NORTH STONINGTON — After more than a year of holding focus groups and neighborhood meetings, reading surveys, and listening to residents through all sorts of channels, North Stonington Town Planner Juliette Leeming has presented her proposed 2013 Plan of Conservation and Development to the town. The Planning and Zoning Commission’s public hearing on the plan will continue Thursday, and it may be voted on as early as Dec. 5. If discussion continues past Dec. 5, the commission will vote on the plan at its Dec. 12 meeting.
The plan is linked to planning, Leeming explained, and once the plan is adopted the next step will be to adopt the zoning regulations to make it a reality.
Leeming created goals in four categories, based on enhancing community, economic development, preserving the town’s rural character and environment, and increasing housing choices and affordability. The ideas were illustrated with renderings of what different areas of the town could look like with the right planning. About 50 people listened to a two-hour presentation at Wheeler Library Thursday night.
“This is just one person’s ideas,” she said. “But you can take it from there. We can develop something together.”
Presenting statistics on the town’s demographics, Leeming noted that the average family size is 2.58 people. The town may need smaller homes in the future, she said, as well as less expensive choices for young adults and seniors. North Stonington has about 0.88 percent affordable housing stock, she noted, which is far less than the 10 percent the state requires to keep out unwanted developments. The town is “over-invested” in single-family homes, she said, and needs not just more affordable housing but more options. Expanded housing options are necessary for economic development, she noted.
There are more than 35,000 acres of land within the town’s borders, she said. The primary use is residential on 39 percent of those acres, and agricultural on 26 percent. In the town’s commercial and industrial zones, there is room to build 19 million square feet of buildings. That’s a positive, she said, because some towns are running out of commercial and industrial space to develop.
Leeming suggested the town consider adding other permitted uses, such as senior housing, conservation subdivisions, mixed-use buildings with residential units on top of commercial units, commercial greenhouses, housing for farm workers, and small-scale, multi-unit housing.
She presented a picture of the nondescript intersection of routes 184 and 49, which contains a spring where people like to fill water jugs, and the former Gary’s Restaurant. The rendering contained a landscaped area with the spring, with a permeable parking area across Route 184 and a crosswalk between them. On the western side of the intersection, there would be a pocket park on the north and an improved restaurant to the south, with new landscaping and an outdoor eating area.
“Good design creates value,” she said.
In the area outside the village along Route 2, she suggested a mini-village encompassing the land around Green Onion Pizza and Goodies. Oriented around a central parking area instead of facing Route 2, the storefronts would blend with the village behind it.
She presented two different possible designs for town-owned land on Wintechog Hill Road near the transfer station. They included neighborhoods of affordable housing, a farmers market, community garden, and an arts center.
The Shunock River could be treated like an amenity, she said. She cited several towns that use a water feature for economic development, including the restaurants around the Pawcatuck River in downtown Westerly-Pawcatuck.
Leeming noted there are grants available to fund some of these changes.
After Leeming’s presentation, William Ricker, chairman of the town’s Conservation Commission, presented the Plan for Conservation and Recreation Lands.
Ricker said the town should encourage small farms, and suggested forming a town agriculture commission. The plan includes protecting the village and permanently protecting the quality and quantity of the town’s water sources.
Suggestions for expanding areas for active and passive recreation are in the plan, as well as the desire to protect water quality and a wildlife corridor by obtaining land around the Green Fall River in the east and the Shunock River in the west.
During the public hearing, resident and former Selectman Mac Turner commented on the assertion that the town must improve its infrastructure to attract businesses. The town is considering contracting with the town of Stonington to tap into its sewer system and have sewers available in the area near the rotary in North Stonington.
Turner said he’s lived in the town since 1982, and although residents have said they did not want sewers in the past, the town keeps asking.
“When the town gets an answer it doesn’t like, it asks the question again,” he said.
Van Brown, owner of Firefly Farms, asked about the town’s 9 percent dedicated open space. He asked if the town’s wetlands, flood plains, and steep slopes shouldn’t be considered open space as well. Leeming said those areas are “perceived open space,” and their status could change if regulations change.
Selectman Shawn Murphy and resident Sue Ames suggested holding on to the Wintechog Hill Property for the future possibility that the schools may need to be moved away from Route 2. It’s the only town-owned property large enough that can be built on, Murphy said.
Resident Mark Grigg said the town deserves credit for its spirit, and its availability of activities and recreation.
Mary Ann Ricker, co-chairwoman of the Affordable Housing Committee, told everyone that careful planning could be for naught if the town doesn’t reach its 10 percent affordable-housing goal. With less than 10 percent affordable housing, a developer could force a large housing development on the town that doesn’t match the town’s character or wishes.
Copies of the plan are available online at northstoningtonct.gov and at Town Hall.