East Lyme zoning panel votes to settle land-use case

East Lyme - The Zoning Commission voted unanimously Thursday in favor of settling a land-use appeal pending in Superior Court from the companies applying to develop housing, some of it affordable, in the Oswegatchie Hills.

The appeal concerned part of the text amendments to the zoning regulations governing affordable housing districts that the commission had adopted in December.

The commission voted Thursday to remove a section of the recently amended zoning regulations for affordable housing that Landmark Development Group and Jarvis of Cheshire had disputed in their appeal.

The eliminated section, officially Section 32.4.11, required a 150-foot buffer between a development and tidal wetlands or watercourses.

Glenn Russo, the principal of Landmark, has submitted several applications for more than a decade to develop part of the hills overlooking the Niantic River. Most recently, his 2005 application called for 840 residential units, of which 252 units would be deemed affordable.

Following an appeal of the decision to deny part of that application, Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Frazzini ordered in 2011 that the commission review the zoning guidelines governing affordable housing districts.

After a public hearing and discussion last fall, the Zoning Commission approved several amendments to its regulations for affordable housing on Dec. 6.

But the developers appealed part of that decision on Dec. 21 and argued in a court document that the commission could not specifically require in zoning regulations the placement of a buffer for tidal wetlands and watercourses. The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection has jurisdiction over those environmental features, the developers asserted in the appeal.

In adopting the resolution to remove the buffer requirement, the commission said that after further consideration, "the record does not contain sufficient evidence that Section 32.4.11 is necessary to protect substantial public interests in health, safety, or other matters which the commission may legally consider, or that such public interests clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing, there being sufficient safeguards in the already existing land use regulations."

The commission officially authorized town attorneys to sign documents settling the appeal.

In addition to appealing the zoning decision, the developers also appealed in Superior Court the Water and Sewer Commission's decision last year to deny the application's sewage capacity request. That case is ongoing.

k.drelich@theday.com

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