‘Are There Other Plans Not Known to the Public’?


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To the Editor:

Much has been made of the required changes to the Old Lyme Zoning Regulations to accommodate a new Arts Overlay District to the sole benefit the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. 

I find it difficult to understand how an institution, much beloved in the community, has failed financially twice in the last decade.  The Town has assisted in many ways to help this struggling entity in its quest to retain its cultural contribution to our community.  So here we are for a third try, being asked to change our Town zoning laws to accommodate one organization.  The Lyme Academy of Fine Arts did not fail because zoning was too difficult, most applications by the institution for Special Exceptions have been granted.  The financial insecurity of the Academy is based in a poor business model. Its base problem is too much overhead and not enough income. How should this relate to Zoning?  It shouldn’t.

The goal of the applicant is to make it easier to get permission to adjust their income stream by expanding their previously “student only” art store to a retail business and to expand their existing café area to a full service restaurant.  On the face of it, and if you did not live in the residential zone of the Historic District, reasonable attempts at shoring up the balance sheet.  The rub is that once these uses are allowed, they travel with the property.  So if the Academy finds itself again in unfortunately familiar circumstances and must sell the property, the uses allowed to that lovely institution to help it along, now will travel to the new owner.  That means two new commercial properties will have been allowed in a residential district.

We have zoning laws in place to prevent just this circumstance.  While this may not be considered “spot zoning,” if the underlying property changes use from an educational institution to anything else, it will be the creation of commercial use property within a pre-existing residential zone.

Which leads me to wonder if the Board of the Academy truly believes a small retail store and a restaurant are going to save the institution or are there other plans not known to the public that will be facilitated by these changes in Zoning? 

The Applicant complains the current Special Exception process is difficult.  It should be.  It’s meant to protect the residents of this Residential Zone.

Tom Schellens
Old Lyme, CT

Schellens was a longtime member of the Zoning Board of Appeals