OLD LYME — After many months of presentations, public hearings and deliberations, the Zoning Commission narrowly denied the Halls Road Overlay District application that would have allowed the construction of mixed use buildings in the town’s main commercial district.
At Monday’s special meeting, the application received three votes of approval and two against, which normally would have counted as an approval. But due to a negative referral from the Planning Commission in January, the application required a supermajority vote, or four out of the commission’s five votes.
The overlay district would have allowed property owners and developers to build new mixed use buildings – with commercial space below and residential units above – provided that the buildings fronted Halls Road according to certain rules. The biggest limiting factor to building high density residential units was the sewer or septic capacity, according to the attorney for the Halls Road Improvements Committee. The issue dates back to 2015, when the committee first convened.
During Monday’s nearly two-hour discussion preceding the vote, commission secretary Jane Marsh – who voted to approve – requested a number of language changes to the December 16, 2022 draft, including changes recommended by town attorney Matt Willis.
Among Marsh’s requests were that the commission specify a maximum length for buildings fronting Halls Road to avoid the possibility of long, continuous structures that lacked gaps where pedestrians could walk through to the parking lots located behind the buildings.
The idea, Marsh said, was to approximate Lyme Street, “so we’re looking for that same feeling, just having some small break up in the buildings.”
The commission approved a maximum length of 125 feet per building, as well as a building maximum of 10,000 square feet.
The maximum building height was lowered from 40 feet to 35 feet, and the maximum lot coverage was lowered from 50 percent to 40 percent because the area is in the town’s conservation zone – and its regulations would supersede the overlay district’s, said Marsh.
Commission chair Paul Orzel urged the commission to present the best legal document possible to allow a developer to present a proposal to the commission.
“What are the legal guardrails that this overlay should have?” he asked.
Orzel, who voted to approve the application, said that infrastructure constraints would drive the amount of development on Halls Road.
The overlay presented opportunities for developers, said commission member Mary Jo Nosal, who voted to approve the proposal.
“I think we’re trying to redevelop what we’ve had since 1950s and 1960s. We’re trying to do what towns are doing throughout the state in developing usable, livable streetscapes so that people can age in place,” she said. “It’s a mindset that’s different from what we had before to what we’d like our vision to be in the town of Old Lyme.”
Nosal said the town had held meetings over the past three years to ask people what they wanted to see in their shopping district.
She also noted that the Halls Road Improvements Committee had not been represented at the Planning Commission meeting when the negative referral vote took place.
Alternate Michael Barnes, who replaced commission member Mike Miller at the meeting, said he was concerned about potential bulk frontage on Halls Road and as well as lot coverage and density, which he said would increase.
Barnes, who voted against the application, also said the potential housing on Halls Road would be rented at market rate and would not accomplish the goal of creating affordable housing in the community.
Sloan Danenhower, who replaced commission member Tammy Tinnerello because she had not attended the previous meetings concerning Halls Road, said the “elephant in the room” was the lack of infrastructure for sewer and water.
“The town pays for it down the road,” he said.