MERIDEN — The city wants to amend its zoning regulations to encourage rehabilitation of run-down commercial buildings.
City Planner Renata Bertotti is proposing an “adaptive reuse overlay zone” that would apply to select buildings and reduce the restrictions and obstacles developers face in pursuing a rehabilitation project.
“We’re trying to get them occupied, we’re trying to get some life into them,” Bertotti told the City Council on Monday during a presentation of the adaptive reuse zone.
To qualify for the zone, buildings must be at least 50 years old, “no longer productively utilized” or “severely underutilized,” and the site must be occupied by a principal building with at least 15,000 square feet of gross area.
Bertotti on Monday gave councilors a list of more than 40 buildings, mostly manufacturing and warehouse facilities, that would qualify for the zone, including multiple buildings on Britannia, Center, Pratt, Colony, Cambridge, High and State streets.
Bertotti said her two biggest “carrots” to attract developers will be relaxing or eliminating some of the current regulations, namely parking requirements, and also streamlining the local approval process developers face.
In some cases, because the city’s zoning authority, the City Council, is separate from the Planning Commission, developers have to go before two or three different boards, a process that can take upwards of four to six months, Bertotti said.
Some developers don’t pursue approval because they don’t want to pay lawyers and architects during that time without any guarantee of approval.
The biggest obstacle developers will face is making the old building conform with today’s building codes, Planning Commission member Ross Gulino a local property owner, said at a meeting last month.Transform buildings
Bertotti told councilors Monday that she and Economic Development Director Joe Feest may request money in the 2020-21 budget to create a loan program in which the city lends developers money for costs associated with code compliance. Bertotti is also exploring whether any state grants or loans are available.
Under Bertotti’s proposal, developers would be allowed to transform buildings in the reuse zone to a number of new uses, including artisan industrial, banquet hall, brewpub, brewery, commercial club, farmers market, health care services/medical offices, hotel, indoor arts/recreation/entertainment, indoor storage facilities, laboratories and research, light industrial, membership clubs, multi-family dwelling, planned elderly housing development, recreation center, retail center, retail sales and service, restaurant, and elderly living facility, according to her presentation.
Bertotti wanted to present the idea to the council before she submits a formal application for the zone change in the coming weeks. A hearing for the change is expected to be held Nov. 19, she said.