A proposal for a new zoning designation in North Stonington could prove to help not just one town but two. The plan is similar to an idea floated in neighboring Stonington several years ago when development was a regular item on the menu of local news and before the Great Recession gave birth to a new and stagnant economy.
The suggestion to create an economic development zone on Route 2 between the routes 2 and 184 rotary and the Stonington town line in Pawcatuck was presented to the North Stonington Planning and Zoning Commission last week by planning consultant Donald Poland, who is helping the panel rewrite its zoning regulations. The land includes the area around Exit 92 of I-95.
The idea dovetails nicely with the concept that Stonington leaders trumpeted years ago by which developers hoping to cash in on the attractions and ease of access offered by the “golden triangle” at Exit 90 in Mystic would be urged to consider taking their plans a few exits north and building on Route 2 off Exit 92.
With similar ease of access to both the north and southbound lanes of I-95 at Exit 92 and acres of open land on Route 2, there was great expectation among Stonington leaders back then. When the 10-screen movie theater opened on Route 2 just south of the interchange, many felt it was the start of major commercial development in that area. But nothing happened for years, until the relatively recent construction of the Stop & Shop, and once again there has been a lull.
Perhaps the two towns should work together to lure developers to that area in hopes of attracting jobs and increases in the tax base for both towns.
In making his recommendation for such a zone on Route 2, Poland noted that many in North Stonington would appreciate the potential tax relief that additional development could provide, as long as that development didn’t overshadow the town’s rural nature. But that area of Route 2 is far removed from the bucolic center of North Stonington and the old, tight-knit neighborhoods of Pawcatuck. And in further acknowledgment of that mindset he suggested that any such development in that area be required to be done on smaller parcels that would avoid the big-box, Any-Town, USA, look.
Poland’s vision is one that many have espoused for decades. It calls for mixed-use developments that include office, retail and residential uses in a clustered configuration that preserves large swaths of the natural landscape, hides much of the development from the roadway, avoids entrances and exits every 50 feet, and prohibits a hodgepodge of signs and massive expanses of tar. This concept is far from new. Who in their right mind would come to any town in this region and propose more of Granite Street in Westerly, Route 138 at Exit 3 in Richmond, and Route 1 in the center of Groton?
North Stonington should pursue Poland’s idea and then team up with Stonington to market to developers that stretch of Route 2 between the towns while money is still cheap. With the ability of towns to dictate building designs and square footage through zoning regulations there should be little worry that our small-town New England sensibilities will be offended to a degree that trumps the income — and the services — such projects can offer. The bigger worry should be rising tax rates that drive our seniors and young people away.