OLD LYME — A week ago, the town’s Zoning Commission closed a public hearing for a proposal to encourage the redevelopment of Halls Road, but the plan still faces steep odds in its current form — and a required supermajority vote to pass — after a unanimous negative referral by members of Planning in November.
Harold Thompson, who chairs the town’s Planning Commission, told CT Examiner that his commission voted to send a negative referral of the proposed Halls Road Overlay District to the Zoning Commission with an expectation that Zoning will address key questions about the proposal.
“The [town’s Plan of Conservation and Development] supports development and economic growth, but there was concern among some members that we needed to get a response and that was the only way that we felt we could get a response,” said Thompson in a phone call with CT Examiner.
The long-debated overlay district would give developers the flexibility to construct multifamily housing to the height of 40 feet, to operate restaurants and inns, retail, and boat rentals, with stand-alone or accessory parking garages — provided that they meet detailed rules outlined in the overlay, including reduced setbacks.
At its Nov. 10 meeting, the commission’s discussion included the general sense that, “while the idea of this zone had merit, many of the specifics were problematic and would not result in the desired outcome.”
Thompson told CT Examiner that the commission had concerns about the overlay’s definition of a “qualifying project,” which would allow property owners to build residential units and was required to be approved by a design committee within a 35-day window.
“Part of our questions were, well, how do they determine what’s a qualifying project, what’s the criteria?” he asked. The 35-day period was also too short to be effective, he said.
Thompson said that property owners would not be able to obtain a Certificate of Occupancy, or C.O., until a qualifying project had been approved.
“Some of the discussion kind of revolved around, let’s say, what if the Big Y wanted to put in a drive through coffee place – they should have the right to do it and they own the building that goes along with it. But the question still remains is that means that they cannot get a C.O. for that modification until there’s a qualifying project,” he said.
Among a number of other issues was the long term “piecemeal” implementation of the plan and the resulting difficulty of achieving consistency.
The November minutes stated that “as drafted, it was unclear how the new overlay zone affected future development along Halls Road, and whether future developers would be obligated to use the HROD or could continue to use the C-30S requirements. Related to this, it was unclear what the unifying architectural theme was supposed to be.”
Thompson said the commission engaged in a long discussion about sending a positive versus a negative referral to Zoning.
“What several commission members were concerned about is that, if we say yes, they’re going to ignore any comments we have and just go ahead and vote – the main difference being that if we said yes, it’s a simple majority, and if we say no, we expect them to address our comments and they have to have a two-thirds majority. So we were kind of looking at that, saying, if we say no, then we’re going to make sure that they really address our comments.”
Thompson said that if the Zoning Commission does not approve the overlay district at its Feb. 13 meeting, he expects that the Halls Road Improvements Committee will submit a new plan.
In a Dec. 30 letter to Planning, Edie Twining, chair of the Halls Road Improvements Committee, offered a point by point rebuttal of the negative referral, choosing not to revise or amend the application before submitting it to Zoning.
According to Twining, in the letter, the commission has already “received favorable signs of interest from professional developers.”