To the Editor:
Much has been made of the required changes to the Old Lyme Zoning Regulations to accommodate a new Arts Overlay District to the sole benefit the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts.
I find it difficult to understand how an institution, much beloved in the community, has failed financially twice in the last decade. The Town has assisted in many ways to help this struggling entity in its quest to retain its cultural contribution to our community. So here we are for a third try, being asked to change our Town zoning laws to accommodate one organization. The Lyme Academy of Fine Arts did not fail because zoning was too difficult, most applications by the institution for Special Exceptions have been granted. The financial insecurity of the Academy is based in a poor business model. Its base problem is too much overhead and not enough income. How should this relate to Zoning? It shouldn’t.
The goal of the applicant is to make it easier to get permission to adjust their income stream by expanding their previously “student only” art store to a retail business and to expand their existing café area to a full service restaurant. On the face of it, and if you did not live in the residential zone of the Historic District, reasonable attempts at shoring up the balance sheet. The rub is that once these uses are allowed, they travel with the property. So if the Academy finds itself again in unfortunately familiar circumstances and must sell the property, the uses allowed to that lovely institution to help it along, now will travel to the new owner. That means two new commercial properties will have been allowed in a residential district.
We have zoning laws in place to prevent just this circumstance. While this may not be considered “spot zoning”, if the underlying property changes use from an educational institution to anything else, it will be the creation of commercial use property within a pre-existing residential zone.
Which leads me to wonder if the Board of the Academy truly believes a small retail store and a restaurant are going to save the institution or are there other plans not known to the public that will be facilitated by these changes in Zoning?
The Applicant complains the current Special Exception process is difficult. It should be. It’s meant to protect the residents of this Residential Zone.
Jennifer Symonds says
Good job Tom!! Fully agree!
Another way for the academy to find a way to make it work.
William Folland says
Why shouldn’t the art academy be allowed the same options for retail and dining as the Florence Griswold Museum has?
Are these objections more about one’s self interest rather than the interest of our town?
Holly Cox says
My thoughts exactly.
Bonnie Kramm says
I can say first hand that the current leadership at the Academy is planning for long term success.
We should support them with approval of this overlay zoning.
Thomas D. Gotowka says
Christina and I are in support of the arts overlay district on Lyme Street. The Academy has a new, strong leadership team and arts faculty in place and they have restructured the school as an academy, not a college. Their presence as an anchor on Lyme Street is important for a Town who celebrates its arts heritage of more than a century and a quarter.
I admit that I am a novice and have only limited facility with the Town’s Zoning Regulations. However, as I recall from the hearing on this proposal, Zoning Commission member, Jane Marsh, does not agree with your assertion (i.e., the rub”) that once these uses are allowed, they travel with the property to a new owner.
I have trouble understanding how their site at 84 Lyme Street is zoned residential”, although the Academy, with its extensive studios and classrooms, has operated on that site as an educational institution for decades.
Clearly, Christina and I feel that creating the arts/ cultural district is a good thing and reflects well on the Town; and so, the Zoning Commission must bring its courage and skill to bear on this proposal and create a district that will assist the Academy achieve thoughtful and sustainable growth; and define the new regulations in a way that provides some flexibility in the district, while giving up none of their authority to continue to assure compliance.