OLD LYME — After a narrow denial last month, the Halls Road Improvements Committee is expected to resubmit its plan for rezoning the town’s retail shopping district as soon as next month.
“It did have a majority in favor of it, but not the supermajority. So, whether they come back with the same thing and have another vote and that might do it, or whether they might recommend a change or two that could carry the day. I don’t know the details, but I think definitely it will be coming back,” First Selectman Tim Griswold told CT Examiner on Wednesday.
The overlay proposal received a 3-2 majority of members of the Zoning Commission in favor on March 27 but failed without the needed supermajority after a negative referral from the Planning Commission in November.
“What I heard was it definitely should come back either the same or with modification. And then maybe that would make it more acceptable,” said Griswold.
By state statute, an applicant usually can resubmit an application only after a 12-month cooling off period, but that delay can be waived at the discretion of the commission.
The overlay district in part would have allowed the construction of mixed-use buildings along Halls Road provided the developers conformed to specific design guidelines.
During their deliberations, the commission made several changes to the draft application concerning limits on building length, height, square footage and lot coverage. The commission also made changes recommended by town attorney Matt Willis.
In a call on Wednesday to Harold Thompson, chair of the Planning Commission, Thompson expressed his willingness to speak with the applicants about their proposal. Thompson said the “whole purpose” of the negative referral was to get answers to questions about the overlay.
“If we had simply voted yes, and we had a long discussion about this, then we would have been ignored,” he said. “We wanted to have an answer, wanted them to come back. We weren’t against it, we wanted clarifications.”
At the Nov. 10 meeting, according to the minutes, the Planning Commission felt 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.”
The commission also called the new regulations “cost-prohibitive and unfeasible,” the architectural design guidelines “unclear,” and the overlay requirements “piecemeal,” and that the “ the combination of old and new uses would not be an improvement to the existing conditions.”
Thompson said that there were also questions about the “qualifying project” requirement of building along the frontage of the road.
“Any current property owners could not modify their buildings [unless] a qualifying project had been completed,” Thompson said. “There was a discussion of what if Big Y wanted to have a drive-through coffee shop, would this be restricting that.”
According to Thompson, the overlay plan does fit the town’s current Plan of Conservation and Development by supporting business development and the construction of housing.
“If they’re going to resubmit we’ll certainly accept it and review it,” Thompson said.
Letters take aim at the alternates
A number of letters to local news outlets have taken aim at the votes of two alternates on the Zoning Commission, Michael Barnes and Sloan Danenhower.
Zoning Members Tammy Tinnerello and Mike Miller were unable to vote on the proposal.
During deliberations, Barnes objected to the density and bulk of allowed development and questioned the lack of affordable housing provisions in the overlay regulations.
Drawing from his readings of Strong Towns, a sustainable development nonprofit, Danenhower questioned the lack of water and sewer infrastructure to support the proposed development and how the town would pay for it down the road.
In a letter published by The New London Day, Old Lyme resident Candace Fuchs falsely claimed that during deliberations Michael Barnes asked “if the effort to provide market priced housing options was part of the committee’s WOKE values” – a claim that she later retracted under threat of legal action by Barnes.
Mark Terwilliger, who is the domestic partner of Halls Road Improvements Committee chair Edie Twining, called the denial a “vote for decay” in an Op-Ed in Lymeline, a local online news outlet. Terwilliger, who criticized members of both Planning and Zoning for their lack of understanding of the proposed regulations, complained that members of the Halls Road Improvements Committee were not able to take part in the deliberations, and answer questions, after the hearing was closed.
“From the comments in each body’s final deliberations, it is clear that several of the participants had only the vaguest understanding (and sometimes a total misunderstanding) of the document. This was not a reasonable way to arrive at a good decision on a measure of this importance to Old Lyme’s future,” he wrote.
In a letter to Lymeline, Old Lyme resident Thomas Gotowka, also took aim at the votes by the two alternates.
“I am concerned that, after several years of very public effort by Ms. Twining’s ‘Halls Road Improvement Committee,’ which involved regular and frequent updates, and Q&A opportunities for the community; the project was blocked by votes from two alternate members of the Zoning Commission.”
Bill and Sandra Rueb, residents of Old Lyme, wrote that they were“heartsick” that the proposal was defeated and that “two members of the committee failed to vote.”
Calls to Edie Twining, chair of the Halls Road Improvements Committee, for comment, were not returned.