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Zoning Updates 'Put Monroe in a Better Place'

First Selectman Steve Vavrek praised the Planning & Zoning Commission and town land use staff for approving the first updates and revisions to Monroe's zoning regulations in three decades. Vavrek says this will lead to more development along the town's borders. In fact, he told the Town Council a new business is coming soon, but the developer wants to be the one to announce it.

P&Z Commission Chairman Patrick O'Hara recalled being "part of a basic uprising" prior to being on the commission, when he says his predecessors drafted revisions before seeking public input.

"We had public input before we started writing it," O'Hara said Friday.

The commission hosted public workshops, had a public hearing and posted the proposed revisions online at Monroect.org. O'Hara said developers and commercial and residential property owners all took part in the process.

But the chairman said there are still some things the commission had left out. Substantive edits will be proposed during a public hearing on Oct. 24 in the Town Council Chambers of Monroe Town Hall at 7 p.m.

Among the proposed changes will be allowing bigger signs for bigger properties and for banks to be included in a Limited Office Retail District. If banks are in an LOR, O'Hara said special permits would still be needed for a drive-through window.

Major Changes

One of the major changes to the regulations approved by the P&Z recently was to allow retail and restaurants in the Limited Office District, making it an LOR. Property owners had told the commission there is significant demand for retail and restaurant uses, but little demand for office space, causing their land to lay dormant.

O'Hara said the LO used to be a transition zone near the Trumbull town line before traffic heading to Monroe reached the business district on 111.

"The LO should have been changed within a year of the state making Route 111 a four-way road," he said. "I think we're going to see tremendous commercial growth over the next three to five years in commercial zones."

Another significant change is allowing uses "as of right" certain in zones, so every use that is not residential no longer needs a special exception permit.

"There's still an approval process, but we limited the uncertainty," O'Hara said. 
 
For instance, he said if a bank is listed as an "as of right" use in a zone, the commission cannot deny the property owner's right to build a bank there, but it still must meet requirements for setbacks, landscaping, building heights and signage, etc.

A popular change among horse owners is allowing livestock on two acres instead of requiring five. "We're not a town that's commercial agriculture," O'Hara said. "We're home agriculture. Now our zoning reflects the reality of today's livestock ownership. You don't need five acres."

Another major change cited by O'Hara is there is now an approval process for excavations.

Two Tracks of Approval

There will now be two tracks for approvals — one just for a site plan (gaining a public hearing approximately 35 days from submission) and the other for special exception permits (going to a public hearing approximately 65 days from submission).

A hearing must be closed by the P&Z Commission within 35 days of opening and after it closes the commission has up to 65 days to render a decision.

'A Better Place'

O'Hara said making the draft revisions was a team effort that included commissioners, town staff members like Vida Stone and Tanya Bombero; Town Attorney Jack Fracassini, Zoning Enforcement Officer Joe Chapman, Land Use Dir. Scott Schatzlein, Planning Administrator Will Agresta and consultants from BFJ Planning.

He said the commission received strong support from members of the Town Council, Board of Finance and the first selectman.

O'Hara said the majority of the updates consisted of organizing the regulations, changing names of zones to make it easier to understand and follow. For instance, he said all of the definitions are now in one chapter.

"It's all in one Word document with one format," O'Hara said of the regulations. "We were so far back in the past, you couldn't get the regulations on a single formatted Word document."

He said the regulations are a living document that must continue to change with the times, so the commission will continue to review it.

"We didn't get it all," he said. "Some regulations go back to 1971. We hit the high notes. I think we put Monroe in a better place and we're not gonna stop. We're gonna keep going."
Bruce October 01, 2013 at 10:15 AM
Joel and Schap - I heard Vavrek is backing out of a debate. He claims he is too busy to have a debate with Hunsberger.
Joel Leneker October 01, 2013 at 11:08 AM
@Bruce: if that is true , that is too bad for the public. I think a group should sponsor a debate and if either candidate does not show, it becomes a televised forum for the candidate that does show to present his message.
Bruce October 01, 2013 at 11:32 AM
@Joel - that is a great idea. I wonder if there is an organization willing to set this up?
Joel Leneker October 01, 2013 at 12:03 PM
@Bruce: Used to be the League of Women's Voters scheduled the debates, but it really could be any group of citizens, as long as they find a NEUTRAL OUT OF TOWN MODERATOR
Daniel Hunsberger October 01, 2013 at 04:45 PM
I am willing to debate and looking forward to presenting my answers to taxpayers questions. So far, the League of Women Voters has not been able to get our F/S to agree on a date. I offered any date to the League. 10/17 had been agreed to but was not acceptable because of Monroe Means Business. Every other date has been rejected by the F/S. The only face-to-face that I know off will be with during a Monroe Chamber meeting/debate on 10/24. J

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