October 27, 2021

Old Lyme EDC Recommends Declaration of Zoning Approval Moratorium on Halls Rd. Projects

OLD LYME — The following resolution was approved by seven members present at the Old Lyme Economic Development Commission’s regular monthly meeting held Wednesday, May 5. One member, Margaret Jane DeRisio, abstained citing a possible conflict of interest.

The Old Lyme Economic Development Commission (EDC) is tasked with supporting and encouraging a vibrant and sustainable business climate in Old Lyme, scaled to the resources and needs of the town. We seek the optimum development of business opportunities in Old Lyme. The mix of businesses in a particular area such as Halls Road can have a significant impact on the climate for all businesses there, current and future. Planning, therefore, becomes important. 

Because Halls Road connects the northbound and southbound halves of Exit 70 on I-95, its current commercial-only zoning makes it most attractive (in the current business climate) to regional and national chains whose businesses are aimed at highway traffic, and not at the needs of our small town. 

For decades Old Lyme’s planning documents have explicitly said the town should give preference to businesses that support the needs of the town and discourage those aimed at servicing I-95 traffic. They have sought to prevent Halls Road from becoming a series of truck stops and fast-food venues. 

Halls Road has only a limited space that can ever be developed. The town should do what it can to ensure that this limited area is developed in such a way as to best serve the needs of the town and its businesses, present and future. Each new development has an impact on the range of possible future developments. If the Halls Road plan calls for mixed use in a walkable, bicycle-friendly, town-center environment, then each new development in that area must support that long-term goal. Any step in a contrary direction (e.g. toward truck stops, warehouses, factories, big-box stores, etc.) works to prevent the accomplishment of the long-term goal, and should be prohibited or strongly discouraged in this area. These contrary developments are not just sub-optimal uses of a limited resource (buildable land). Their presence significantly reduces the chance of getting the investments we do seek in that area: a mix of smaller-scale market-rate housing combined with shops and restaurants that serve the population of Old Lyme. 

The Halls Road plan is near completion. The next phase includes changing the zoning along Halls Road to reflect the goals of the plan. This will give future investors a clear sense of what types of development are encouraged along Halls Road and which types are not. Clarity is good for business. If Old Lyme does the planning and zoning work correctly, it will attract the kinds of investment we want, and help transform Halls Road into a sustainable, mixed-use, commercial area more in keeping, both visually and functionally, with the small town feel of Old Lyme. Bad developments today obstruct more and better investments in the future. Today, investors interested in mixed-use developments like those envisioned in the town’s plan cannot consider Halls Road because it is zoned “commercial-only.” They are not allowed to compete with truck stops or storage warehouses for the limited property there.

We think it would be wise to declare a moratorium on zoning approvals for projects along Halls Road, effective immediately, pending the completion of the Halls Road plan and any new zoning regulations based on it. It is not fair to our town or to investors to move forward with projects while the rules are in flux. We cannot support near-term projects that would work to prevent or degrade future developments of higher long-term value.

Comments

  1. Patrick Derosier says

    Well put. I could not agree more. It would be a shame for anything to move forward on Halls Road at this point before any zoning changes necessitated by the master plan take effect.

  2. Mary Waldron says

    Beautifully and wisely written.

  3. Thomas Johnston says

    The above Resolution with explanation approved by the Old Lyme Economic Development Commission on May 5, 2021 is in the best interests of the Old Lyme Community, and is needed to avoid the recent proposal by Essex Savings Bank to sell their two vacant commercial lots with a plan for Big-Y to build a super pumper service station/convenience store.
    How could it possibly be in the best interest of Old Lyme and its citizens to have two service stations—one on each side of Treasures Store—on the very limited number of available undeveloped commercial lots on Halls Road?

  4. Katherine Allard says

    Thank you, for seeing the reality of what bad planning development does to a small town.
    Thank you again, for good planning in my hometown.

  5. Jim Freehill says

    Completely agree and everyone who lives in OL will also.

    Building a second gas station on Halls Rd to service 95 traffic is a non starter.

    It’s a little shocking that Essex Savings Bank thought it could sell those two lots to a gas station. What town are they servicing?

  6. J. David Kelsey says

    Not a fan of new gas stations, but if this is not mercurial command and control, I don’t know what is. EDC, the ad hoc Halls Road Improvements Committee and the town boards and commissions have had YEARS to come up with changes. This is private property, there are zoning regulations in place that serve as rules for BOTH private owners AND the town – if you don’t like them, change them in less than ten years of navel-gazing, don’t frantically call to freeze legal enterprise when something like a gas station shows up, it is why no one wants to deal with Old Lyme. Get something done on regs and street improvements, don’t ask for an indefinite hold in a panic while you try to get your act together after 30 years, when all the town needs is a nice streetscape, reduced setbacks and some easy provision for mixed use. If you don’t like what someone else is now legally entitled to do with their property, buy the property. It should never be easy for a small minority to tell others arbitrarily what to do with their money and their property, and that is why we should continue to be a country of stable, predictable laws and regulations applied equally to all.

