Zoning Considers Lyme St. Nonprofits’ Retail, Apartment and Food Regulations

Attorney Terrance Lomme, who represented four nonprofits in Old Lyme, talked with the Zoning Commission about details of a proposed "cultural overlay district" at Town Hall on Monday night.


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OLD LYME — A proposed regulation that would allow — but also limit — retail, cafes, short-term apartments and other uses on four of the town’s nonprofits’ properties, was on the Zoning agenda Monday night for a second round of discussion.

Attorney Terrance Lomme, who represented the draft plan of Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, Lyme Art Association, the Florence Griswold Museum and the Roger Tory Peterson Center, zeroed in on a few of the commissioners’ concerns raised in the May 10 Zoning meeting

Lomme said that two key issues were the proposed allowability of living quarters and retail space. 

He told commission members that he added language to the regulation so that any construction or conversion of a building to be used for living quarters would require a special exception permit from the Zoning Commission. 

As proposed, the units would house “visiting artists, instructors, interns, students and guests,” with occupancy limited to less than one year. The units would not have individual kitchens but would be allowed microwaves, small refrigerators and sinks. Currently the Roger Tory Peterson Center, located in the former Bee & Thistle Inn, contains this type of living quarters. If approved, the regulation would allow all four entities to build short-term living quarters by special permit. 

The proposal also calls for “an apartment for future caretaker/groundskeeper,” presumably one on each of the four properties though the draft did not specify. 

Lomme said he also added language regarding retail sales, requiring that each nonprofit’s retail space already exists at the time the regulations are approved or that the retail space takes up no more than 10 percent of the building, whichever is smaller – but in no case can the retail space exceed 2,000 square feet.

All of the zoning changes would be part of a proposed “cultural overlay district” encompassing the four properties, but each nonprofit would be required to apply for a special permit to implement any of the new regulations, said Dan Bourret, the town’s land use coordinator and zoning enforcement officer. 

“It’s one zone but each individual entity if they want something like this would have to come in for a special permit from you,” Bourret told commission members. 

A third point was the limitation of one cafe or bistro to each “campus” or property — which could mean, for example, that the public would have access to the cafeteria at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. 

But the commission struggled with the the definitions of a cafe versus a bistro — and how those differ from a restaurant — and the sizes of each.  

Chair Paul Orzel asked Lomme for more research and clarification before proceeding with the proposal. 

“Let’s go back and get some more data. Let’s understand specifically what we’re talking about because I think we’re of the impression, or that we’re likely to be of the impression, that this is simply a coffee shop,” he said.