OLD LYME — The development of high-density housing envisioned for Halls Road will depend on the expansion of sewer capacity, which is unlikely to happen soon, the attorney for the Halls Road Improvements Committee told the Zoning Commission on Monday.
“Until such time as public sewer is available on that strip, which may happen someday — there may be a package plan or an extension — but it’s not there now, that is the primary limiting factor on issues of density,” said Attorney Bill Sweeney, of New London, who is working with the committee on zoning language for a Halls Road Overlay District.
“We [wrote] the regulations to be looking into the future when there could be a possibility that you could have a 40-unit multifamily project on one of these parcels — the reality is that’s not going to happen,” said Sweeney.
He told the commission that once a project triggers a certain discharge threshold, the project is kicked up to the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and that slows down the schedule of construction because of a two-year permitting process.
“It’s sort of the existing governor on the density of residential development,” he said. “We do not proceed anytime in the near future until sewer gets extended.”
A “qualifying project” in the overlay district would be first required to build a mixed use building within 15 feet of Halls Road — with commercial space on the first floor and mixed use above — once that is completed, residential units can be built in the back of the parcel. All projects would require special permit approval.
Committee chair Edie Twining said the main goal of creating the overlay district was to allow Halls Road to prosper as the commercial center in town, with a second tier that allows for mixed use.
“It’s about changing the look and feel, bringing the buildings up close to the road, like how Lyme St. used to be,” she said.
Sweeney said that the limitations of septic and sewer will restrict the scale of development in the short term, but it may also keep development under control.
“It will prevent the sort of the nightmare scenario that you worry about — that you’re going to have five-story condominium complexes behind [buildings on Halls Road]. That’s not going to happen under a septic [scenario], but what you could have are reasonably-sized modest commercial developments immediately along Halls Road to create that walkable pedestrian like shopping experience,” he said.
Zoning Commission member Jane Marsh said she had doubts about setting up zoning regulations that did not allow a developer to see a project through.
“You don’t want to set it up where the very first person has to do it, but can’t do it,” she said.
Marsh also questioned whether developers could ask for variances that would negate the goals and restrictions of the overlay zone.
Sweeney said the overlay zone could include language restricting use variances, which would help keep the development consistent with the vision of the committee for Halls Road — but it would not completely prevent the Zoning Board of Appeals from approving variances.
“The ZBA has the ability to give variances for almost everything, but that’s not a reason to not adopt this [plan],” he said.
The town’s Plan of Conservation and Development contains a sewer avoidance policy for areas other than the shoreline for a health-related need, so the policy would need to be changed to bring sewers to Halls Road, said Dan Bourret, land use coordinator and zoning enforcement officer for the town.
“That’s been in there for three or four generations — restricted sewer, except for health [reasons],” he said.
Twining said the purpose of the town’s policy of limiting sewers was to curb development, but she suggested that Halls Road could have its own system.
“If there was a way to let something like Halls Road exist as a entity that can be close to being self serving, and not have to be spread all over the town, the whole acreage of the town, you’re consolidating all your services in the town into a local area as opposed to millions more single family homes that you have to take care of,” she said.
Marsh said that when a community septic system was proposed for the shoreline area, the proposed locations were not approved.
Bourret said he thought proposing a community septic system for Halls Road would be “a tough sell.”
Sweeney said his sense was to draft the regulation with the concept that septics are here to stay.
“We did think about the possibility that someday some technology may be there,” he said. “But realistically, probably even in my lifetime, I think it’s probably going to be limited.”