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Ledyard - In the first major change to town zoning laws since 1963 and in the final mark on the town made by the Zoning Commission before its dissolution, the commission adopted a new set of zoning regulations following a public hearing Thursday evening.
The meeting was the Zoning Commission's last before it merges with the Planning Commission later this month. The newly formed Planning and Zoning Commission, approved by the Town Council in July as a way to simplify town bureaucracy and encourage business development, will hold its first meeting Oct. 25 under the direction of Planning Commission Chairman Mike Cherry.
Zoning Commission Chairman Eric Treaster said the town has been in need of new regulations for about 20 years. Ledyard adopted its first zoning regulations in 1963. With dozens of amendments in subsequent years plus changes in state statutes, the zoning rules became convoluted, Treaster said, and conflicts arose between town zoning and the state's laws.
A workshop group was put together a little more than four years ago, Treaster said, and was given responsibility for about $80,000 in state grant money to update the zoning regulations with the help of New York-based contractor Laberge Group.
Treaster said the underlying town policies remain unchanged; rather, the group eliminated redundancies and trimmed more than 60 pages from the formerly more than 200-page zoning regulations document.
"In general, the marching orders were to retain the policies of the existing regulation but to put them in a format that's more easily understandable and conform them to state law," Treaster said.
Every subject area is identified in just one location in the document rather than in multiple places - a measure that Treaster said will help avoid confusion. For example, all site plan requirements for any application - from a storage shed to a gas station to an office building - are enumerated under a single section of the regulations.
Treaster said one of the most important updates is one that requires owners of abutting properties to be notified of plans by zoning applicants - something previously encouraged by the Zoning Commission but not codified.
There is also an added use table that comprehensively lists all of the permitted land uses in the town.
All of the changes make the document more readable and accessible to the layman.
The first public hearing on the new regulations was held back in August. The third was held Thursday, when several residents raised questions about aspects of the new regulations, such as leaving room in a stringent set of rules for individuality, and keeping up with changing agricultural practices that may require less land than the minimums stipulated.
Others asked that the regulations wait for a closer look from the soon-to-be-merged Planning and Zoning Commission.
But Zoning Commission members were quick to emphasize the malleability of zoning laws. Treaster said the regulations would not be "cast in stone," and he expects that, no matter how thoroughly edited, a package of technical amendments a few months after adoption would not be unusual in dealing with legislation this complex.
"The regulations may not be perfect, but they are so much better than what we have," he said.