Old Lyme Planning Greenlights Arts Overlay on Lyme St., Historic District Raises Red Flags

Old Lyme Planning Commission (CT Examiner)


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OLD LYME — With minimal discussion, the Planning Commission unanimously voted Thursday night that an arts overlay district proposed on Lyme St. is consistent with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development — clearing the path to a vote by the Zoning Commission in November. 

But the latest version of the draft plan of the district, proposed by the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, has raised concerns with the town’s Historic District Commission in part because the changes could allow the non-conforming properties in the residential district to be converted to other activities and uses by a future owner that are not currently envisioned.

In a statement to the Zoning Commission, Russell Todd, a member of the Historic District Commission, said that a primary concern was the proposal’s lack of explicit language specifying that applicants may not change or modify exterior space in the Historic District to achieve proposed uses, “and that those properties must comply with current zoning and HDC approval requirements.” 

“In addition, concerns have been raised over the lack of a defined boundary for this proposed special overlay,” Todd wrote Zoning commission members.

The plan would allow changes to retail and apartment regulations on specified properties on Lyme Street — an idea initially introduced by attorney Terrance Lomme at the Zoning meeting in May

Four nonprofits – the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, Lyme Art Association, the Florence Griswold Museum and the Roger Tory Peterson Center — initially joined together in supporting the plan in June. However, a month later, the Florence Griswold Museum and the Lyme Art Association pulled out and by October the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts was the sole nonprofit petitioning for the overlay district. 

Harold Thompson, chair of the Planning Commission, said the district would allow short-term apartments without kitchens similar to a dorm, a cafe with a maximum capacity of 70 people, and a bookstore expanded to a maximum of 2,000 square feet. 

Todd wrote that the Historic District commission needs time to review the draft and asked for an opportunity to meet with the petitioners to discuss the proposal language “to ensure HDC concerns are reflected before the Zoning Commission takes further action.”

This story has been edited to clarify that the current properties are non-conforming uses in a residential zone.