STONINGTON — Members of the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission appear poised to vote on the first phase of a comprehensive rewrite of the town’s zoning regulations in September following a pair of public information sessions, the second which took place last week.
The commission will hold a public hearing on the proposed amendments during its meeting on Sept. 19, which will be held at 7 p.m. at the Stonington Board of Education District Office, 40 Field St. in Pawcatuck.
During a presentation Thursday evening that drew almost 30 participants, officials said the focus of the phase 1 amendments were to provide a “cleaned up” set of regulations that better organizes documents and complies with Connecticut statutes.
“The commission has been diligently working on these updates with the goal of improving the town’s zoning framework, addressing current challenges and accommodating the evolving needs of the community,” Stonington Town Planner Clifton Iler said. “(Phase 1) is aimed at correcting inconsistencies in the regulations, complying with recent statutory changes and improving the usability of the regulations by reformatting the document.”
Town officials said that Phase 2 of the update, which will begin this fall, will then explore potential changes to allowed uses, permit requirements, sign and parking regulations and specific zoning district regulations. Public workshops will be conducted in support of that phase of the work.
Francis Gomes, a senior project manager with FHI Studio, the company hired to provide consultation, said during each of the two presentations that the vast majority of the first phase involved more line-by-line review of the regulations, including some which were initially adopted in 1961. There were some adjustments made, however, as professionals sought to gain consistency between zoning regulations and the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development, coastal resilience plan, affordable housing plan and other regional plans.
Among the new proposed rules resulting from these amendments, the rewrite calls for limitations on recreational vehicle and boat storage, as well as allowing owners of non-conforming, damaged buildings impacted by storms or flooding to rebuild “as is” without a special permit. Application filing time would also double, from 45 to 90 days.
“If the owner doesn’t fill out the application in 90 days, he can still do the rebuild, he just has to go before the commission for a permit,” Gomes said.
Residents questioned whether the town would consider waiving zoning permit fees in the event of a disaster reconstruction as well, which drew comments from Gomes and PZC officials that such concerns and concepts would be more directly addressed in Phase 2.
There were also concerns expressed Thursday regarding the proposed elimination of boarding and tourist homes in the zoning update, which several residents said served an important regulatory function with a lack of other oversight in the community. The proposed regulations also address other issues, including open space, accessory dwelling units, parking lots and requirements for electric vehicle charging stations and loading docks.
“Phase 2 will be about thoughtful discussion with the public and will give us a chance to more directly address certain issues,” PZC Commissioner Charles Sheehan said.
With far more public interest expected during Phase 2 — officials admit there is likely to be contentious conversation at times — Gomes said he expected to schedule at least five public workshops, with some focusing on different, more specific zoning topics.
Gomes said adopting Phase 1 will allow the zoning regulations to be modified more efficiently in the future and it will be essential to complete Phase 1 first.
“These regulations are organized and designed to allow us to get in there and make changes without disrupting everything,” he said. “We can add districts or consolidate districts; we can move districts; add and remove … and we will have a document that we know where we can make those changes.”