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12:30 p.m. - 4 p.m. Charlestown

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5 p.m. - 6 p.m. Westerly

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Stonington loosens setback rules for rural lots

STONINGTON — The Planning and Zoning Commission voted Tuesday to give more flexibility to homeowners in the town’s greenbelt residential zone. By a 4 to 1 vote, the commission approved an application to change the side setbacks, the land on the sides of those lots that must be left undeveloped, from 75 feet on each side to 30 feet on one side and 70 on the other.

Taugwonk Road resident Paul Holland Jr., who lives in the greenbelt residential zone, had applied for the amendment to the zoning regulations. Because of the 75-yard side setbacks and other restrictions in the rural GBR-130 zone, he said at a public hearing earlier this month, he could not build a carriage house on his nearly 4-acre property. By changing the setbacks — he originally asked for 25 feet on one side and 75 on the other — he would have the flexibility to construct that additional building, he said.

Holland, who formerly served on the commission, said he was asking to change the regulation, and not just apply for a variance for himself, because the issue affected other homeowners in the greenbelt residential zone. He noted that some lots, which were created prior to the zone, have less than the required three acres, making the setbacks even more onerous.

Commissioner Frances Hoffman was the lone vote against the regulation change.

“I’m not in favor of this,” she said. “I believe that the impacts on neighbors, current and future, are significant.”

She compared the change to spot zoning, which is the practice of changing a zone for the benefit of just one property. “I think we are very dangerously close to spot zoning here,” she said.

Commissioner Robert Mercer disagreed, saying the change affected every property in the zone townwide.

Hoffman also suggested that anyone who need different setbacks can apply to the Zoning Board of Appeals for a variance.

To help those homeowners who own less than three acres and struggle to comply with the setback rules, Hoffman suggested that the board waive the application fees for their variance applications. However, Commissioner John Prue said the board didn’t have the power to change fees.

“I don’t know that we can do anything other than make a recommendation,” he said.

When they approved the regulation change, the commissioners also required screening, such as a row of trees, whenever a structure is less than 50 feet from the property line. The screening must extend 25 feet past the structure on each side.

Commissioners Prue, Mercer, Curtis Lynch and alternate A. Gardner Young voted to approve the change. It becomes effective on April 7.

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