Old Saybrook Debates Residential Redevelopment of Marine Industrial Lands

OLD SAYBROOK — After extended discussion on Wednesday night, the town’s Planning Commission voted to table a decision to change the town’s zoning rules to allow residential development in marine industrial zones, including Ferry Point, citing inconsistencies with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development. 

The applicant was 91 Sheffield Street, LLC, represented by attorney Marjorie Shansky. And the specific area in question is a 9.93-acre site is a waterfront parcel on North Cove zoned marine industrial. There are four structures on the site — one has collapsed — totaling about 11,000 square feet, formerly occupied by an oceanographic research company. 

Shansky told the commission that the text amendment provided a path toward redevelopment in a way that is “more flexible than conventional zoning.” 

She said an applicant would need to apply for a map amendment and provide a master plan detailing any development proposal — a more rigorous process than would be needed for a special permit or site plan approval. 

“Planned development districts, because they are map amendments, go to the commission’s legislative authority, which is virtually absolute, as you know. If it were a special permit or a site plan approval, those are administrative reviews, and if the standards are met, then the commission approves — but these are legislative decisions,” she said.

Shansky said that adopting the text would not give away any of the broad authority of the town’s Zoning Commission to do what is appropriate in the interests of the Old Saybrook community as a whole.

She said she had considered the Planned Residential Development Zone that already exists in the zoning regulations of the town, but the regulations did not suit the needs of her client and the site. 

“[It’s] a 10-acre parcel of which five are constrained by tidal wetlands, the riparian Gateway setback, and intended to be conserved in that way. So of the 10 acres on this most irregularly shaped parcel, only five will be used for development.” 

Concept plan showing four houses proposed for 91 Sheffield St.

Shansky also presented a separate proposal for developing the 91 Sheffield St. site which included the construction of four houses. The proposal also includes public access to the water, including public parking and a public kayak launch. 

“It’s a comprehensive envisionment — if that’s a word — of development, which in this case by its adjacency to North Cove, includes this public access component which from a coastal area management perspective, gives you a high degree of consistency when DEEP will review that plan,” she said. 

Shansky said that when she presented the text amendment and proposal to the town’s Harbor Management Commission, they had expressed concern about the loss of the marine industrial “brand,” even though the property had not been used industrially for more than 10 years. 

She pointed out that the prior use [as a research facility] was not a water dependent use and said that the nature of industry in Old Saybrook, in Connecticut, and in America as a whole was not a return to the country’s industrial roots.   

“This is really a way in which to put the land, long idle, to productive use, respecting its natural resource components, and providing for single family homes as well,” she said.

Megan Jouflas, an alternate member of the town’s Planning Commission who was seated for the meeting, said that the proposal for single-family 5-bedroom houses on one-acre lots would not move the town toward its housing goals and might end up perpetuating sprawl or the spread of high-cost single family housing. 

“It sounds to me like a lot of the residential that we already have, and not in the goals of our POCD. Some of the goals are to provide sufficient opportunity for housing alternatives to the typical high cost of a single family house, promote additional multifamily opportunities that don’t require owner residents, and continue to encourage the creation of accessory apartments,” she said.

She also expressed concern that the text amendment could apply to any marine industrial zone, including Ferry Point, which has been designated in the town’s economic development plan for raw, industrial and mixed-use spaces. 

But Jouflas praised the planned water access and preservation even as she questioned whether a subdivision was the right choice for Old Saybrook.  

Dennis Tulimieri, an alternate on the commission who was also seated for the meeting, said he was not comfortable with the proposed zoning and did not want to see the marine industrial zones disappear.

“They’re a viable part of this community,” he said. 

Other commission members expressed concern that the text amendment could be applied to any marine industrial district.

Jouflas asked that the commission recommend the text amendment be reworked.

“It may need to include a larger diversity of uses and housing types to be consistent with the plan of conservation and development,” she said. 

Christina Costa, the zoning enforcement officer for the town, advised commission members that because said the town’s Harbor Management commission had found the proposal to be inconsistent with its harbor management plan, the Zoning Commission would need a ⅔ vote, or super majority, to approve the amendment. 

The matter was tabled until the commission’s Sept. 15 meeting. 

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