PZC gets first look at proposed new rules
By Jason Rowe
VERNON — The Planning and Zoning Commission will get its first look at a draft of changes to the mixed-use development zone at its Thursday meeting.
PZC members will see the proposed modifications in advance of a yet-to-be scheduled public workshop designed to present the changes to townspeople and receive feedback.
"If you have a public workshop prior to the public hearing, you can have that discussion and you can make your changes with the benefit of hearing public comment," Town Planner Thomas J. Joyce Jr. said last Thursday.
Development in mixed-use zones became a controversy last year when retail giant Wal-Mart proposed constructing a 186,000-square-foot store near Exit 67 off Interstate 84.
At the request of a resident, the PZC instituted a moratorium on development in the mixed-use zones, which was designed to allow officials to correct flaws in development guidelines and develop a clear definition for the zone.
That moratorium is set to expire at the beginning of July.
Last week, commissioners sat down with planning consultant Bruce Hoben of Avon-based Planimetrics LLC to go over a number of proposed changes to the zone that would affect lands around exits 66 and 67 as well as the Gerber Farms developments in the west end of town.
Among the proposed changes are modifications to the minimum lot size of developments and a requirement that equipment and storage areas at industrial businesses be screened from abutting properties.
The proposed regulations also would allow the PZC to require landscaped buffers at proposed industrial and commercial developments.
The proposed changes would also would create two new zones: one at exit 66 called the "Limited Access Interstate Zone" and one at exit 67 tentatively called the "I-84 Gateway Zone."
Commission members spent several hours last week discussing the changes and the types of development within the mixed-use zone.
Several PZC members thought that residential development should be allowed near exit 67.
But alternate member Watson C. Bellows Jr. said he had misgivings about allowing residential development on land that could be used to generate revenue for the town.
"I don't think that's good business," Bellows said. "It creates other issues you are going to have to deal with, like buffering."
PZC member Terri J. Goldich expressed concern that the mixed-use zones do not fit with the national definitions for that type of development.
Goldich said mixed-use zones require that each development offer a mix of elements.
"If we want to keep calling it mixed use, we need to look at national definitions and national standards," Goldich said. "We have to be as clear as we can and as close to national standards as we can."
Changes to the mixed-use zones were the subject of two public workshops on March 1 and March 21.
In addition to comments made at those meetings, several residents and landowners have written letters to the Planning Department offering their own critiques of the proposed changes.
Among those writing letters was Richard P. Hayes Jr., a principal with The Hayes Company in Manchester, which is part of a group that had been looking to construct a Home Depot on the site of the former New England SportsPlex near exit 67.
That property is within a commercial zone.
Hayes expressed concern that planners may look to include the sports complex property within the new zone.
A state Superior Court judge recently ruled in favor of Hayes's group in its appeal of an August 2003 rejection by the Inland Wetlands Commission.
Officials are in the process of formulating their response to that ruling.
"It was publicly announced in January that the sole reason for retaining Planimetrics was to revise/revamp the permitted uses in the PMUD zone," Hayes wrote in a March 28 letter to the PZC. "There was no mention to change or alter existing commercial zone."