Village zone proposed to encourage development in downtown Pawcatuck

Village zone proposed to encourage development in downtown Pawcatuck

Record-Journal
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STONINGTON — The town is considering rezoning areas of downtown Pawcatuck with an eye toward creating a thriving village center reflective of Westerly’s downtown revitalization.

Pawcatuck’s DB-5 and LS-5 districts would become one new district, PV-5, and would include some properties on Jameson Court, Mechanic Street, Blanchard Lane, Palmer, West Broad, and Liberty Streets, Noyes Avenue, Cogswell and Chase Streets, Lincoln Avenue, Stanton and Prospect Streets, and Lester Avenue.

Keith Brynes, town planner, said the new zone would encourage redevelopment and business investment without changing zoning boundaries. He explained the proposal at a public hearing of the Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday. “It’s a pretty ambitious change and does not move current zoning boundaries,” he said. “No areas that are residential would become commercial.”

LS-5 refers to local shopping, and DB-5 is “development area.”

Among the advantages of the Pawcatuck Village or PV-5 district would be increased opportunity for mixed use development, preservation of historic buildings, and new construction that would be sensitive to the village’s character, he said.

The new zone would also allow attached housing, a use that was removed from DB-5 and LS-5 in 2006.

“It expands the allowed uses and streamlines the permitting process with more staff-level review of more simple changes of use, but new commercial construction would always need to go back to the commission for approval,” Brynes said. “It provides more flexibility for parking requirements; sometimes that gets in the way of trying to fill these vacant or underutilized buildings.”

The new district would also allow for buildings with larger footprints, increasing the minimum floor area ratio from .6 to 1.5.

“You can basically build more on a lot,” he said. “We hope that would have the effect of allowing more redevelopment in this area.”

Parking lots would be required to be in the back of buildings, which would create a look that “fits into downtown Pawcatuck and doesn’t like it belongs out near the highway in the suburbs,” Brynes said.

A 10-foot buffer will be required between new commercial buildings and a residential zone.

“All commercial buildings will have to have a principal facade entry facing the street. The idea is not to have blank walls along the street in the village area where you’re trying to have more of a pedestrian orientation, a place where people would want to walk around, and it isn’t just made for cars,” he said.

The maximum height of buildings would be 50 feet but could go to 70 feet by special use permit.

“DB-5 zone now has no height limit, it just says ‘by review,’” the planner said. “So any number put on there is lower than what is there now.”

The zone change would not affect the Mechanic Street mills because those were rezoned to the HM, Heritage Mill, district earlier this year. Neither would it touch the Prospect Street Condominiums on Mechanic Street because they are zoned NDD, Neighborhood Development District.

At a public meeting at the Pawcatuck Fire Station on March 27, most of the attendees said they preferred that the new zone be extended to replace all of the current DB-5 and LS-5 commercial zone areas, Brynes said.

Both downtown Pawcatuck and Mystic are zoned DB-5 but have significant differences, such as the amount of available parking, Brynes said.

“This gives downtown Pawcatuck its own zoning,” Brynes said. “Downtown Pawcatuck can have the rules that it wants and Mystic can have rules that it wants.”

David Hammond, chairman of the Economic Development Commission, said he supported the new zone. He said his group’s analysis showed that the net income to the town would be $250,000 to $500,000 if 25 to 50 percent of the district’s properties were built out. “Initial investments would become catalyst to more change, more investment,” he said.

Lisa Konicki, president of the Ocean Communitiy Chamber of Commerce, said that separating Mystic and Pawcatuck as zoning districts was long overdue. “It’s a quantum leap in the right direction,” she said.

Gail Shea, of Pawcatuck, an opponent of the new zone, told the commission she was concerned that the proposal would allow the town staff to make important decisions without oversight by the PZC.

But Daniel Rathbun, who chairs the commission, said the staff was trained professionally and commission members were not.

Shea replied: “But you have power, they work for you, not you for them,. I don’t think it’s good zoning to turn your power over to staff.”

Shea also said she saw a pattern emerging with the Heritage Mill district, which also allows for some staff decisions on zoning.

Village heritage

Carlene Donnarummo, of Pawcatuck, another opponent, urged the commission to preserve the character of Pawcatuck.

“Redevelopment to me correlates to destruction and demolition; my fear is that these regulations would encourage demolition rather than redevelopment,” she said. “It is incumbent on our town, our community and especially this commission to preserve and protect our cultural heritage.”

The public hearing was continued to a future date, to be specified.

chewitt@thewesterlysun.com


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