North Stonington zone change approved, allows more recreational uses on Route 2

North Stonington – The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously last week to change the zoning along the western end of Route 2 from residential to Resort Commercial District, thus allowing more recreation and hospitality uses.

The change has been in the works for more than a decade and follows three public hearings, said Juliet Hodge, the town's planning, development and zoning official.

"What we're trying to push for is a well-thought-out, master plan-type development," Hodge said, "so a mix of uses, so things like maybe condos, timeshares or hotels mixed with retail and some sort of outdoor or indoor recreation."

The new zone comprises about 369 acres north and south of Route 2, extending from the town border at Foxwoods to about a half-mile west of Swantown Hill Road. This zone includes 165 undeveloped acres, though Hodge said much of it can't be developed because of wetlands and sloped land.

The Resort Commercial District stipulates that any retail must be combined with another use. It does not allow for amusement parks, franchise sports facilities, racetracks, or outdoor recreational use on the Lake of Isles golf course. The town is also trying to stay away from strip malls in that area.

In the public hearings, some residents expressed support for the change while others expressed concern about traffic and noise. Some have expressed a desire to see Route 2 widened, but that would be up to the state.

"I know the town is very sensitive about maintaining the rural character and not increasing traffic on Route 2, I mean, not increasing it to an unreasonable amount," Hodge said.

 "At the same time, people did recognize that increasing the tax base, or the grand list, was important as well," she added.

Hodge said she reached out to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation about what uses it would like to see, and outdoor recreation came up.

There are no concrete plans, but she said the town will market the zoning change and see what happens.

Hodge said the mindset among supporters of the change was, "The traffic's coming through town anyway, so why not enjoy some of the tax benefits on our side, rather than letting it all be developed in Ledyard and Preston?"

First Selectman Mike Urgo shared a similar view.

"I think we're smart to kind of get on top of that, because we're not the only town that has land in that area," he said.

Economic Development Commission Chairman Brett Mastroianni thinks the change makes sense and feels that while residents don't want development on Route 201, they're OK with it on Route 2 and the I-95 corridor.

He has heard people say the town has missed the boat and should've done this years ago, but he doesn't feel that is the case.

"I think times are changing in town where there's younger people moving in," Mastroianni said. "They want more luxuries closer by."

The area had been zoned R-80, which Hodge explained is mainly residential but allows for uses like day care centers and churches.

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