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P&Z Votes On Street Frontage Provision, Reviews Warehouse Moratorium



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Newtown Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) had public hearings for multiple applications during its two-hour meeting at the Newtown Municipal Center August 4. It included discussing a text amendment to modify street frontage, as well as reviewing a moratorium for warehouses that garnered much public participation.

P&Z members Dennis Bloom, Corrine Cox, Gregory Rich, and Kersti Ferguson, as well as alternate members Brian Leonardi and David Rosen were present. Land Use Agency Deputy Director of Planning Rob Sibley also attended.

The first item on the agenda was Application 22.16 by Newtown Industries, LLC, for a text amendment to §3.03.400 of the town’s zoning regulations, to modify the Street Frontage provision of the Incentive Housing Overlay Zone (IHOZ) -10 overlay zone district. Land Use Attorney Chris Smith, of Alter & Pearson, represented the applicant.

The public hearing was being continued after originally being brought forth to the commission during its July 7 meeting. During that previous meeting, Smith detailed that the proposed text amendment would provide 60 feet frontage instead of 100 feet frontage to allow the properties at 17 and 8 Old Bethel Road to qualify for IHOZ-10, according to the meeting minutes.

Civil Engineer Mark Lancor, of DyMar Inc, also represented the applicant last month. He noted that the water and sewer is already connected to the property, as there are intentions to develop 8 Old Bethel Road.

At the recent August 4 meeting, Smith recapped, “We are proposing that there be an exception that a lot may go to 60 feet frontage if a number of items are met. One is that it’s located within an R2 zone District, B.) it comprises of more than 20 acres, C.) has access to sewer and public water, and D.) has frontage of Route 6.”

If the text amendment were to be approved, the applicant would be interested in submitting a special exception for the 8 Old Bethel Road property.

“It would enable my client to take advantage of the density provisions of the IHOZ-10 zone district … My client would like to explore this type of development for the property,” Smith said.

Newtown resident Gary Tannenbaum was the first to speak during the public participation portion.

“I believe that this is spot zoning, and it is something we should avoid in Newtown … this is so specific to a property on Route 6 and it doesn’t stop people in the future from combining land and have a similar thing go on,” he said, adding if there is “something wrong with our zoning” then the zoning should be revised.

According to Cornell Law School’s Legal Information Institute, spot zoning is defined as “when a piece of property or groups of property have special zoning laws applied to them that differ from the zoning laws surrounding them. The practice of spot zoning can be very controversial and may be illegal.”

Newtown resident Dr Viviane Koppelman shared her concerns about truck traffic.

Mark Damico, of Newtown, voiced that entertaining this application “is not an arbitrary thing, it’s something that is very specific for one development and it’s only to benefit the potential developer.”

He added that he agrees that this potentially may be spot zoning, and does not believe it is “a responsible change.” Upon closing the public hearing, the P&Z took a motion to pass the application.

Commissioners Bloom and Rich were in favor, Leonardi and Cox were not in favor, and Ferguson and Rosen abstained, according to the meeting minutes.

As a result, the motion did not carry and therefore was denied.

Warehouse Moratorium

Over the last year, there has been an increase in public interest about warehouse development with at least one related application coming before applicable local boards.

During the August 4 meeting, the P&Z received Application 22.20 by Doreen Trimarchi, for a text amendment to §8.18.101 of the town’s zoning regulations for a moratorium or waiting period on the acceptance of applications for warehouses and distribution centers.

Trimarchi was present to represent the application, along with members of a group called Newtown Neighbors Alliance, LLC. They are seeking a pause on all new warehouse applications in order to have time to argue for changes and updates to Newtown zoning regulations.

“Over the past few years, the demands of the trucking industry and warehouses due to COVID have increased roadway congestion, as well as noise and diesel pollution,” Trimarchi said. “These warehouses pose a threat to the quality of life for Newtown residents and a negative impact to our town.”

She continued, “We believe our regulations need to be adjusted to protect the public health, safety, welfare, and property values. The rights of individuals and the environmental concerns need to be protected for a better overall neighborhood compatibility.”

They are specifically seeking a six-month moratorium in order to assess and revise the zoning regulations, as well as “respond to the growing opposition expressed by town neighbors.” Trimarchi mentioned that Newtown Neighbors Alliance, LLC would like to partner with P&Z to facilitate the changes.

Commission member Leonardi mentioned that he is an attorney by trade and that he agrees definitions should be added to ambiguous terms such as warehouse and distribution center. However, he is concerned that making a moratorium could “run afoul of due process.”

Leonardi went on to say that from his perspective he is in favor about having a conversation about the moratorium for the M-2A zone, but that the application is too broad as it is written. Rosen said Leonardi made a good point and agreed with his comments.

Commission Chairman Bloom said, “I think it is taking away the rights of a land use owner … to take away somebody’s right, [who] owns a piece of property, and tell him that he can’t build something that is a legal entity is just wrong.”

Rich “wholeheartedly” agrees with Leonardi that discussion should be entertained about defining warehouse/distribution centers. He added that he is not in favor of issuing a “blanket denial” and feels it is unfair to landowners.

Public Participation

Newtown resident Don Leonard did not speak to the application itself, but to the difficultly hearing speakers and seeing the screen in the Council Chambers.

“The acoustics in this room are pathetic and something really needs to be done because it’s not fair. We are all interested in what’s happening … this room does not serve the need,” he said. His comments were met with applause from the audience members.

Newtown resident Eleanor Zolov agreed with Leonard and noted that with so many people standing “this is not the proper room.” Bloom responded that the issues with the room should be brought to the attention of the town.

“If we can’t hear, how will we know what’s going on?” Zolov said.

Newtown resident Carrie Kugler spoke to the notion that this moratorium will be a “pause button” that would allow “time for thoughtful, thorough, and responsible research.” She added that she is for “responsible economic growth” but that everyone needs to be on the same page with what works.

Newtown resident Mike Driscolo emphasized that this moratorium would not impact projects already underway or take property owner’s rights, but it would make sure the development going forward will better serve Newtown.

Tannenbaum spoke in favor for the moratorium and said it will be “a good thing for developers.” Because it will give better classification for the intention of the town. If it is approved, he said, “We will be a very attractive community for future developers.”

Newtown resident Edward Bedder said that “ambiguity drives confusion,” and that it seems the commission can work with the moratorium to make it a good outcome. He thanked the P&Z for their work.

Newtown resident Brian Cooney brought up that “the real issue” is not the moratorium, it is the possibility of warehouses/distribution centers coming to town.

After there was some discrepancy, Sibley explained the process of a moratorium to the applicant, noting how the regulations she is hoping to work on is what she would be pausing the ability to change.

Trimarchi said she worked with members of Land Use Agency to craft this, so she is “a little disappointed” this route may not be the most efficient direction. She mentioned she would like to continue the discussion to the next meeting and come back with an amendment to it.

The public hearing continued with more than half a dozen members of the public continuing to voice their opinions on the matter.

P&Z decided to continue public hearing to its next meeting scheduled to take place on Thursday, August 18, at 7 pm, in the Newtown Municipal Council Chambers.

To learn more about the P&Z, visit newtown-ct.gov/planning-zoning-commission.

Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at alissa@thebee.com.

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