Victorian Village Floating Zone Application Tabled
The Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) voted to continue the deliberations over two applications related to a potential floating zone that applicants say would allow for the redevelopment of the Victorian Village Inn. The next meeting is on Monday, Oct. 16.
Earlier this summer, Victorian Village LLC, the property owner at 345 East Main Street, filed two applications. One application asked for the commission to create a new floating zone called the Multifamily Adaptive Reuse Zone (MARZ), and another application asked for the zone to be landed at 345 East Main Street.
At a PZC meeting on Sept. 11, the commission voted to continue the deliberations over the applications to a meeting on Oct. 16. Town Planner Abby Piersall explained there was a clerical error on the agenda, so out of an abundance of caution, it was recommended that the commission table voting on the applications.
At a public hearing on Sept. 11 concerning the applications, no members of the public spoke; however, Scott MacNeil, an attorney for the applicant, briefly spoke to the commission.
MacNeil read a memo from fellow attorney Andrea Gomes that reiterated the applicant’s view that rezoning the property would improve the site, particularly in making the property more welcoming and adding character to the part of town.
“Given the totality of the proposed improvements to the site, which include sidewalks along the site frontage, an improved stormwater management system, and enhanced landscaping, the proposed redevelopment will address this conflict by reinforcing the transitional nature of the area, including, in particular, the nearby residential uses to the south and west; enhancing screening to the nearby commercial and retail uses; and improving traffic circulation in and out of the site,” the memo stated in part.
The memo also stated that while the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) expressed a desire for residential development in areas not fronting Route 1, it is not a requirement. That had been a sticking point for some commission members at an early PZC meeting.
The memo further reiterated the applicant’s intent to try and retain the current residents.
During the August PZC meeting, a letter from Diana Chase, one of the current residents living at the Victorian Village, was read into the record. In her letter, Chase was vehemently opposed to the plan for the property due to the potential for the rent to increase.
“If this development happens as planned, at least 35 people [will be] left permanently homeless. These people are mostly manual laborers who can’t afford post-COVID rent prices. We go to bed hopeless and wake up more hopeless,” Chase wrote in part.
In speaking at the meeting, Chase noted that even with some potential units designated as affordable housing, that rent price would still be too steep for some current residents to pay.
Commission member Cinzia Lettieri said at the August meeting that she, too, was concerned about the future of the current residents on the property and the lack of affordable housing in the town.
At that meeting, Daniel Ackerman, a representative of Victorian Village, LLC told the commission he would like to work with the current tenants to retain as many as possible and that he would like to avoid charging an exorbitant rent.
While sympathetic to the plight of Chase and the other current tenants, the commission said that the issue legally has no bearing on the actual applications before the PZC.
In the letter MacNeil read into the record on Sept. 11, those two points were stressed again.
“While the concern has no bearing on the application to rezone the property, the applicant reiterates here what it noted during the Aug. 14 public hearing: the applicant intends to work with existing residents to the extent possible and within the strictures of the Fair Housing Act, to ensure that all existing residents have an option to remain at the site, as redeveloped.”
The Plans and Applications
At a PZC meeting last month, Gomes spoke about the plan to redevelop the property.
“The property currently houses the Victorian Village Inn, which was historically used as a motel but has in more recent years been used as a short-term residential community,” Gomes said.
Gomes told the commission the eventual plan was to demolish four buildings on the property and renovate the remaining eight buildings into 14 one-bedroom properties. Furthermore, the owner was also proposing a new two-story building on the property with 26 one-bedroom units. Fifteen percent of those units ( six units) “will be deed restricted to those households earning at or below 80% of the area median income for a period of 40 years,” according to the application.
In order to do that, the applicants propose using a floating zone called the MARZ. Under the proposal, a property could qualify for MARZ if the property was a “lot or group of lots located in the I-2 zone and fronting on East Main Street” or situated on “a minimum of 1.5 acres, and a maximum of 4 acres…”
Under the proposed approved uses, a MARZ would allow for multiple unit dwellings on the same lot, off-street parking, and outdoor recreation areas such as outdoor seating, barbeque areas, or gazebos.
According to applicants, if the new zone was established and landed at the property, the applicant would return with a special exception application to redevelop the property into the proposed complex.
At the PZC meeting last month, some commission members had significant concerns about the proposal.
Commission member Walter “Beau” Clark said he was not a fan of towns using floating zones.
“In my opinion, floating zones are a dangerous thing for towns to have,” Clark said at that meeting. Clark adds that zoning regulations should be as black and white as possible, and the ambiguous nature of floating zones can lead to accusations of favoritism. Commission member Eddie Alberino echoed Clark’s comments.
A floating zone is one in which the regulations establish specific conditions for what can happen in that zone and under what conditions it can be used — even though the zone isn’t actually on the map at the time of its adoption.
Because of this, it’s said to “float” over the map and can be affixed to a certain location only if the PZC determines it would be consistent with the town’s POCD.
In floating zones, the PZC has a greater latitude to deny approval or require changes to the application before approval. Floating zones also rely more heavily on each PZC’s discretion than traditional zones.
While they can be useful for development, they can also be controversial. In 2016, the Clinton PZC allowed for floating zones to be put into the town’s regulations, and a floating zone was then later used to redevelop the property that became the current CVS. The CVS application caused controversy with some members of the public in 2016-’17, partly over the use of a floating zone.
Commission member Adam Moore, however, disagreed. Moore argued at the August meeting that since the town did allow for floating zones in its regulations, it would be unfair to punish the applicant for using one. Moore also argued that the applicant’s application largely met the town’s POCD.
The PZC will deliberate on the applications at its Oct. 16 meeting.