Old Lyme Zoning Handily Passes Storage Moratorium

Old Lyme Town Hall


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OLD LYME — After months of discussion, the town’s Zoning Commission approved a six-month moratorium on storage units Monday night, explaining the decision as an opportunity to allow time to rewrite the regulations without interfering with any pending applications.

The commission had discussed a moratorium in September and again in January when it rejected plans for three 28-foot-tall storage buildings on a 3.77-acre parcel at 250 Shore Road — the second denial by the commission of the project. The 2023 and 2024 denials are pending appeals in New London Superior Court. 

Monday’s vote required a supermajority vote of at least four out of five votes given a negative referral in February by the town’s Planning Commission based on what members of Planning called a conflict with the town’s new Plan of Conservation and Development.

Eric Knapp, land use coordinator for the town, who attended the Planning Commission meeting, said that the bottom line “seemed to be that the moratorium was an impediment to development and therefore they did not like the thought that people would lose, even temporarily, the right to do something on their property that the regulations allow them to do.”

But Tammy Tinnerello, a zoning commissioner, said the moratorium would give the commission a chance “to catch our breath.”

“We now have two lawsuits and there could be more lawsuits,” she said. 

Alternate Denise Savageau, who was seated for the hearing, said the moratorium would give the commission a chance to change the regulations so that applicants have a clear direction when submitting for a special permit or special use. 

“I don’t think it hurts people who want to develop. Our intent is to clarify the regulation… I think it gives much better direction about what’s acceptable to us and I think that’s the idea of the moratorium – to get regulations that serve the public, protect the public good… I think it’s a good move to do a moratorium if you know regs aren’t working the way you want them to work,” she said. 

Alternate Michael Barnes, who also was seated for the hearing, said he was concerned that a moratorium is “kicking the can down the road,” he said, when the town’s zoning regulations needed a complete overhaul. 

“The zoning regs need updating in their entirety. I don’t think targeting the moratorium toward the storage uses is good utilization of our time where I’d rather see our time spent to make a bigger kick into the zoning regulations and not just be hyperfocused on the storage units,” he said. “Right now we don’t offer many viable options for those properties to be economically developed so that’s why people are choosing the storage unit option because there are really not other good options available that make sense… I think that just us taking one viable option out of the whole equation is just leaving property owners with absolutely no opportunities.”

Mary Jo Nosal, a zoning commissioner, said she agreed with Savageau, and disagreed with Barnes. 

“We’re not trying to take it out of the regulation… Do we want what has come to us in the past? If not, then we need to make that clear in our regulation,” Nosal said. 

Marsh pointed out that the commission had been accused of bias because the idea of a moratorium had been discussed while applications for storage units were being considered. She said it was important to move ahead while no storage unit applications were underway. 

Knapp explained that he had requested $75,000 in next year’s budget to pay for updating the town’s zoning regulations, and that the rewrite could begin as soon as July 1 and wrap up by the end of 2025. 

During public comment, Cheryl Poirier, chair of the Economic Development Commission, said her commission unanimously supported a moratorium “that allows thoughtful and thorough analysis of potential economic development opportunities throughout the Town of Old Lyme,” she said.

Upon closing the public hearing, the commission voted 4-1 in favor of the moratorium, with the sole no vote cast by Barnes. 

Knapp said that new applications for storage units would be exempt from the moratorium if submitted before the moratorium’s inception on April 1.