Zoning Tables Setback Requirement, Approves Arts Academy Lease
OLD LYME — The Zoning Commission on Tuesday unanimously filed its controversial petition that would have doubled the setback for new construction along waterfront and coastal properties by 50 to 100 feet, citing the need for further research into the rate and effects of sea level rise.
At the same meeting, the commission unanimously approved the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts’ request for permission to lease space for up to five years to the France Foundation, a medical education society. The lease would provide a revenue stream to help the financially-struggling academy, which lost its accreditation after the University of New Haven disaffiliated last summer.
Modification of tidal waters
At its September 9 meeting, the Zoning Commission filed a petition to amend Section 4.3 Tidal Water Protection of the city’s zoning bylaws. Not only did the amendment propose to increase the coastal and waterfront setback to 100 feet for new construction, it would also have barred the Zoning Board of Appeals from granting a waiver – a combination that has caused significant public concern, as well as opposition from planning. Commission, Harbor Management, Flood and Erosion Control and Zoning Appeal Commission.
The proposal was originally put forward by Zoning Commission Secretary Jane Marsh, who said part of the impetus for the amendment was to allow residents to come before the commission for a special permit, thus avoiding to have to prove a hardship before the Zoning Board of Appeals.
A house under construction at 131 Shore Road owned by Old Lyme resident Ron Swaney partly rushed the amendment, after the construction received a waiver from the Zoning Appeal Board.
At Tuesday’s meeting, resident Jamie Munson, who owns property in Point O’Woods, said the 100ft setback was an arbitrary number that had no scientific basis, adding that the rise was a measure more relevant. He also said adding any additional regulations would add another “layer of bureaucracy” and discourage residents from upgrading their properties.
Data on the rate of sea level rise vary, but NASA’s website shows a rate of one-tenth of an inch per year, said resident Mike Miller, who was elected to the Zoning Commission November 4 for a term beginning November 17. 2020, replacing Jane Cable.
“It just seems like if that’s the driving force – 1 inch every 10 years – then let’s find out what the real science is. Maybe we don’t have the problem that everyone is scared of,” a- he declared.
Commission Chairwoman Jane Cable said the city based its numbers on data collected by Fire Marshal David Roberge. An audience member texted Roberge asking about the rate of sea level rise, which was 1 inch in 10 years.
Resident Jonathan Gineo said it was not fair for the community to pass an amendment that would render many properties worthless given that “we don’t know if [sea level rise] will happen or not.
Resident Bill Ruel said the 100ft setback would reduce property values for hundreds of homeowners, resulting in lower property taxes for the city. He said a similar amendment in Chester reduced the value of his property and reduced the city’s tax revenue.
Mary McDonald, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent, said the amendment would hurt the city’s tax base in a real estate market that was already in decline in Connecticut.
“What if someone has land to build on and that makes it non-compliant and not buildable?” she asked.
The amendment could also hurt shoreline homeowners who were waiting for sewers to be installed before making home improvements, resident Beth Cote said. She suggested forming a committee to study the impact on properties along rivers, lakes, rivers and the coastline.
After the public hearing closed, Marsh said he heard “loudly” that the 100-foot setback “doesn’t seem satisfactory.”
During the public hearing process at the September 9 and October 15 Zoning Commission meetings, Marsh also said she also learned that residents were not opposed to the elevation of properties on along the shore, and that people were not unhappy to go past the ZBA to receive a waiver.
Zoning deputy Maria Martinez said the commission needed to be clear about why it was changing the text and how it would affect property values.
“We need to socialize this proposition so that it’s clearly articulated – the pros and cons – so everyone clearly understands who’s affected, the ownership implication and the tax,” she said. “That’s what I’ve heard people want to know and that’s on us.”
Marsh said his direction would come from DEEP’s recommendations, including recommendations on the elevation of properties.
“What are the requirements for the maximum and the minimum? People go to ZBA and ask and it’s not a consistent result for them. This is the kind of baseline that should be established.
Lyme Academy of Fine Arts
As part of the approval of the Fondation de France lease of approximately 6,000 square feet, or about ⅓ of the academy’s 18,000 square foot administration building, the commission emphasized educational use rather than commercial space, despite the lack of on-site students. .
“I don’t want anyone to think we’re creating commercial use – that’s part of ongoing training and resources,” Marsh said.
The France Foundation is a for-profit medical education group based in Old Lyme. The foundation will bring 14 staff to the site, occupying the “easternmost part of the building along the front – the impact will not be visible”, said solicitor Fran Sablone, of Old Lyme, who represented Stacy Miller, President of the France Foundation, and Steve Tagliatela, Chairman of the Board of Lyme Academy.
Sablone told the commission that renting part of the administration building will provide the necessary funds for the newly independent academy.
“It helps save the academy,” Sablone said. “Fifty-four students have signed up to take courses just for the fall semester, not accredited, but it’s a start. The school is a shadow of what it has been and may be in the future…it will definitely help bridge that gap.
Students will not visit the France Foundation offices, Miller said.
“We are developing online education. We go to hospitals, no one ever visits our site,” she said. “We’ve been doing this for 22 years and we’ve never needed it. It is not our structure.
The commission stipulated that the rental was solely for educational rather than commercial purposes.