Old Lyme Zoning Commission Tables Setback Rules, Proposes Study

Old Lyme Memorial Town Hall


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OLD LYME — The Zoning Commission voted Monday night to table a controversial proposed amendment to the Tidal Waters Protection regulation the would have doubled the current 50-foot setback to 100 feet for new construction along the town’s coastal and riverfront properties. 

Jane Marsh, secretary of the commission, who introduced the amendment on September 9, recommended that the town consider first commissioning a coastal resilience study similar to Old Saybrook’s 2018 Coastal Resilience & Adaptation Study

“Probably what we should do is have a study for ourselves to identify … the areas that will be highly affected so when we consider doing anything, that we could be more targeted,” she said.

The Tidal Waters Protection amendment stirred considerable public outcry in part because it would have prohibited the property owners from asking for a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals, potentially resulting in the Zoning Commission controlling decisions about new construction in the town’s coastal areas and waterways. 

When Marsh introduced the amendment, she said the concept was to allow residents to apply for a special permit with the Zoning Commission  instead of going before the Zoning Board of Appeals to prove the existence of a hardship. 

But some residents said the amendment would prevent many residents from bettering their properties and could render many properties worthless by making building lots nonconforming and unbuildable.  

At the October 15 public hearing, Marsh said she heard the public’s response, that the idea of a 100-foot setback was unsatisfactory. At the November 12 meeting, the amendment was tabled, but required a motion at the January 13 meeting to complete it. 

Marsh said she was in favor of Old Saybrook’s approach, which included extensive maps as well as public outreach, because it would identify the town’s risks and options. 

“They did a good job in educating the people in Old Saybrook and that makes adopting various things more possible,” she said. “It helped people understand their risks better and gave it some more gravitas.” 

The study would provide standalone information to the public about the future of Old Lyme’s coastal areas, Marsh said. 

“Personally I’d appreciate it because my knowledge is only from things I’ve read and web sites I’ve visited,” she said. “We’re legislators, we’re not actually information-gatherers.” 

Chair Jane Cable said hiring a specialized firm to do a study made more sense than assigning a town committee to assess the town’s coastal resilience needs. 

“This is a bunch of people who know what they’re doing,” Cable said. 

Paying for a study will require a special appropriation, especially since the 2020-21 budget is “on the cusp of being approved,” said Cable. 

Marsh said she would speak to First Selectman Tim Griswold about the possibility of initiating a study. 

In other business, after the tabling of the amendment, the commission elected new officers, including Paul Orzel as chair, Alan Todd as vice chair and Jane Marsh as secretary. In November, Cable will step down and Mike Miller, who was elected in November 2019, will begin his two-year term. 

Previously reported by CT Examiner