Members of the Planning Board were “schooled” by former planner, Laura Gandia, during their Dec. 13 meeting on issues that might arise if the board moved forward on some proposed zoning amendments.
During a public hearing, a proposal was discussed to remove the Route 102 and 28 Performance Overlay Districts, which were enacted over 20 years.
Assistant Town Manager, Kellie Caron, during the previous meeting about the proposal, said that in 2019, planning staff brought a proposal to remove the performance overlay districts then, but it included eliminating an additional commercial overlay district, but said “it was never adopted.”
Caron explained that the overlay district imposes additional dimensional requirements, additional landscape buffer, along with other requirements, which limits what can be developed there.
Gandia, who worked for the town as an Associate Planner last year, was there in 2019, and also attended the public heraring, this time representing Tom Estey, a property owner in the Route 102 Performance Overlay District.
“We’re here in opposition to the removal of the performance overlay district,” Gandia said.
She said the issue is that by removing the overlay district, it would reduce the number of different use categories Estey could use on his property.
His property is in the AR-I district, but the overlay allows his property to have additional uses.
“There’s a lot of different uses that he can enjoy in each use category,” Gandia said.
She stated that if they take it away “he loses 15 use categories,” noting that other properties in the district would have similar issues.
“Now you’re taking property owners’ rights away,” Gandia said, noting that it could be seen as a possible “unconstitutional taking.”
Gandia said when she was working for the town in 2019, they had a public hearing, and there were a lot of people who were also concerned about having their uses being taken away, noting that at the time they were looking to take the overlays out and then combine them into a commercial performance zone.
She also noted there would be more hassle for property owners, noting that right now its an innovative land control district, if a property is in the district they can go to the Planning Board for a “one stop shop” in order to get waivers from the board, instead of having to go to the Zoning Board of Adjustment. She added that it is a way to promote economic development.
“You take that away, now that’s gone,” Gandia said.
Planning Board Chair, Art Rugg, said public hearings are important so the board can hear about different concerns like this case.
“We have public hearings to learn stuff so we need that input,” he said.
Planning Board member, Tony DeFrancesco, said he would go in front of boards for years, and in this case, he was learning things.
“The ironic thing is you all are schooling me and I thank you for coming forward,” he said, noting that there is always a workaround for everything and would like to see one with this issue.
Ex-officio, Giovanni Verani, asked if they could have the overlays as an optional situation, that property owners can choose to have in place or not.
“I’m a little hesitant on the optional piece,” Caron said, noting that they could look at it if the board desired.
The Planning Board voted to recommend that the Town Council doesn’t eliminate either of the performance overlay districts, but Rugg noted, the Town Council can do whatever they desire.