Thursday, January 10, 2013

Zoning Text Change Application Would Allow More Commercial Development On Washington Street

The Planning Department has received an application to change the text of the zoning code, to allow by special exception an intensive commercial development of properties in the MX zone. It was submitted by "Acquisition Holdings, LLC", a company associated with the Centerplan developer who is vying to develop a strip mall in a residential area between Pearl and High on Washington Street.

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."
The full application is HERE.


joseph getter said...

Here is a link to Middletown's zoning map, zoom in for high resolution detail:

Anonymous said...

Stephen, How about a story on Wesleyan's ability to kill two birds with one stone?

Anonymous said...

Again if you look at definition of strip mall this is not a strip mall. The regulation requires multi story and no parking in front - exactly the opposite of strip mall defined by one story setback from street with parking field in front.

Ed McKeon said...

Anonymous 6:38

The development will require 100 parking spaces plus additional blacktop for drive-thru windows. The parking was initially suggested to be placed in front of the building. Now it's in the back. Tell the adjoining homes how good it is for them. It's a strip mall. They can plant a few trees, put the parking out back, but it's lipstick on the pig.

Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Middletown Eye (Ed McKeon) said...

Anonymous 6:38

It's a strip mall. The parking was originally planned to be up front. There will be 100 parking spaces required and more blacktop for free egress to drive-thru windows. They moved the parking to the back. Explain to the adjacent homes how great that will be for them. They can plan a few trees, regulate signs, but it's still lipstick on the pig.

Anonymous said...

Ed, What development? This post is about a zone text amendment in all MX zones in Middletown. The last time I checked, parking is a function of a specific plan with specific uses and numbers of employees. While you may think you are addressing a specific plan, this proposal is only about a text change.

David Sauer said...

Anon at 3:55
It is a text change that is designed to allow a specific plan to go forward.

The proposed amendment lacks any justification or merit. The only reason such a special exception would be sought would be to have a restaurant in an MX zone. A restaurant, which is currently deemed incompatible with MX would suddenly be possible if it had office space or residences above it. Hard to see any logic behind that idea. There is no reason to allow an expansion of the current uses of the MX zone. This is nothing more than a Hail Mary attempt by Centerplan to attempt to use its inside connections to accomplish what is prohibited. It should be rejected.