Residents express skepticism about re-zoning near Foxwoods

North Stonington — A crowded room of town residents expressed skepticism Thursday about changes to the town's zoning laws that could bring large-scale developments to the western end of Route 2.

During the two-hour public hearing, about a dozen residents asked about how they would be protected from the ill effects, such as traffic, noise and trespassers, if major development were to come to that corner of town.

Anne Nalwalk, who has lived in town since 1968, said she remembered the debate over a plan to bring a Six Flags Resort to town in the 1990s, which "split this town down the middle."

"I think the price to pay for some of (these changes) would be huge," she said.

The changes have been in the works for over a decade, said Planning, Development and Zoning Official Juliet Hodge, who discussed the effects of the proposed changes before the public hearing Thursday evening.

A broad range of proposed uses, including bowling alleys, movie theaters and amusement parks, could be built in the new "Resort Commercial District."

The new zone encompasses 368.93 acres north and south of Route 2 by the town's western boundary with Ledyard, a short distance from Foxwoods Resort Casino.

But Hodge cautioned that much of the land is either wetlands or steeply sloped, making it unlikely to nearly impossible for very large developments to take root there. Rather, the zone is envisioned as a way to stimulate economic development along the western gateway to town, she said, and could bring things like luxury recreational vehicle parks or outdoor recreational attractions, along with condos.

It also would make the town's regulations more consistent with those of Preston and Ledyard in the area.

Several residents, including Brad Borden, asked that the regulations give the town more control over what could be built in the area.

"The public needs more clarity of what's going to be approved and what is not," he said.

However Hodge said that the regulations are part of an effort to make zoning laws more general rather than specific and granular.

"I think it's dangerous for economic development; you don't want to be that specific," she added.

Hodge said she had consulted with members of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Council about the needs for Foxwoods Resort Casino, who said outdoor recreation was one potential growth area.

"Anything that will help boost the local tourism industry will be a good thing for the region," Lori Potter, spokeswoman for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, wrote in an email. "We support this designation."

Some residents did hold cautious optimism for the potential development of the land. Dan Spring, a former member of the Board of Finance, compared it to development in Vermont enhancing the state's tourism industry.

"I don't see the commission moving away from what we see to be very important and priorities for the town ... I think it's positive and should be strongly considered," he said.

The public hearing will continue at the commission's next meeting, at 7 p.m. Sept. 14.

n.lynch@theday.com

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