GUILFORD – After numerous residents raised concerns about the town creating new options for large-scale commercial and residential development, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved revised regulations and an amended zoning map Wednesday night.
The vote was 6 to 1, with Independent Kevin Clark as the lone dissenter. Voting in favor were Democrats Bill Freeman, Philip Johnson, Sean Cosgrove, Chair Scott Edmond, Republican Francesco D’Andrea, and Independent Ted Sands.
“I’m happy where this got to,” Edmond said. “This is a huge step forward for the town of Guilford. There are a lot of things that are going to benefit the town.”
But after hearing concerns for nearly two hours from citizens, Clark questioned whether the commission should take another look at the regulations.
“Can this many people be wrong?” he asked. “There is not one person from the public in support. If we take a little more time and make a few more tweaks and have a much better polished product, what would another month or two be?”
Though D’Andrea ultimately voted with the majority, he also questioned whether it was time to move forward.
“What is another month if we look at some of these things?” he asked. “It’s a living document, but it’s not as easy to change once we pull the trigger. What’s another month if it’s really that concerning?”
‘Conservation’ dropped, ‘Business’ added
Many of the residents at the meeting voiced concerns about changing the “Multi-Use/Conservation 1” zones to “Business Multi Use,” which they believe will make it easier for developers to build big box stores and larger resident developments without a special permit, though public hearings will be required.
Resident Robin Freund said it sounded as if the multi-use/conservation zones were held to higher standards than the business multi use. She said she was particularly concerned about land located along Route 1 on the west side of town, bordering Branford.
“I would hope there would be more considerations to what happens to that property,” she said, of the agriculturally rich collection of properties in that zone, specifically the property that used to be Sullivan Farm that used to reside on Boston Post Road. “That would require special permits. A little bit more work goes into that.”
Edmond responded that though conservation was dropped from the name, it didn’t mean that conservation of the area would be removed.
But Freund said she wanted to preserve the agricultural character of Guilford and particularly the Sullivan property, and that the new zoning changes would not require special permits as long as the developments fit the regulations.
“My concern is with these large parcels, if they come in and fit all the regulations, they can go in and build 600 housing units,” Freund said. “We’re woefully behind in our affordable housing mandate. I’m concerned if we don’t have special permits, it’s going to have huge housing developments and we’re just building, building, building to catch up with affordable housing. Because it’s not under special permit we wouldn’t have to require some of it be affordable housing.”
“The Sullivan property is 100 some odd acres,” said resident Jon Venter, who voiced concern about the new regulation lifting a 100,000 square foot restriction on building size in a business multi use zone.
“Would the people of Guilford be happy to see a Home Depot there? Taking away the 100,000 square foot restriction, a Home Depot can go on that lot. Development is going to happen, you guys are the checks and balances,” he warned. “You’re representing the whole town. I don’t think you’re representing the town with what you’re doing. Everyone is against what you’re doing. I think it’s reckless and irresponsible what you’re doing. Everyone I’ve talked to is against it.”
Resident Jessica Harrington said that the commission should pay attention to the numerous concerns raised by residents at the meeting.
“The fact there are so many people here tonight gives the commission the fact that we are concerned,” said resident Jessica Harrington. “I feel that with the new proposals, it will forever change the look and feel of our town.”
She said loopholes in the regulations will make the town more commercially dense and overdeveloped.
Resident Brian Wiley told the commission, “Capitalism is not altruism. Developers are here to develop. If you provide opportunities they’ll take advantage of them. Don’t trust what’s not in writing. This is a generational change that is going to take place. If you folks do this tonight, you may look back several years and wonder why.”
Resident Ashley Griffin said it was overwhelming that so many citizens did not approve of the zoning changes.
“I do not understand why anybody would want to hurt our town. It’s unique. It could be irreversibly damaged. It would be. That’s what developers do. It can’t come back. Please be responsible for the people you’re supposed to be representing,” Griffin said.
The one note of support for the changes came from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in a letter stating that the draft zoning map amendments are generally consistent with the applicable policies and standards of the Connecticut Coastal Management Act.
“The new marine commercial district will allow for residential developments,” the department said. “We strongly recommend that residential development be subject to special permit criteria to ensure consistency with Coastal Management objectives such as management of coastal hazard areas and protection of water dependent uses.”
Three year process
Residents Michael Scott and Joseph Wolenski questioned if the commission had seriously considered the potential negative repercussions of the revised zoning regulations.
“When things are proposed at this magnitude there are always a con,” Wolenski said. “There are pros and cons for everything. There’s no perfect plan, only perfect intentions.”
Scott asked the commission if they had done any analysis of what the ramifications may be of consolidating the town’s 22 districts into 11 districts. .
Glenn Chalder, a consultant from Panimetrics in Avon, said that there was no need for 22 districts.
“There were similar provisions and the commission streamlined those provisions,” Chalder said. “This consolidation of zones was appropriate for Guilford and set the stage for future growth for the community.”
Chalder said the changes were town-wide and not just in the former multi use conservation zones that were to becolme business multi use zones, but also merging shoreline business areas.
Members of the commission and Chalder disagreed with the public’s perception of the regulations and the potential risks it may create toward the town when replying to the questions posed to them.
Quite a bit of analysis was done, Chalder said.
“The commission went through these zoning questions in detail as to what worked and what didn’t.”
“I remember specifically, the commission questioned Glenn extensively,” Cosgrove said. “We did not do this blindly without any analysis of what other towns had done.”
Edmond said that when combining districts together it made sense in some instances to make the regulations more restrictive and at other times less restrictive.
“It was never an effort to change the character of a zone, just blending zones together,” he said. “We went through every use and some things got more restrictive, some less.”
Cosgrove said that the community had almost three years to be part of the process.
Sands added that though the majority of comments were negative, most of the people who raised issues with the regulation changes came from a specific part of Guilford near Route 1 West, a hotly contested area regarding the regulation changes.
“They feel this property is not meant for development,” he said. “They need to block this in order to protect their little corner of Guilford. We have listened to them and listened to them and listened to them and it’s the same voices and the same arguments. I think it is time to make some decisions here.”
He said constituents have been asking why there have been delays and that people are waiting to submit proposals until the new regulations are in place.
Chalder said there had been a delay in August due to a clerical error when the maps hadn’t been properly filed with the town clerk’s office per town statute, so a pause was implemented until everything was properly filed.
The new regulations go into effect at midnight, Oct. 7.