Multifamily Redevelopment Proposal's Review Seen As Lengthy, Complex
A land development firm has submitted to the Borough Zoning Commission (BZC) a long-expected pair of redevelopment applications, which, if approved, would set the stage for the firm later submitting a site redevelopment proposal, describing in detail how it would use a centrally-located site, formerly used for The Inn at Newtown, for three new residential buildings comprising a multifamily housing complex with an as-yet unspecified number of dwellings.
Such a project, proposed for the 3.11-acre site at 19 Main Street, is expected to draw support and opposition from borough residents, whose perspectives vary on the wisdom of allowing multifamily housing on Main Street.
While some view the site as an obvious place for multifamily housing due to its centrality and access to public utilities, others see it as a high-density land use that would be in conflict with the residential character of Main Street, a section of State Route 25 that is eight-tenths of a mile long and comprised largely of older, traditional-looking single-family houses.
The BZC does not now have zoning regulations that cover multifamily housing, so the development firm is proposing a set of such land use rules that would regulate the type of multifamily complex that the firm wants to build.
The Borough of Newtown is a two-square-mile administrative district in the town center that levies annual property tax bills on its residents to cover certain municipal services. Besides taxation, the borough has its own set of zoning regulations, which were put in force long before the Town of Newtown enacted zoning in 1958.
BZC Chairman Douglas Nelson said he expects that the land use review process for the multifamily proposal will be complex, when considering that the 19 Main Street site is within the Borough of Newtown Historic District and also is covered by the BZC’s Village District (VD) zoning designation.
VD zoning is intended to promote aesthetics in development and redevelopment projects that complement the traditional appearance of nearby buildings. The Borough Historic District Commission regulates proposed changes in the appearance of architecture that are visible from the street through the issuance of “certificates of appropriateness” to applicants.
Mr Nelson said that after the BZC formally receives for review on September 11 developer 19 Main Street LLC’s applications for a new set of zoning regulations and also for a change of zone for the site, the BZC will refer those applications to the town Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) for its review and recommendations. Because the borough has no planning commission, the BZC refers such applications to the P&Z, which has a municipal planning function among its duties.
Mr Nelson said that no substantive public discussion of the two applications will be allowed at the BZC’s September 11 session. The land use “review process” may be mentioned, but not the substance of the two BZC applications, he said.
The BZC is expected to have in hand the P&Z’s recommendations on the two applications for 19 Main Street when the BZC holds a public hearing on the applications sometime in October. In reviewing the two applications, BZC members could approve them, reject them, or suggest modifications to them.
Also, if the project gets to the point where a site development proposal is submitted, it may be subject to review by the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC), whose jurisdiction covers both the town and the borough. The rear half of the 3.11-acre site has steep slopes and extensive wetlands. In its environmental review role, the IWC issues wetlands/watercourses protection permits.
To enforce the borough’s zoning regulations, Rob Sibley, the town’s deputy planning director, recently was named the borough’s zoning enforcement officer (ZEO). Mr Sibley filled a vacancy in that post created when Selectman Maureen Crick Owen resigned as borough ZEO in early 2018.
A BROD Zone
One of the BZC applications submitted by 19 Main Street LLC seeks to create zoning regulations known as the Borough Residential Overlay District (BROD) zone, and the other application seeks a change of zone for the property from its current R-1 (Residential) to a BROD zone.
The property is currently owned by DWR Company III LLC.
Attorney Peter Olson of Bethel represents the developer. The application does not specify how many dwellings would be built and whether they would be rental apartments or condominiums. The units apparently would be market-rate dwellings, and not “age-restricted” or “affordable housing” units.
The existing buildings at 19 Main Street that were formerly occupied by the inn are now vacant and are deteriorating.
The 1820 inn closed for business in January 2016. The centrally located site has long been mentioned as the potential location for high-density multifamily housing, provided that the vacant deteriorating buildings there are demolished to make way for new construction. Improving the existing, decaying structures there to the point where they would meet applicable building codes is considered prohibitively expensive.
Mr Nelson noted that the developer will need to clarify some sections of the proposed BROD zoning regulations whose meaning is unclear.
Among the many provisions of the proposed BROD rules: the regulations are intended for redevelopment projects; the site must be in a Residential zone; at least 275 linear feet of frontage on a state road is required; the site must be at least 3.0 acres, but no larger than 5.0 acres; the lot size for a project, for the purpose of the zoning regulations, must be the lot size of the property proposed for redevelopment on the date which the BROD regulations take effect; at least one-quarter of a site must be “usable land” and not wetlands, watercourses, or steep slopes; the property must have public water service and public sewer service; and on the date which the BROD rules take effect, the property must hold existing buildings that contained the former principal land uses at that site.
The BROD rules allow the construction of multifamily dwellings, including apartments and townhouses. The proposed rules include a reference table to be used in calculating the construction density of the site, based on several factors.
Some other features of the proposed rules are: each dwelling must be at least 800 square feet in gross floor area, dwellings have a maximum of three bedrooms, and 1.75 vehicle parking spaces per dwelling unit would be provided on the site, among other requirements.