GROTON — The town’s Office of Planning and Development Services expects to unveil Aug. 3, 2011, proposals for revising zoning regulations on special permits and site plans, Planning Manager Matthew J. Davis told the July 6 meeting of the Zoning Commission.
In another disclosure, Planning Director Michael J. Murphy told the commission that work on the town’s 10-year Plan of Conservation and Development will start “going into next year.”
Special permits are required for a wide range of projects that are somewhat exceptional for a zone, often a residential zone. Some examples include active senior housing, residential life care communities, day care facilities, expansion of grandfathered activities in the Water Resource Protection District, and the reuse of historic or institutional facilities. Other examples abound in the Zoning Regulations found on the town website. The regulations are searchable by key words, phrases and numbers. The address:
Site plans show physical elements of planned sizeable developments, including “buildings and uses, parking, loading and circulation, open space and landscaping, signs and lighting, utilities and other existing and proposed features,” to use the words of Zoning Regulations Section 8.4, which covers site plans. Site plan approval is the province of the Planning Commission, administering the criteria set out in the Zoning Regulations.
The three main criteria that the Zoning Commission uses in judging applications for special permits are laid out in Section 8.3-8, entitled Special Permit Objectives. They are: harmony with the orderly development of the zoning district, traffic circulation and impact on the environment.
The town’s 2002 Plan of Conservation and Development asserted a need to update 8.3-8. It said: “…these criteria provide little guidance as to which locations might be acceptable. Some of the most unfortunate zoning issues occur because an applicant has invested a lot of time and money in a proposal to develop a site that is not compatible with what the neighbors and/or the Zoning Commission believe is appropriate.”
The POCD recommended both creation of “locational criteria” and additional Special Permit Objectives. Mr. Murphy passed out to commission members copies of Page 87 of the POCD, which lists potential criteria. He said that concrete proposals for a regulation update will be presented at the next meeting. A public hearing would follow at a later date.
Commissioner Mariellen French said she was particularly concerned that the regulations recognize state zoning regulation 8-2 (b). This regulation says:
(b) In any municipality that is contiguous to Long Island Sound the regulations adopted under this section shall be made with reasonable consideration for restoration and protection of the ecosystem and habitat of Long Island Sound and shall be designed to reduce hypoxia, pathogens, toxic contaminants and floatable debris in Long Island Sound. Such regulations shall provide that the commission consider the environmental impact on Long Island Sound of any proposal for development.
Ms. French reiterated what she had said in the runup to adoption early this year of new regulations for control of stormwater, erosion and sedimentation: the 8-2 (b) regulation is (a) important (b) mandated and not just suggested (c) applicable to the entirety of coastal communities and not just immediate coastal zones.
Her views, which had run significantly counter to those of the OPDS, subsequently have been confirmed by the state.
Regarding site plans, Mr. Murphy said the governing 8.4 section of the town’s Zoning Regulations needs to be updated to take account of changes that have occurred since the 1980s when the section last was altered.
Commenting on the new POCD, Mr. Murphy said he had been able to set aside money for a consultant to help shape the document. The POCD will include mapping of archeological resources, a focus on coastal matters and consideration of climate issues, he said.
Mr. Murphy said the POCD process normally takes one to three years. The town’s first POCD was adopted in 1961. State law requires that town planning commissions review their POCDs at least once every decade. The POCDs are only advisory, but they play a major role in discussions of land use.