OLD LYME — The Halls Road Improvements Committee has opted for a new approach to redevelopment in the town’s commercial district that would preserve current commercial zoning and add the option of residential units after the committee’s initial application was withdrawn in the face of significant criticism in early November. The revised approach would use an overlay zone in place of creating a village district.
“What an overlay zone does is it keeps that current C30 zone in place. What’s there now is allowed and can stay there — it’s not grandfathered in — no rights are removed. It gets rid of [the] nonconforming use [issue],” Jef Fasser, a landscape architect with BSC Group, explained to the committee at its Thursday night meeting.
Fasser presented a list of current allowable uses in the Halls Road commercial area with potential allowable uses in the overlay.
A village district would have left the buildings on Halls Road nonconforming with the town’s new zoning, said Committee Chair Edie Twining.
“Overlay is a better route to take — it’s giving more as opposed to taking away,” Twining said. “With the overlay district everything that is already in the zoning district stays, and if you want to do residential and a couple of other little parts to that, you trigger this overlay zone, which means you can still have all your regular buildings and if you want to build new buildings you can as long as you build along the roadway,” she said.
The biggest question, said committee member David Kelsey, is whether the proposed changes would also ban less desirable uses, like adult entertainment which is currently allowed.
Fasser said it was possible in the process to make changes to the current zoning regulations.
Twining said it was important to consider drive-through pharmacies, which could for example test for COVID, but to continue to restrict drive-through restaurants and coffee shops. Twining also emphasized the need for automobile charging stations, but said she wanted them situated behind buildings rather than along the Halls Road.
The committee agreed to hire land use attorney William Sweeney, of Tobin, Carberry, O’Malley, Riley & Selinger, P.C. in New London, at a cost of $10,000, to advise on language for an overlay zone text amendment.
In January, the committee plans to hold a workshop for Halls Road business owners, followed by an open house for the public, “to gain more consensus on questions and ideas,” said Twining.
Twining said she hopes to submit a new zoning application in March.
In other business, Kelsey questioned the sequencing of the committee’s work, and asked whether the town could pursue sidewalks and streetscaping changes while the committee worked on the zoning regulations.
“We are on those two parallel paths right now,” answered Kurt Prochorena, an engineer at BSC who worked on the Halls Road master plan.
Kelsey asked whether the Connecticut Department of Transportation could let the town know whether, for example, street parking or traffic islands will be allowed on Halls Road, before the town spends more money on engineering plans.
Prochorena said the department will want to see engineered plans before giving a definite answer.
“For on-street parking, the answer we’ve gotten is, ‘it’s possible,’” said Prochorena.
He said the next level of design plans will help the town obtain funding for the project.
Kelsey asked whether State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, or State Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme, who both sit on the legislature’s Transportation Committee, or State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, who sits on Appropriations, could help with answers about the Department of Transportation.
Prochorena also suggested that RiverCOG would be an important resource when applying for grants. He said the town needed a master plan to show the vision for the project, a set of engineered plans, and letters of support from town officials and state representatives.
“I’ve never had a situation where the COG supported a project and then DOT turned it down,” he said.