GROTON — The Zoning Commission has voted to consider requests for a moratorium on Active Senior Housing at its Feb. 7, 2007, meeting.

The unanimous vote took place at the commission’s Jan. 3, 2007, session. Michael J. Murphy, director of the Office of Planning and Development Services, said he would seek advice from the town attorney on legal aspects of a possible moratorium.

The meeting also heard a presentation on mixed-use zoning from Attorneys Timothy Bates and Robert Sitkowski, of the firm of Robinson & Cole, who said they represent clients looking at several mixed-use developments in Groton. They did not name the specific areas of Groton that are being eyed for such development, but provided the panel with a discussion of such concepts such as New Urbanism, Sense of Place and Smart Growth.

John Sutherland, a resident of Mumford Cove, presented to the commission petitions signed by about 110 citizens calling for a temporary halt to Active Senior Housing pending a town-wide buildout analysis, adoption of a satisfactory buildable area definition, evidence of how ASH aligns with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, and an analysis of the net tax benefits of ASH.

In addition to presenting the petitions, Mr. Sutherland repeated to the commission a talk given by his wife, Sue Sutherland, to the Town Council Nov. 8, 2006, questioning the tax benefits of Active Senior Housing. He presented the talk on behalf of Ms. Sutherland, who is active in the Friends of Fort Hill but was not able to attend the meeting.

The Groton Open Space Association seconded the recommendation for a moratorium. Both GOSA and the Friends of Fort Hill had urged a temporary halt to ASH at the Nov. 8, 2006, Town Council meeting.

As background, the town passed a zoning amendment by a split vote Feb. 2, 2005, permitting the construction of ASH, a type of cluster housing designed primarily for people 55 years old and older. GOSA argued at the time that the amendment could lead to unacceptably high densities unless the town adopted a definition of buildable land and excluded unbuildable land from the calculation of the numbers of units permitted on a given tract of land.

The issue surfaced dramatically last year, when a developer filed an application with the Inland Wetlands Agency to build 241 units of Active Senior Housing on 60 acres of a steeply sloped 105-acre tract on Fort Hill that is crossed by Fort Hill Brook. The brook is connected to Fishers Island Sound via Mumford Cove.

Residents of Fort Hill and Mumford Cove vigorously opposed the project, along with GOSA. Opponents argued that it was an over-intense use of the land, a potential flooding hazard and a likely source of pollution of the sound.

The would-be developer, Hawthorne Development Partners LLC, of Woburn, Massachusetts, first reduced its plan to 219 units and then withdrew its application. Hawthorne has said it will be back with a new plan. Under ASH regulations, as applied to Fort Hill Zoning (RU20), the developer apparently could have applied for as many as 305 units.

In promoting the ASH amendment, the Office of Planning and Development had argued that ASH would encourage compact development, conserving open space, and would not increase density.

GOSA has maintained that in the absence of a buildable land definition that excludes unbuildable land from calculations of permitted density, ASH does have the practical effect of increasing density. It urged at the Jan. 3 meeting that ASH be halted until such a definition, with a link to density, is adopted.

The 2002 Town of Groton Plan of Conservation and Development suggested that the town adopt a definition of buildable land but none has been forthcoming despite OPDS statements dating back to early 2005 that it intends to develop one.

During the earlier presentation on mixed-use zoning, Atty. Bates said two of the three projects being eyed are of the “infill” type–affecting already developed areas–while the third would be a “green fields” initiative. Mr. Bates said that current zoning tends to promote suburban sprawl and strip commercial development because it is easiest for developers to get approval for this type of building.

He said, “We are trying to get smart growth and mixed [commercial and residential] use into the Groton Zoning regulations.” Mr. Sitkowski said the goals of the New Urbanism are to create a sense of place through distinctive architecture, a mix of housing types and uses, provision for open space and walkability. To illustrate sense of place, he said, “There’s some ‘there’ there. Think of places you would want to go on vacation.” He cited Noank as one kind of locale that “is a place.”

Mr. Bates said he expected to propose detailed master plans for the several developments for approval by the Zoning Commission. He said this would be a “legislative matter” in which the commission would be free to endorse or reject the plan. Assuming Zoning Commission approval, specific site plans would go to the Planning Commission.

Mr. Murphy said he was favorably inclined toward the concept, though he would limit it to specific nodes in the town. Matt Davis, recently appointed director of planning, said of the New Urbanism, “We have been moving in the same direction for 60 years, and we’re beginning to realize it’s not working.” He said that while it is difficult to change direction, “developers are beginning to come around, too.”