Planning & Zoning Commissioners agree on the need for a more diverse housing mix in town, but share concerns over the potential environmental impacts of a Neighborhood Apartment Residential Overlay Zone proposed by a local developer. The P&Z unanimously denied the proposal on Thursday night.
The NARO Zone would have allowed seven units per acre in developments built on a minimum of four acre lots in a cluster housing development. It would be within walking distance of shopping centers along major commercial arteries. The apartments would benefit young professionals, young couples and empty nesters, according to Kimball Group.
Kimball Group presented the application during the hearing on behalf of its subsidiary company, Elm Street Farm LLC, and its co-applicant BNM Builders & Developers.
"I feel that there is a need for multi-unit housing of some type in Monroe," said P&Z Vice Chairman William Porter. "This particular application has some points from our Plan of Conservation & Development."
But Porter said it did not offer the same protection of natural resources, wetlands and watersheds that the POCD calls for.
"In general, it's a good concept," Porter said. "But I think these regulations need a lot more work to comply more with our POCD."
An amendment to Article XVI and Sections 117-1600 and 117-1610 of town zoning regulations was needed to make the NARO Zone a reality, and the application was presented at a time when the P&Z Commission is revising Monroe's zoning regulations.
Commissioner Brian Quinn expressed his belief that the town would benefit from the types of projects that a NARO Zone could bring, but added he wanted to wait until the commission finishes revising Monroe's regulations before considering such an application on its own.
Commissioner Jim Weinberg expressed concern over what would happen if a NARO Zone were ever to be expanded upon, as well as his opinion that it represents spot zoning. Weinberg also said that much of the proposed amendment was "arbitrary". For instance, he questioned why the housing would have to be near neighborhood shopping or by a major road.
"I think there is a better approach. Maybe we can rewrite our regulations. Maybe we can have an overlay zone over the whole town," Weinberg said.
An overlay zone allows different uses in a district — without changing the zoning — for applications that meet requirements for a special exception permit.
"I’m leery of this route," Weinberg said. "I don't think there should be a hurry to get this done."
Chairman Patrick O'Hara said there is "great concern" that an overlay zone would limit the town's ability for economic development.
Wetlands, Septic, Condos
O'Hara said Monroe is supportive of alternative housing and recalled a POCD recommendation for a housing study to determine what kinds of housing the town needs.
"There still are a lot of questions unanswered," he said of the NARO Zone application.
O'Hara said he heard comments during the hearing that septic issues are often due to a lack of maintenance — usually with community systems at condo complexes.
"How do you maintain a septic system when there are 20 separate unit owners?" he asked.
Commission Secretary Karen Martin pointed out that often times housing that starts off as apartments, becomes condos down the road.
O'Hara said he has never seen so much resounding opposition to a proposal from referral letters as he has with this one. Among the opposition is the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Council, the Newtown town planner and Aquarion Water Co.
Though the Newtown Planning & Zoning Commission expressed its support for the NARO Zone, that town's planner later wrote that he doubted the commission would have supported it if its members had known about the potential impact on the water supply.
Aquarion urged Monroe's P&Z not to approve the application unless it is revised to protect the town's watershed and drinking water.
After the commission's vote, John Kimball, principal of Kimball Group, said he felt bad about being turned down, but felt good that his application brought forward ideas that could improve the town's regulations.
"I think the commission seems to want to add some safeguards and work it into the regulations," Kimball said. "And we support the commission and will work together to have something that protects the town. It's a new concept."
Kevin Solli, an engineer with Kimball Group, said, "I think they believe it served a housing need in town, but have questions — and we'll help to answer those questions."