The Planning and Zoning Commission and Regulatory Review Committee held a community information session regarding proposed changes to multi-unit housing zoning regulations at Mansfield Town Hall Monday night.
“The Planning and Zoning Commission’s Regulatory Review Committee wanted to get input on this overall approach before we move forward with actually drafting detailed legal changes to the regulations,” Town of Mansfield Director of Planning and Development Linda Painter said.
The Planning and Zoning Commission’s Regulatory Review Committee, a subcommittee of the Planning and Zoning Commission with four key members, began to examine current multi-unit housing zoning regulations in Sept. 2016, Painter said.
“Back in Sept. 2016, the Planning and Zoning Commission adopted a nine-month moratorium on all applications related to multi-family housing…what this means is that from Sept. 2016 to June 2017, they will not accept any applications related to multi-family housing, so no new special permit applications, no requests to rezone, so a developer can’t come in during this time and say, ‘I’d like to propose the following changes’ regarding multi-family housing,” Painter said. “It was really a nine-month time frame for them to focus on multi-family housing and look at our regulations and how to improve them. Immediately after that moratorium was adopted, the (Planning and Zoning Commission’s) Regulatory Review Committee got to work.”
The proposed changes will be revealed to the Planning and Zoning Commission soon, Painter said.
“It will be presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission to get their input in the coming weeks as well. Ultimately, before we schedule any public hearing on proposed changes, the planning and zoning commission needs to vote on that and to move them forward,” Painter said.
Proposed changes include changing the term “multi-family dwelling” to “multi-unit dwelling” in the zoning regulations to do away with restrictions on the number of unrelated adult individuals that can live in one unit, Painter said.
“Zoning regulations define families in a variety of ways,” Painter said. “The key clause says you can’t have more than three unrelated adult individuals living as family. We don’t consider you to be family; we consider you to be boarding house. Prior to 2010, it was four.”
Another proposed change is shifting the definition of sorority and fraternity in the zoning regulations, Painter said.
“Right now, our definition of sorority and fraternity is linked to an office at UConn that doesn’t exist anymore,” Painter said. “The definition focused on Greek life, and didn’t address the myriad of other groups that exist on campus, such as academic groups. The intent here is to strength regulations by making the definition much more general.”
The proposed changes will benefit the development of Mansfield neighborhoods, according to Painter.
“We’re looking at ways to provide connections for bikes, for cars, for pedestrians, so we’re starting to create neighborhoods instead of individual silos,” Painter said. “We’re designing to fit the context and asking, ‘How is the design complementing the best part of neighborhoods?’”
Meeting attendees responded to the proposed changes in various ways.
“They’re being a bit reactive, not proactive,” Associate Professor in political science, philosophy and geography at Eastern Connecticut State University Dr. Martin Mendoza-Botelho said. “Everybody wants clean water, a clean environment and a safe space. We need to find commonalities, and have clear rules for renters, for students.”
Another meeting attendee said that a balance between Mansfield and University of Connecticut concerns must be reached with the proposed zoning regulation changes.
“One of the great reasons to live in a campus town is the students. I love having students as my neighbors,” Mansfield resident and Dorgan Architecture & Planning AIA, LEED-AP, Principal Kathleen Dorgan said. “It’s imperative that we incorporate students in planning for our community. We also need to protect the other residents’ concerns.”
The Regulatory Review Committee aims to have the proposed changes to the multi-unit housing zoning regulations completed by mid to late March so that a public hearing may be held about them in May, Painter said.
“Multi-unit housing could be for a family or it could be student housing,” Painter said. “We don’t specify in the (proposed) regulation. We’re not regulating the number of unrelated adults in an apartment. If you want to have more than two apartment mates, it (the proposed regulation) gives you that option.”
Alexandra Retter is staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.