Litchfield News

Selectmen tackling proposed zoning amendment (03-22-13)

The proposed zoning amendment Litchfield's Planning and Zoning Commission is considering as added regulation of the use of large new and existing buildings for commercial purposes in non-residential areas was trashed at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen this week.

The proposed amendment would require applicants to seek special exception approval for buildings of 10,000 square feet or more or 12,000 square feet or more of gross floor area.
A public hearing on the proposed amendment will be held May 6 at 7 p.m. at the Town Hall Annex gym in Bantam. The amendment differs from current regulations granting building approval or expansion by administrative permit and/or site plan approval.  
Two Realtors attending the selectmen's meeting on Tuesday, Ted Murphy and Sue Doyle, said the proposed amendment is anti-business and would drive away developers looking to invest in Litchfield.
"We don't have a business friendly zoning board and never have," Doyle said. "This is not a well thought-out idea and is the product, I believe, of people with agendas."
Murphy called the proposal a sign that planning and zoning wants to control the business community as a commerce board. The proposal, he said, runs contrary to the town's Plan of Conservation and Development, which encourages commercial growth to offset the tax burden on residential property owners.
"They want total control of everything that comes into town," Murphy said of planning and zoning. "Back in the '80s we fought the same battle. This would only increase the tax burden on residents and sends a bad message to people interested in investing in Litchfield."
David Dean, chairman of the town's Economic Development Commission, said his commission has discussed the proposed amendment and is opposed to it.
A special exception application requires an additional $250 fee and an extra public hearing before planning and zoning. It also extends the time required to hold a public hearing to 65 days after the receipt of an application and requires a hearing to end 35 days after it opens. A decision of approval or denial must be made 65 days after the close of the public hearing, which is known as the 65/35/65 day rule. Extensions may also be requested and granted by planning and zoning and the applicant.
First Selectman Leo Paul Jr. said the proposal seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to Stop & Shop's plan to build a 37,000 square-foot building in the Village Green commercial center. Planning a zoning Chairman Susan Lowenthal, who attended the selectmen's meeting, called Paul's suggestion "erroneous" and said the proposed amendment represents a desire by the commission to have more of a say on applications for development.
"This has nothing to do with Stop & Shop," Lowenthal said. "We just want to be able to conduct a proper assessment. It would give us another tool of review."
An administrative permit, by comparison, can be granted in one day and site plan approval in 65 days after receipt of an application.   
A special exception application requires a more critical review by planning and zoning, as each application must be considered a special case and requires a public hearing and site plan submission showing information on location, traffic, parking, impact on property values, storm water, landscaping, power service, signage, landscaping, and hazardous materials. Planning and may also attach conditions to an approval. 
Planning and zoning commissioner Thomas Waterhouse said the proposed amendment lacks complete support from the commission, noting the 6-4 vote it was approved by. Waterhouse cast one of the dissenting votes.
"I feel our existing regulations are adequate," Waterhouse said. "I don't see a need for (the proposed amendment)."
Comments at the public hearing will be weighed heavily by planning and zoning, according to Lowenthal.
"We may want to tweak it," she said. "This is just the first step in the process. We're trying to do what we think the community wants."
Selectmen, meanwhile, will consider issuing a position on the proposal during their April 2 meeting.