning Commission had illegally adopted changes in the language of the MX zone regulations? The Hartford Courant ran the story last Saturday.

Anonymous said...

I wondered why no acknowledgement or acerbic commentary on the lawsuit getting tossed as well. Then I realized that despite the self moniker of " citizen journalists" the eye does not want public commentary that is opposite of its position. ABT (anything but transparency)

Stephen Devoto said...

The first step towards anonymous insanity is to imagine that there is purpose behind what is NOT published on an anarchic blog that publishes whatever the hell anybody submits.

The antidote to joining the irrelevant crazies is to write the article you want people to read, and submit it to us.