So, About that Design Review Board…

Excerpt from design guidelines proposed by the Halls Road Improvements Committee in Old Lyme


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Ahead of Thursday night’s meeting of the Halls Road Improvements Committee in Old Lyme, and the next meeting of the Historic District Commission or design review board in your town — I know there are several active ones from Stonington to Southport — I’d encourage you to take a look at HB5473, “An Act Requiring the Majority Leaders’ Roundtable Group on Affordable Housing to Study the Elimination of Municipal Design Review Processes.”

Now, I’m not going to say whether it’s a good idea or a bad one, but it’s being debated in the state legislature’s Planning and Development Committee as part of a larger effort to streamline local approvals for the construction of housing and to reduce or eliminate any uncertainty for developers now subject to public hearings and the discretion of local boards and commissions.

In fact, we’ve always wondered about the feasibility, and legality, of design reviews involving affordable housing. As far we know the issue remains untested in court, though in Guilford recently a residential developer broached the idea and claimed exemption from local height restrictions.

Not surprisingly, Alexis Harrison, who has spearheaded opposition to attempts in Hartford to constrain local control of land-use decisions, has come out against the measure.

But what does this new progressive reform mean for a town like Old Lyme, which a few years ago grabbed hold of a previous progressive housing reform and proposed mixed-used housing along Halls Road under the auspices of a design review board?

I can’t say for sure, but just to be safe — or to keep up with the latest reforms — perhaps the town should consider whether it can achieve similar goals without the discretion of a design review.

Food for thought.