Guilford Officials Debate Setbacks, Preserving the Semi-Rural Character along Route 1

Route 1 in Guilford, near the Branford border (Credit: Google Map Data, 2023)


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GUILFORD – The Planning and Zoning Commission again discussed at length new regulations for the development and protection of the semi-rural stretch of Route 1 between Branford and Guilford.

On Wednesday the meeting focused on the idea of combining three existing parcels zoned for Multi Use Conservation into a single Business Mixed Use zone. The fate of the parcels has been a significant factor in the town’s overhaul of local zoning rules.

Previously, the committee agreed that there would be little substantive change between Multi Use Conservation and Business Mixed Use zoning, except that the new designation would eliminate the maximum allowed square footage for buildings on the parcels.

Another significant change discussed are the required setbacks, which at the start of the meeting varied between 100 and 50 feet depending on the parcel, raising the question of equitable regulations.

Commissioner Kevin Clark recommended abiding by the Route 1 West Committee’s request for 200-foot setbacks. 

“I have a problem going against their wishes,” Clark said. “I understand it’s a recommendation. They committed a lot of time and effort to their work to dismiss it.”

He suggested that the MU/C 1 parcel remain in its own zone, while MU/C 2 and 3 parcels be combined as a Business Mixed Use Zone.

Commissioner Ted Sands said it was important to consider the properties surrounding MU/C 1.

“I think we should consider what the regulations are for other properties in that area and to put this in perspective,” he said. “Across the street is Tractor Supply with a 30-foot setback. The property to the right is also a 30-foot setback and the property to the right of that is a 30-foot setback. It’s extremely anomalous we’re proposing a 200-foot setback when the surrounding properties are so materially less burdened. It doesn’t make sense. The 100-foot which is the proposal is punitive to the property compared to others.”

Acknowledging the tremendous amount of work by the Route 1 West Committee to protect the agricultural feel of the entrance to the town, which is abutted by MU/C 1, Jason Marchi supported a 100-foot setback as a reasonable compromise.

“I’ve been in Guilford for 61 years, there’s got to be some protection that stays in place to what the original plan was for Route 1 West,” he said.

Commission Alternate Larry Rizzolo said that if the commission wants to prevent Route 1 from becoming overdeveloped, the regulations as they stand help prevent that. 

“Just because properties have a 30-foot setback, keeping across the street more wooded, I think, it’s reasonable to put a 100-foot setback,” he said.

Rizzolo also suggested that a building would not need to be set further back than its parking lot, if the lot is the start of the 100-foot setback and the building is parallel to the lot in relation to the setback.

But Scott Edmond, the commission chair, pointed out that if the goal of revising Guilford’s zoning regulations is to create consistency, nowhere else in town requires setbacks of a similar size.

“Tractor Supply is in a different district,” Edmond said, and has its own requirements for setbacks.

“Just because it’s consistently done that way doesn’t mean it’s necessarily right,” Clark said. “This section here we have a chance to right some wrongs and do a softer approach to the gateway from Branford.”

Glenn Chalder, a consultant from Panimetrics in Avon who has drafted up the changes in the Zoning Regulations said the parcels on MU/C 1 have a fairly large floor area ratio. 

“Whatever developmental potential on the property could be slid back from Route 1 a little bit,” he said. “They’re large parcels, so there’s quite a bit of flexibility within that parcel.”

Edmund noted though that the property slopes significantly toward the back, which would create more grading work for any developer.

“I think the idea of us legislating the parking lot is going to come back and bite us,” Sands said. “I think that’s a mistake.”

Marchi said that the commission’s charge extends beyond parking lot setbacks to protecting Guilford’s rural assets and the beauty of the town.

“Part of the commission charge is not only to set things up to allow for commercial development for a broader tax base,” he said. “That’s what commercial development is for. We want commercial development to be low-impact, non-polluting. But the commission’s charge and rewriting these regulations is also to protect Guilford’s agricultural assets and the beauty of the town and so forth.”

Chalder said he would add a footnote to the 100-foot setbacks in new Business Mixed Use zone allowing a smaller setback by special permit.

The commission has yet to vote on the changes. Their next scheduled meeting is Sept. 6.

Existing zoning and proposed changes