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City looks at zoning around Naval Submarine Base

By KIMBERLY DRELICH | The Day, New London, Conn. | Published: August 24, 2019

GROTON, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — As the Planning and Zoning Commission looks at updating the zoning around the Naval Submarine Base, it is hoping to hear feedback from people who live or own property in the area, the town's planning director said.

The town's Office of Planning and Development is inviting them to a site walk of the area, beginning at the Nautilus Memorial Museum at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 27, and then an informational meeting from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Town Hall Annex.

The commission will discuss the topic at its meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the annex.

The current Nautilus Memorial Design District zoning around the base was created 35 years ago and was intended to "Protect and enhance the primary entryway to the Nautilus Memorial," "Service tourist-related and Navy needs" and "Provide protection to adjacent residential areas," according to a May memo from the Horsley Witten Group Inc., the consultant on the town's zoning rewrite project.

Jonathan Reiner, the director of the town's Office of Planning and Development Services, wrote in the letter to property owners this week that while the zone "was meant to protect and enhance the entrance to the Nautilus Memorial Museum along Crystal Lake Road and parts of Route 12, ... promoting a variety of uses from apartments to hotels to community – and tourism-serving businesses," the neighborhood has seen little development.

"The PZC is working with the Navy to propose changes that would encourage appropriate development while protecting the Navy Base and surrounding neighborhoods," he wrote.

Reiner wrote the commission is considering changes, including rezoning most properties in the district to a Commercial, Neighborhood Zone, "which would allow many of the same types of uses allowed today"; rezoning several properties on Pleasant Valley Road North to a residential zone since the properties have single-family homes; and placing "an overlay zone on properties along Crystal Lake Road across from the Navy Base to limit development to those uses that will not impact Base security."

Reiner said by phone that based on the feedback received over the past five years, the town believes the Nautilus Memorial Design District is "a major limiting factor to any development or redevelopment in that district." The town has heard that the district's regulations are cumbersome and didn't outline clear expectations for development.

"It didn't give property owners and developers a clear path on how to develop their property," he said. Every use within that district requires a special permit, which adds costs and unpredictability to the process, he added.

Groton recently wrapped up a comprehensive rewrite of its zoning regulations. The town now is looking at the zoning in the vicinity of the naval base as part of the larger Joint Land Use Study project shepherded by the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and funded by the Department of Defense.

"The sub base is appreciative of the town's sustained support and efforts such as the recent Joint Land Use Study and this zoning review that look to ensure the compatibility of the community, the base and the base's continuing mission," said Chris Zendan, spokesperson for the base.

"What I'd like to see is some good public input," said Bob Ross, executive director of the Connecticut Office of Military Affairs. "We've been working hard over the years to prevent encroachment that would interfere with the future Navy operations that we want to protect."

Ross said they are trying to take a comprehensive holistic approach to come up with agreed-upon zoning regulations that will help both the community and the Navy.

No decisions on the zoning have been made. Reiner said the Planning and Zoning Commission wants input from the people whom the proposed changes would affect the most before moving forward. Any proposed changes would have to go to a public hearing, which he wouldn't envision being held until the late fall.

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