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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."
Bob Loblaw September 30, 2013 at 12:04 AM
is it election time???
Joel Leneker September 30, 2013 at 12:16 PM
Bigger signs mean more visual pollution. Danger Will Robinson. Most signage design in Monrie is ugly and cheap looking. Not every business in a mall needs a prime sign
Bruce September 30, 2013 at 04:29 PM
This article is nothing but happy talk. How about some real reporting Bill! This article fails to mention the out of control legal fees this board has recklessly spent. No wonder Vavrek will not allow any citizen to see the payments being made to lawyers. One million dollars and counting spent by the Vavrek-O'Hara team. Maybe that is why O'Hara and Vavrek spend so much time together at town hall? How about the record amount of lawsuits against this P&Z commission? The best one is when they voted against a judges ruling. Real smart tactic there guys. This town needs to wake up.
Joel Leneker September 30, 2013 at 05:00 PM
@Bruce: many of the P&Z legal suits are from earlier commissions before I was on P&Z 6 years ago. They include illegal mining projects and other projects where developers do what they want and not to what the agreed to do a public hearings. The legal process is often a long and arduous one. Judges on the regional level are not very friendly to Town government. Unfortunately it is all about following complicated land use laws that commissions don't often have access to town attorneys that know the ins and outs of Land use. I might suggest you run for P&Z to help control land use attorney fees.
Bruce September 30, 2013 at 05:47 PM
@Joel, I'm talking about the million dollars in legal fees accumulated this year. Vavrek not allowing citizens to see the legal bills and the brain trust that voted to over-turn a judges mandate. You are talking around the issue. It's a good thing you stepped down if you find it so complicated. The only reason you were even elected was the R next to your name.
Joel Leneker October 01, 2013 at 05:18 AM
@Bruce. When I was elected to the P&Z board I received the most votes of any elected P&Z commissioner. I was not elected because I was a Republican. O was elected because i knew what I was doing. And how would you know how complicated land use law is if you have never served on the commission. I again suggest you register with a party and run for office so that you can understand various situations first hand. As for transparency of current expenditures for P&Z legal fees, I agree with you that the accounting of costs should be readily available to the public.
SCHAP October 01, 2013 at 08:07 AM
For the Town it is a good thing that the P & Z is finally passing something dealing with regs.Back when the Patch began people were going to communicate with the public to held debate topics and understand the workings of our administration. I don't know who wrote the one sided story, but it was no a journalist. How can we praise our P & Z, they are as slow as can be to help developers, business men and economic growth in this town. The developers and land owners have been asking for the simple change from LO to LOR for atleast 3-5 years. They were always told that it is tabled to the next meeting or stating that the regs need to be updated. Our praising F/S did nothing to try and help the growth in this town by challenging the P& Z to move it along and we lost potential economic growth. At least 26 different groups inquired about retail type businesses opening some bigger than others and were all turned away.What would that have added to our tax base 3 years ago and every tax year after that and going forward.
SCHAP October 01, 2013 at 08:17 AM
#2 4 years ago our F/S added a great amount of S's to the land use department and we were told that once they get up and running we can really have economic growth and that was over 3 years ago. He decided not to hire an EDC co-ordinator when asked at a budget session when I asked that they budget that position during the recession, when we could get a very well qualified person at somewhat of a discount with so many people having their jobs eliminated. # years later where is our growth? All you have to do is drive over the line to Trumball and see what their EDC c0-ordinator added to their town which covered that position 10 times over. How long has it taken with the expense of BFJ to help rewrite the regs and how long was the contract for? I believe we started in 2012 with BFJ and a matrix was passed out an not met. Was their work delayed? How much has it cost the town and was everything stipulated in the contract met?
Joel Leneker October 01, 2013 at 08:29 AM
Took way too long to update the regs. Town needed to hire professionals to help write the regs and finally did so after the plan of conservation and development was completed. As for economic growth, no EDC professional brought any growth to a haukt. However, with no sewers, small shallow commercial land lots along major state highways will never produce much growth. Trumbull P&Z us no picnic either but Trumbull has infrastructure and population is2x that of Monroe. Monroe will continue to be a bedroom community with limited commercial growth due to its location. You have to Look regionally to figure out where growth is possible for Monroe. Start with a plan. Don't know if one exists.
SCHAP October 01, 2013 at 08:30 AM
#3 We have known since our F/S was voted into office that the office market does not exist and he is getting ready to run for a third time and we are being boxed in by the surrounding towns with promises of the future. I hope the new big box store is not another one of our F/S wool over his eyes deal like the "trash" dump @ stevenson lumber? I haven't heard much from him about that development, yet there was an article in the voice about stevenson?????? It sounds as if I am complaining, but really asking some questions that should be debated. I believe that the First Selectman election should be hotly debated and I look forward to hearing both Gentleman's plans to increase our tax base, because nothing has happened in that area during our F/S current term. Read what he told us last time he ran and give him your own grade. Economic Growth will help our tax base and give us the base for new and different expanded services in our town. It would be nice to add new items rather than fight over old items never supported like the award winning library, rather than eliminating any increase in that department in town. See you at the debates!!! Hope they are on T.V. like in previous years.
Joel Leneker October 01, 2013 at 09:56 AM
@ Schap: I agree that economic development, tax base, education costs, the future use of chalk hill school should all be debated. But sadly the debates of the past have included vague open ended questions and moderators that have never pushed either candidate for specific answers. Hoping for better this year.
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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