    • Bennett J. Bernblum says

      I disagree with David. As the former chair of the Halls Road Improvements Committee, I well know that changes to the Halls Road neighborhood in the public interest have been openly discussed for years, and that prior attempts to expand gas station traffic have been vehemently opposed. Ironically, right now the Halls Road committee is poised to propose a master plan wholly incompatible with the gas station/truck stop. Neither the seller nor the buyer can claim surprise about public opposition to their plans. One of the principal concerns alway expressed about Halls Road is the heavy traffic. Given the easy off, easy on, access to Halls Road from I 95, it is no wonder that a developer would expect substantial off-highway traffic, which could routinely make the road impassible to locals. It makes no sense to promote the bottom line of one company at the expense of our residents and existing businesses. Although I agree with David that it would be wrong for “a small minority to tell others arbitrarily what to do. . .,” I am confident that the vast majority of Old Lyme voters oppose this project, and this opposition is far from arbitrary.

      • J David Kelsey says

        My comments apply to the rule of law, not the desirability of a particular project. I do not want to see another gas station on Halls Road, but right now, it is permissable so long as requirements for a special permit are met. To impose a moratorium directed at a currently lawful, permitted use is a terrible precedent. It would also halt the farm to table retail directly across the road, everyone for that? The need for reviewing current zoning has indeed been apparent for a LONG time, and my point was that progress for whatever reason has been exceedingly delayed, despite anyone who reads the zoning regs for C-30 designation encountering the surprise that one of the few uses currently NOT requiring a special permit is adult entertainment!! That should prompt folks to start moving more quickly to getting to achieveable “good” improvements rather than continued waiting for “perfect” changes with a likely illegal moratorium with no defined end!

    • William Folland says

      The NIMBY crowd are vocal but misguided here in Old Lyme, surely any court would see this proposal for what it is, downright obstruction.

    • Jim Freehill says

      There’s nothing arbitrary about it. The town doesn’t want to have off 95 traffic to veer off to fill up gas or fast food in OL.

      The EDC commission has ambitious plans to finally develop Halls Round and optimize the only small commercial district we have and make it consistent with the small town history and character that we have.

      Now, why this zoning restriction wasn’t already in place, I don’t know but I’m not involved in Old Lyme town government but you are.

      Given that you are the chairman of the board of finance, it seems like you would have the ability to positively influence the development of the HRIC.

      But you don’t seem to support their initiatives.

      And if you’re not a supporter of it, then why are you in OL gov’t?

      What is your plan? What is your program?

  7. Faye Richardson says

    Yes, an excellent report! And we should all send letters to Essex Savings Bank, the Big Y and our Selectmen in support of the Commission’s recommendation to declare a moratorium on zoning approvals for projects along Halls Road, effective immediately, pending the completion of the Halls Road plan and any new zoning regulations based on it. It would be heartbreaking to see that area become a truck stop.

  8. Thomas D. Gotowka says

    I also agree that the EDC recommendation, and their reminder of what have been the historic parameters for Halls RD development, are both good for the community. However, there are desirable and intended(?) consequences of any decision to not proceed with the new I-95 truck stop, and those include the stability it could afford for the small businesses already operating on Halls RD, and a continued supportive environment for the wood frogs and breeding ducks who rely on the vernal pool that sits adjacent to the proposed site.
    Like Mr. Kelsey, I can also say that I don’t know what is meant by “mercurial command and control”.

  9. Sandra Rueb says

    Hooray for EDC passing a resolution on a moratorium for zoning approvals for new plans until the fully developed mixed-use plan for the property on Halls Road is advanced without worry that a truck stop could spring up next to Essex Savings Bank. The Hall Road Committee should have the time to flesh its Master Plan for a proposed mixed-use of the space so that a charming, sustainable and practical re-design of this area can be offered to potential investors. Nearby residents will be delighted to enjoy another outdoor space for walking, biking, eating and living. Our Covid winter has encouraged many of us to enjoy walking outside daily and being rejuvenating by the beauty of our town.. Halls Road along the Lieutenant River would offer an ideal setting.

  10. Karen Conniff says

    I agree with Dave. By placing a blanket moratorium on all zoning permits, you are likely to shut out businesses that are totally compatible with the town’s plan, like the farm-to-table enterprise at 96 Halls Rd. I’m not even sure the moratorium would hold up in court. If you want to change something, start with zoning. And Dave is right–the only things that don’t need special permits in a commercial zone are banks and adult entertainment.

    • Jimmy Free says

      The creators of Farm to Table enterprise will welcome the town’s initiative to remake Halls Road.

      To suggest that stopping the building of the gas station is inconsistent with encouraging the farm to table enterprise and similar concepts defies logic.

      Besides . . .

      There haven’t been any new enterprises on Halls Road for years that’s why we need the HRIC and need to support its plan.

      As said above, I can’t say why these zoning laws were not modified previously to prevent this type of unwanted development.

      But now they are and now we march on.

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