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PZC to vote on relaxing zoning rule on setbacks

STONINGTON — Properties located in the town’s 2-acre zone have more room to build than those in the 3-acre zone, says resident Paul Holland Jr. A former member of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Holland told his former commission that restrictions in the 3-acre zone are “truly draconian” and should be changed. The commissioners considered his proposal and plan to vote on it at an upcoming meeting.

Holland has applied to change the rules for side setbacks, the amount of open space owners must leave at the sides of their properties, in the residential zone known as GBR-130. Instead of 75 feet on each side of these lots, which must have 3 acres, he proposed that one side have a 75-foot setback and the other a 25-feet setback, for a total of 100 feet. The mandated 75 feet on each side, he told the commission, is “an overly strict setback requirement for the 3-acre zone.”

He compared it to the RR-80 zone, which requires a minimum of almost 2 acres. Those lots need only 25 feet of setbacks on each side.

“A 2-acre lot actually has a larger building envelope than a 3-acre lot,” Holland said at last week’s public hearing.

Holland compared Stonington to the town of East Lyme, which he said is Stonington’s biggest competitor when it comes to attracting new residents and businesses. In East Lyme, he said, a similar property would need only 30 feet for side setbacks.

“When I was on the commission, both residential and commercial applicants would very often compare Stonington to the town of East Lyme, and for very good reason.” he explained. “According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the data of the two towns are remarkably similar.”

Holland cited similarities in population, median home price, and per capita income.

“East Lyme is considered by many people to be Stonington’s greatest competition when a new resident to southeastern Connecticut wishes to live on the shoreline in a town with a very good school system,” Holland said. “For such residents who desire a large lot, the town of Stonington should not be deemed overly restrictive in our zoning if we wish to compete with the town of East Lyme for such residents.”

Holland then noted what he called “the elephant in the room,” which is his desire to built a carriage house on his property, zoned GBR-130. Located on 3.87 acres on Taugwonk Road, Holland has a house with a less-than-2,000-square-feet footprint and a two-car garage, but has no room to build a carriage house. Because of the 75-feet side setbacks, in addition to a large front setback and a 100-feet non-infringement area around wetlands, he has no place to build on his property, he said.

“It’s all about fairness,” Holland noted.

Holland stressed that his proposed change would only provide flexibility to homeowners; the town still has other tools to prevent the building of large mansions. Anticipating that commissioners might suggest that he merely apply for a variance for his own property rather than apply for a regulation change, Holland noted that other owners of GBR-130 lots may be in the same bind as he is.

To bolster his application, Holland had letters of support from three former Planning and Zoning Commission chairmen, Charles Sneddon, John Swenerton, and Rob Marseglia. His proposal has also received the approval of the Conservation Commission.

Marseglia was at the hearing to tell commissioners that the 75-feet setbacks may discourage lot owners from investing in their properties.

Commissioner Robert Mercer, an architect who said he has worked in Stonington for 30 years, noted that he has run into this issue before.

“I find this to be an equitable way of dealing with it,” he said.

Among the residents who spoke against the regulation change was Rick Newton who said the setbacks are needed to protect water quality and the environment. The lots zoned GBR-130 are located on fragile lands over the aquifer, he said. Rebutting him was Stanton Simm, chairman of the Conservation Commission, who said that side-yard setbacks generally wouldn’t affect runoff, which would in turn affect water quality.

Joyce Fingerut, who also lives on Taugwonk Road, said she was neither for nor against the regulation change but wanted the commission to protect abutting property owners.

“I think that neighbors should be brought into consideration,” she said.

Ed Hart, another Taugwonk Road resident, said that “25 feet is kind of close for people in such a large zone.”

Additional residents spoke for and against the proposal, and several sent in letters. Among the letter writers opposed to the plan was Gail Shea of River Road, who wrote, “This doesn’t make sense, not is it fair.”

Commissioners also discussed the possibility of requiring screening, such as stand of trees, as a buffer for neighbors, if a structure is built 25 feet from the property line.

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