GUILFORD – Concerns regarding new zoning regulations continue to mount ahead of a potential vote of the Planning and Zoning Commission scheduled for July 19 at the Nathanael B. Greene Community Center.
The commission will consider adopting the draft proposal at the meeting. But residents spoke out during the May 17 and June 7 hearings and have written dozens of letters to the commission expressing their worries about the regulations.
“These revisions to zoning regulations were initially explained to the community as basic simplifications and clarifications,” former zoning commissioner David Grigsby wrote in a May 17 letter to the commission. “What is being presented now is far removed from such a benign editing exercise.”
Grigsby, a commercial real estate attorney, noted that the zoning regulations expanded from 195 to 320 pages and now includes a section addressing affordable housing. The proposal, he said, mandates a minimum of 12 percent housing dedicated to income-restricted housing stock in all residential developments throughout Guilford.
“I have serious doubts most commissioners fully appreciate the potential effect of this new mandate or what this section entails,” he wrote. “At a minimum, with the allowed fee-in-lieu that equals 12% of the cost of the new development, that 12% surtax will be tacked on to the cost of those houses which are not income restricted. In a misguided quest to create more affordable housing, this commission is instead making it less affordable, at least for those middle-class residents who do not qualify for government assistance.”
In another letter dated June 2, Grigsby also criticized regulation changes that would allow more big-box stores to open in town.
“The existing regulations expressly set limits for the size of retail stores,” he said, to no larger than 60,000 square feet in the Shopping Center zone, and 75,000 square feet in the Shopping Center West zone.
“That size limitation language is absent from the new combined Shopping Center zone, meaning either of those properties could be redeveloped into sites for big-box retailers,” he wrote.
Elssa Green, a resident and member of Neighbors for Responsible Development of Route 1 West, said Friday that the formal limitation on the size of big-box developments in the Post Road Business and Business Mixed Use zones along the length of Route 1 is “confusing and alarming.”
“The zoning propositions are townwide, and I think these developers have something in mind and are starting the process on (Route) 146,” she said. “It ends on the Guilford Green. It’s a scenic highway … and has some magnificent views.”
Guilford is suffering from the effects of development, Green said, adding that she’s worried about impacts to traffic as well.
“The Towner Swamp area is going to have a horrific amount of traffic released onto Route 1, which is a two-lane road,” she said. “It barely accommodates the traffic it has now.”
She also said new developments can create environmental concerns.
“When they hack away at sensitive areas with little or no regard, I get upset,” she said. “Guilford has no septic systems and no public water. Our water is scary to have that big development on the top of a hill. We live down the hill. It was suggested in 2015 that the area be allowed to be developed but have very strict environmental cautions. It runs into a sensitive wetlands area. It has a lot of wildlife concerns.”
Resident Karen Scott also submitted concerns in a letter dated May 17, regarding the Business Mixed Use zone along Route 1 near the Branford town line.
“The proposed BMU sites are too dense, too tall, and too happenstance,” she wrote. “The area suffers from poor infrastructure and services. Based on my experience as a designer and a resident, I do not have faith that these issues will be addressed with future construction in accordance with the proposed regulations, and in fact, if history of the past 17 years tells us anything, it will only be far worse, unsafe, and unmanageable.”
Resident Joyce Ippolito wrote to the commission on May 15, voicing concerns about creating blanket regulations for Business Mixed Use zones and requesting that the commission keep the special permit process instead of the planned development process, so the community can have more say as to what is developed.
“Public hearings are essential to ensuring the development of these parcels of land conform to what the residents of Guilford want – not just what the developers want.”
First Selectman Matthew Hoey said Friday that the special permit process used in previous planning and zoning regulations has been changed to a planned development process, which allows applicants to present a master plan without having to include every detail about that plan.
“It allows them to do a series of things without having to outline all of those things at the outset,” he said.
But Hoey added that he’s excited about regulation changes that would address affordable housing.
“Increased density will be allowed for those who are doing affordable housing,” he said. “That is an issue that is completely controlled by septic capacity.”
He explained that the allotment of units per acre would be required to meet health and wetlands standards.
“We, like most communities in Connecticut, are facing a significant housing shortage,” he said.
Assistant Town Planner Nigel Mills said Monday that he doesn’t feel comfortable speaking about specific regulation changes, and members of the commission have declined to comment as well.
Mills said the commission has compiled a comprehensive list of statements from the community that are being evaluated.
“There is still opportunity for change no matter how the vote ends up going at this moment,” he said. “The modifications suggested can be amended. This is a full update of a 300-page document that has gone on for multiple years and multiple rotations of planning and zoning staff.
There’s no doubt in my mind … there will always be things to improve after the fact.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story indicated that a public hearing on the zoning regulations would take place on July 19, but the public hearing was held on May 17 and June 7, and closed on June 7. This story has been updated.