Changes considered to Buckland Road Gateway Development Zone regulations

By Martha Marteney - Staff Writer
South Windsor - posted Thu., Jul. 7, 2011
South Windsor resident and land use attorney Chris Smith addresses the Planning and Zoning Commission on June 28 regarding the proposed revisions to the Buckland Road Gateway Development Zone regulations. Photos by Martha Marteney.
South Windsor resident and land use attorney Chris Smith addresses the Planning and Zoning Commission on June 28 regarding the proposed revisions to the Buckland Road Gateway Development Zone regulations. Photos by Martha Marteney.

On June 28, the South Windsor Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing to consider changes to the town's zoning regulations dealing with the Buckland Road Gateway Development Zone. According to Craig Stevenson, economic consultant for the town, the ad hoc committee - which includes members from planning, the Economic Development Commission and volunteers from the business community - has been meeting since February to prepare the recommended changes.

On June 27, Town Planner Michelle Lipe explained that the EDC became aware of concerns with the existing regulations from the perspective of securing financing for construction projects. In particular, in the current economic climate, lending institutions are not offering financing for projects with commercial units on the first floor and residential units located above.

Article 4 of the regulations deals with commercial zones in general, with section 4.2 dedicated to the Buckland Road Gateway Development Zone. As currently written, the objective is to create a “village-styled mixed use environment with residential use fully integrated buildings that also contain commercial uses.” The first general standard requires that multi-family residential units are permitted only with commercial units on the first floor. Section 4.2.15.b. further states that with only limited exceptions, residential units will not be permitted on the ground floor. Most of the recommended changes deal with rewriting this specific mixed-use requirement.

At the public hearing, P&Z Vice Chair Bart Pacekonis summarized that the sub-committee was formed to look at the residential component without necessarily having the commercial use on the first floor. He noted specific recommendations that could achieve the desired balance of mixed use, including the option of having commercial units on the first floor, addressing the construction of the buildings in phases, dealing with wetlands, and prohibiting RV parking. According to Lipe, the Capital Region Council of Governments supports the recommended changes.

The first resident to comment was James Thrall, who spoke in support of building upscale apartments. “I think it's important to the life and existence of Evergreen Walk,” said Thrall.

South Windsor resident Chris Smith, who is a land use attorney, spoke on behalf of Evergreen Walk, which owns much of the property in the gateway zone. He described the “tectonic shifts” in the economy since the regulations were first issued in 2007. According to Smith, it is no longer possible to get a mortgage for properties with commercial use in the same building as residential. “We really do require your assistance,” said Smith. He provided the commissioners with packets containing the proposed changes and supporting documents. 

R. Michael Goman, acting co-director of the Center for Real Estate at the University of Connecticut, spoke at the request of the developers of Evergreen Walk. Goman said it was his professional conclusion that locating commercial business on the ground floor was not viable.  That sort of mixed use primarily works in urban centers with a high population density, or in areas with high traffic volumes or high daytime employment. The problem with financing the mixed commercial and residential use is that the lenders have one set of criteria for commercial properties and another for residential, in terms of leasing duration and credit verification.

Town Manager Matt Galligan has been working with Evergreen Walk to get the project off the ground, and supports the recommended zoning changes. He noted that economic development starts at the municipal level, adding that the town plan focuses on economic development.

“Going forward with these amendments is a positive thing,” said South Windsor resident Peter DeMallie, who was a member of the previous Buckland Gateway sub-committee.

“It's a change long overdue,” said Mayor John Pelkey, addressing the P&Z not as the mayor, but as a resident and a landlord. “This is a good thing for our town,” said Pelkey. He said there is a pent-up demand in South Windsor for rental units. According to Pelkey, South Windsor's recent census went up by approximately 2,000 people.

At the public hearing, several other community members spoke in favor of the proposed changes, and two written statements were read, both also in support. Joe Kennedy, Jr., a member of the Economic Development Commission, said the EDC is in support of the proposed changes, as well.

The P&Z will continue to review and discuss this matter in upcoming meetings. The P&Z meets the second and fourth Tuesday of the month, beginning at 7:30 p.m., in the Town Council Chambers at Town Hall.

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