CHESHIRE — A Town Council vote could allow for more growth on a stretch of Highland Avenue that planners say is a challenge for developers.
The council voted to change the town’s plan of conservation and development to allow the creation of the Highland Avenue design district from East and West Johnson avenues to Creamery Road.
Nearly all the properties are zoned industrial, which under current regulations doesn’t allow commercial businesses such as restaurants or offices. Town Planner William Voelker said the design district, if approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, could allow those additional uses, but not residential development.
The district would also allow flexibility when building on properties that are steep, have large wetlands or have poor access.
Voelker said some of the undeveloped property on the east side of Highland Avenue (Route 10) is a challenge for builders under the current regulations.
One such property is the nearly 50 acres owned by Eversource south of Fieldstone Court. Voelker said it’s awkwardly shaped and bisected by wetlands, making development difficult.
“You want to be able to design for the site,” he said. “We’re trying to get them to come up with a project that works for a particular property.”
The council approved the necessary change to the conservation and development plan last month. The design district regulations haven’t yet been completed but must be approved by the zoning commission.
Town Council Chairman Rob Oris thought the district could bring businesses that will grow the grand list and also provide services that people can’t get in town.
“Viron Rondo (restaurant) has been an excellent addition to the north end,” he said. “The town would like to see more of that kind of stuff.”
Oris also said the only way to handle financial pressures without major tax increases is growing the town’s tax base. While he’s looking for more businesses, Oris said he wants quality economic development and was glad that the town would still have control over what’s built.
“It creates a very strong oversite opportunity for the town,” he said of the design district. “That’s important to me.”
Councilor Tom Ruocco was the only vote in opposition.
“There’s an element of my constituents that don’t want to see retail built up on Route 10,” he said.
Among some there’s a fear that commercial development in that portion of Highland Avenue “might just explode into a lot of congestion and traffic.”
Voelker said he hopes the district will encourage good design as well as shared entrances to reduce the number of driveways and improve access between developments.
He wasn’t aware of any businesses that had tried to develop the area and were stymied by regulations, but Voelker said builders do take notice of zoning changes in town.
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