Location working against affordable housing plan in East Lyme

East Lyme - The Zoning Commission did not make a decision last week on an application to change a 24-acre parcel zoned for light industrial use into an affordable housing district and build 69 residential units, but said the proposed development's location did not suit residential usage.

The Rocky Neck Village development, being proposed by JAG Capital Drive LLC of Mystic, would be about a half mile from the Rocky Neck Connector. It would have entrances on West Main Street and Capital Drive.

The area contains businesses involved in manufacturing and product distribution.

The proposed development's proximity to those industrial businesses spurred discussion about safety and public interest concerns among commission members at last Thursday's meeting.

Chairman Marc Salerno said the commission heard "extensive testimony" at a public hearing which closed two weeks earlier. He said that though the commission previously has rezoned other light industrial districts into affordable housing districts, for example at 38 Hope Street, he emphasized that each application stands on its own.

Commission member Norman Peck referenced public hearing testimony from some of the neighboring business owners who worry the residential development would impact their normal work.

"Why should somebody not be able to work 24/7, with trucks coming in and out, in an industrial zone?" said Peck, referring to a comment made at the public hearing.

He said placing residential development in an industrial zone would not be a good zoning practice. Hurting the business operations could eventually lead to lower property values in town, he said.

Commission member Matthew Walker said there were conflicting viewpoints about the appropriateness of residential units in the area, but felt that the business owners in the nearby industrial park had a compelling argument. He said there were safety concerns about having residential buildings so close to an industrial park.

Salerno said he was not opposed to the development itself, but agreed with the commission members that the units were not in the right location. He also explained that the existing industries in the area were more intense uses than in other light industrial zones.

"I concur with everyone's concern here, and I think that concern overrides my desire for this project, because I think it is an attractive project, and the desire for affordable housing in this town," said Salerno.

Commission members discussed if there were possibilities for amending the application, for example to change its boundaries, but hadn't heard adequate alternatives from the developer.

Salerno said he thought the commission reached a consensus that it was in opposition of having residential units in the industrial zone and asked the zoning staff to draft a motion for discussion and a final decision at a later meeting.

The commission will discuss the issue at its March 7 meeting.

k.drelich@theday.com

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