Shelton panel considers tightening zone-change rules

February 1, 2019

SHELTON — There won’t be a moratorium placed on developers seeking a Planned Development District zone change.

But the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission is considering limiting developers’ request for this zone change to downtown Shelton, the Route 8/Bridgeport Avenue corridor and sections of the River Road.

That’s one of the recommendations posed by Anthony Panico, the commission’s planning consultant.

“If we can agree upon needed changes...in a timely manner,” Panico told the commission, “they can be formally processed and adopted, thereby precluding any need for a moratorium.”

“This is a start,” said commission member Mark Widomski. “At least we are now having a conversation. I never expected a moratorium.”

In a letter handed out Tuesday to the commission, Widomski proposed a one-year moratorium on all Planned Development Districts except in downtown Shelton.

He charging that PDDs are used in too many sections of the city, “especially Huntington Center” and in places where the districts were “never intended.”

Widomski asked that better language and requirements needed to be written into the PDD rules, taking into account reports from the Water Pollution Control Authority, the city’s traffic authority and the city engineer.

Reviewing regulations

The Planning and Zoning Commission voted to review Panico’s suggestions and discuss them during a special Feb. 19 meeting. In the meantime, the panel will continue to consider proposals for Planned Development Districts.

“We can do two things at once,” said Jimmy Tickey, a commissioner. “We can move through the business of our economic development projects while we review the regulations and see what’s best for PDDs going forward.”

They are zone changes that can be requested for almost any area of a city. In Shelton, the applicant property must be at least 60,000 square feet, and there must be a public hearing on the proposal. After that, the commission discusses the matter at a later meeting and may recommend revisions or vote to approve.

Mayor Mark Lauretti, who attended the recent P&Z meeting, called the use of PDDs in Shelton “revolutionary — it’s what other communities haven’t done.”

He said the zoning options give the commission “a flexible tool” allowing them “to do things differently and keep pace with changing times and changing concepts”

“My standpoint is if the commissioners don’t like an application — vote against it,” Lauretti said. “I haven’t always agreed with what the Zoning Commission had done. But by and large I agree to a very strong percentage ... of what’s been accomplished.”

Lauretti did say he’s opposed to the large number of apartments and residential proposals that have been approved and are pending in the Bridgeport Avenue area.

“I’m concerned about going too far particularly with apartments, because I think Connecticut is going to become inundated...its going to saturate the market,” he said.

But Lauretti said he would favor apartments downtown and along the adjacent Housatonic River because “the water is magic. It attracts people and it holds its values.”

Contested decisions

Virginia Harger, the commission’s chairwoman, suggested considering the matter in “a timely manner” and “we not do something that causes some very drastic measures that would work against...what we have been able to achieve over the last couple of years and what we hope to continue to achieve in the future.”

Since 1979, the commission has approved 93 Planned Development Districts for both commercial and residential projects. Of those, 16 are mixed-use developments consisting of residential, retail and offices, while another 16 are corporate offices. Twelve approved PDDs were for 13 projects involving residential homes and 10 involved condominiums. The special zoning has been used 10 times for shopping centers, five times for hotels and four times for light industry.

Many of these projects were built on the Route 8/Bridgeport Avenue corridor. The first approved was the Richardson-Vicks commercial offices on Far Mill in June 1979, and the most recent was voted in on Jan. 25, 2019. That one is a mixed use development of retail, commercial and 27 apartments on 509 Howe Avenue.

One of the most controversial approved Planned Development District is the massive Towne Center at Shelter Ridge. The project includes a million square feet of apartments, offices, retail and restaurants planned for 121 acres of farmland and forests off Bridgeport Avenue.

Nearly 900 people filled the auditorium at the Shelton Intermediate School during the public hearings and voiced their opposition to the project, but it was approved.

The outcry helped form Save Our Shelton, a group of residents opposed to massive developments in residential areas. The group wielded its political power in the 2017 municipal election by backing Widomski in a successful effort to defeat Ruth Parkins, the longtime Planning and Zoning chair.

Since the Towne Center proposal, SOS member have attended every Planning and Zoning commission meeting in the last three years and usually address the commission at the public hearings.

Greg Tetro, one of their leaders, said the group will again support candidates in the November elections.

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