With zoning changes, Groton officials hope to boost growth around sub base
Groton — When the zoning district around the Naval Submarine Base was created 35 years ago, among its main purposes was to promote businesses serving tourists and the Navy.
But growth has not met expectations, a consultant said during a presentation Tuesday. Now the town is considering changing the zoning to better promote suitable development in the area, while still ensuring protections and compatibility with the base, Submarine Force Museum and Historic Ship Nautilus.
Jeff Davis, senior planner with the consulting firm Horsely Witten Group, outlined the proposal during an informational meeting on Tuesday evening that followed a site walk. Davis said that after hearing that the Planning and Zoning Commission and property owners are so far comfortable with the direction, he will formally draft a proposal of the discussed changes, which is expected to be presented to the commission for review at its next meeting.
Any proposed changes would have to go to a public hearing at a later date.
The zoning review is part of a larger Joint Land Use Study, through the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and funded by the Department of Defense, that is analyzing economic conditions and zoning, as well as housing and transportation needs related to Electric Boat and the sub base, according to the presentation.
With a net 5,000 new employees projected at Electric Boat over the next 30 years, Groton could see as many as 150 new households by 2025, he said. In addition, the projected growth in manufacturing means greater demand for retail, medical offices, and flexible industrial space and continued office demand.
The town's recently approved comprehensive zoning update includes two new mixed-use zones expected to absorb a lot of the demand for apartments and other types of housing, he said. A new mixed-use industrial district hopefully will absorb a lot of the economic demand for such uses.
With the expected growth and economic and housing changes being addressed in other parts of town, consultants and the town are taking a "step back" to determine how to meet the needs of the area around the sub base and people who own property there, he said.
Davis said the Navy is interested in mixed-use walkable development, particularly along the Route 12 corridor, that could help serve the employees of the base, while there's generally a preference to minimize development along Crystal Lake Road for security and traffic purposes.
He said the town's Plan of Conservation and Development also has identified the area in the vicinity of the sub base, designated as the Nautilus Memorial Design District, or NMDD, as needing to be re-evaluated.
For the most part, the district has seen little development, though a significant apartment complex being built by A.R. Building Co. on Pleasant Valley Road North is likely the largest development there in the past decade, Davis said. The first of three apartment buildings is open, and a second is under construction, said Jon Reiner, the town's director of planning and development.
The town is looking at rezoning most of the NMDD to a Commercial, Neighborhood, or CN, zone, which most closely matches the area's existing mix of housing, retail and services, according to Davis' presentation. An additional overlay zone would cover three parcels on the western end of Crystal Lake Road, closest to the naval base entrance, to restrict the area to uses more compatible with the base and provide additional dimensional standards for development.
A stretch of properties with single-family homes along Pleasant Valley Road North is proposed to be rezoned as residential, or RU-20, according to Davis' presentation.
The NMDD provides general guidelines but not much concrete guidance, and every proposed development in the zone requires a special permit. The proposed CN would allow similar uses as the NMDD but be more concrete, and fewer uses would require a special permit or conditions. Similarly, the proposed RU-20 zone also has clearly outlined permitted uses.
"We hope that this will remove uncertainty, will reduce time and expense for property owners who want to develop or redevelop properties in the district," Davis said.
Representatives of the town, naval base, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, Horsley Witten Group, and a property owner had walked the area Tuesday afternoon prior to the informational meeting attended by about four members of the public. The Planning and Zoning Commission then held a meeting in the evening.
Steve Woodruff, who owns property on Route 12, said during the informational meeting that he is pleased to see the zoning initiative. "I know this has been a point of contention with the businesses along there that it was so restrictive that it really hamstrung us, so I just want to say thank you and we’re pleased to see some positive developments here," he said.
Adam Wright, community planning and liaison officer with the Naval Submarine Base, said after the site walk and the informational meeting that he is happy the property owners in attendance seemed glad to see some changes.
"Certainly, our goal from the sub base is to be a good neighbor," he said, "and to the extent that good zoning changes can enhance compatible use for both the Navy and the townspeople, this is a very positive development."
Davis said the feedback so far has been positive, but one of the big question marks is the single-family home parcels being proposed to change from NMDD to RU-20. He said while they look like they are all being used for strictly residential uses, he wants to make sure the project "isn't stepping on anyone's toes."
Reiner said the town is seeking public feedback so it can incorporate it into the process as it looks at the zoning. There is no formal application yet.
"We want to make sure all property owners know what's happening and are involved, and none of this is set in stone yet," he said.
Assistant Planning Director Deb Jones said the town will let property owners known when an application has been filed and a public hearing on proposed zone changes will be held.