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New zone proposed to boost economy

NORTH STONINGTON — The Planning and Zoning Commission is considering creation of a new zone, called an economic development zone, to spur economic growth in town while retaining its rural character. The new zone would be in an area south of the Route 2 and 184 rotary to the town line.

The idea was proposed by planning consultant Donald Poland, who is helping the commission rewrite and restructure the town’s zoning regulations.

He said he understands residents’ fears about commercial development, and that changing the area that lies between the rotary and the Pawcatuck border would change the look of the town’s gateway. Although there is a lot of land to be developed there, he said, it’s a small percentage of the town’s total area.

His sense, he said, is not that residents don’t want businesses; they’re just concerned about how it would look. The kind of development along Liberty Street in Pawcatuck, or Route 1 in Groton, would not be welcome in North Stonington, he noted. “It’s the aesthetics of development that concern you,” Poland said at a commission meeting last week.

Poland gave the commission a sample regulation for an economic development zone. It would contain mixed-use buildings, combining office space, retail, hotel, and residential uses. The only single-use development would be “picturesque office parks.” Instead of a large parking lot out front, parking would be in the back, and each lot would have internal streets with sidewalks. To prevent big-box stores, each lot would be required to have at least three buildings.

Those regulations would allow the town to increase its tax base without allowing strip development, he said, and would present a New England village-style atmosphere.

Allowing a certain percentage of residential units in the zone would help the town alleviate its lack of affordable housing, Poland suggested. Adding apartments or condominium units with one or two bedrooms would add a needed class of housing, provide customers for the commercial parts of the development, and create more stability for the developer.

“You don’t have a ton of diversity in your housing stock,” he said, noting the preponderance of single-family homes.

If the town chooses to create the zone, Poland suggested the commission could create a brochure for developers once the regulations are accepted, and shop it around.

“Just get it out to different people,” he said. “If they feel like they can make it work, they’ll do it.”

Poland also noted that the town has a large amount of undeveloped industrial land near the Exit 93 interchange, which he said will not likely be developed in his lifetime. The lack of development in the industrial zone isn’t caused by anything the town did or didn’t do, he said, but rather, the “overall weakness of industry in Connecticut.”

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