Stonington report outlines approval of $135 million of projects last year

Stonington — The Department of Planning's annual report shows the town approved major projects totaling more than $90 million in 2017 while projects receiving zoning compliance certificates amounted to another $45 million.

The data is just part of a comprehensive report prepared by Director of Planning Jason Vincent that attempts to quantify the activities of the planning department and the economic value they produce for the community.

Vincent said the actual impact may be twice as high, as his department does not yet have the software tools to track the value of the many smaller projects, such as garages and additions, that it approves. He is seeking the software in the upcoming budget.

In addition, the economic impact values do not include the spinoff effects of projects, such as jobs they create, spending by employees, purchase of materials and equipment, the sale of properties and real estate commissions, taxes and a host of other spending.

The report also states that there is another $100 million in potential for-profit, nonprofit and governmental projects that are being considered for future development. Some of those may not come to fruition.

“It looks at the past, present and future,” Vincent said this week.

He said that eventually he wants to be able to report trends involving permitting and investment over time and forecast their impact on the grand list, which affects the tax rate. He said that also could prompt ideas about how to update zoning regulations in certain areas of town, for example, if permit numbers are falling.

Some of the approved projects in 2017 were the $60 million Perkins Farm project, the $21 million Mystic Color Lab redevelopment, the $3.5 million Mystic Aquarium Research Center, the $4 million Stone Acres Farm master plan, the new $1.1 million Bravo, Bravo building and $1 million of renovations at Olde Mistick Village. Certificates of zoning compliance were issued to the $32 million Masonicare project.

The planning department also received $700,000 in grant funding for various projects, including $200,000 in state funding for the Mystic River Boathouse Park, a $135,000 grant for Stonington Breakwater redevelopment planning and a $225,000 grant for the renovation of the south pier at the Town Dock.

The report also states that the town received 84 zoning complaints in 2017, which resulted in 27 notices of violations, seven blight citations and six cease-and-desist orders. A total of 89 percent of the cases were resolved without litigation.

The planning department has continued to work on implementing recommendations in the Plan of Conservation and Development.

The Department of Planning, in conjunction with the Economic Development Commission, also held 20 community forums to discuss zoning changes and issues such as coastal resiliency, light pollution, flood insurance and impact of nonprofit organizations. It also successfully recommended changes to zoning districts to spur investment.

The town spends about $400,000 a year on the five-member planning department and the report states that for every $1 spent on the department, the town benefits by more than $200 in revenue and investment.

“We put a lot of effort into reviewing projects to make sure they are in compliance with our regulations. That creates confidence in the investment world,” Vincent said.

He said there is also economic value of his office helping residents with smaller projects such as a new garage or family room.

“Customer service is a crucial part of what we do,” Vincent said, adding that applies to developers, as well.

“You can’t say they’re developers and they’re greedy," he said. "They’re investors looking to invest in your community. We have to make sure it’s the right fit, which is another discussion.”

Vincent said that for a community like Stonington that wants to grow its grand list without damaging its character, the best strategy is to allow people to invest in existing properties. For example, he pointed to the owners of the Whaler’s Inn in Mystic upgrading their building by renovating and expanding into adjacent spaces.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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