Decisions on local land use face delays as meetings are canceled  

reporter photo

As area municipalities cancel meetings of boards and commissions to impede the spread of coronavirus, that could mean delays in decisions about local land use.

In Wallingford, a holdout among several nearby towns curtailing hours at Town Hall, Planning and Zoning department officials are open for business but practicing social distancing, standing back from the counter when people approach.

“We’re doing what everybody else is doing,” said Amy Torre, the town’s zoning enforcement officer. “We’re putting one foot in front of the other, and doing what we have to do in a strange environment.”

Even though Town Hall remains open, Monday’s Zoning Board of Appeals meeting was canceled due to the lack of a quorum.

An application for a variance at 100 Center St. would have been discussed.

Chiropractor Tracy Malton, of Healing Hands Chiropractic, bought the century-old former bank building two months ago for $405,000. Her current practice is located two blocks away at 3 Hall Ave.

Her goal is to change it into a holistic health center, building on her chiropractic practice, but she faces opposition from the Planning and Zoning Commission.

Currently, only retail shops, restaurants or personal service businesses, like hair or nail salons, may operate downtown. The regulations prohibit offices, including medical like the one Malton wishes to open, on the ground floor in the Town Center District.

At its March 11 meeting, the PZC opted to uphold a report from February to the ZBA that stated the commission can’t support Malton’s application because the claimed hardship of following the regulation “appears to be self-created,” according to a memo issued on behalf of the PZC by Tom Talbot, filling in part-time for Town Planner Kacie Hand, who’s out on maternity leave.

Talbot said that the term “self-created” means that the PZC feels the applicant didn’t prove the property can’t be reasonably used for something else.

Malton would have had a chance to appeal to the ZBA on Monday and present more than 230 petition signatures in support of her business.

Even with the canceled meeting, the public found a way to weigh in on the application.

Torre received about eight letters and emails containing testimonials from individuals in support of the business and stamped them into the record Tuesday.

Malton said Wednesday that she’s currently “at a standstill.”

She said that the uniqueness of the one-story bank building makes it difficult to follow the downtown zoning regulations, which went into effect in 2018.

“We are getting no sympathy to the fact that this building does not conform to retail,” she said. “They basically want restaurants and retail on the first floor of the downtown center as a way to revive the downtown. I understand and I’m in support of reviving the downtown, but vacant buildings are not a good thing.”

Malton said her next course of action is to hire a lawyer to pursue changing the zoning regulations while working on a variance with the ZBA.

Timelines maintained

The deadline for submitting an application to the PZC or ZBA in Wallingford is three days prior to a meeting. If the deadline has passed, the item is usually placed on the agenda for the following month, Torre said.

Public hearings still follow the legal requirements of notification in the newspaper. ZBA applications are always a public hearing, while the PZC holds public hearings for special permits, not site plans.

The timeline for when an application is opened, closed or a decision is rendered depends on the type of an application, and all have an extension period to dip into, which can apply to any of the actions, she said.

Torre said that the ZBA is carrying forward two applications from the lack of a March meeting and one new application to its April meeting.

The PZC has two public hearing continuations, including the application for an Amazon warehouse at 425 S. Cherry St., and two new applications.

Erin O’Hare, the town’s environmental planner, said the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission and the Conservation Commission already held their monthly meetings for March.

The upcoming deadline for wetland permit applications is March 31, and O’Hare said it’s unknown how she’d process the applications if Town Hall is closed.

An extension for a wetlands application or for the remediation of a violation doesn’t work, she said, since the time of year that the work is ordered to be completed by is often a consideration.

She added that although the town parks are still open, the mild winter means ticks and other insects are out early, and she encouraged people to use precautions when venturing outside.

Meriden exploring video

In Meriden, City Planner Renata Bertotti is operating under a different set of circumstances.

Meriden City Hall reduced its open hours, and City Manager Tim Coon announced at Monday night’s City Council meeting that Meriden is canceling all municipal meetings this week.

Bertotti said that just one meeting for her office has been canceled so far, which was the Economic Development Housing and Zoning Committee meeting scheduled for Tuesday.

As of the noon deadline Tuesday, there were no Inland Wetlands applications so that meeting may not be held, she said.

Meetings are scheduled for the ZBA on April 7 and the PZC on April 8, and Bertotti said she’s waiting on direction from Coon as to whether video conferencing will be an option.

She said that the way the meeting would be held, either remotely by video or with an audience using social distancing, will be included on agendas and notices.

“This perhaps will teach us how to conduct business when everything is at a standstill,” Bertotti said. “It’s almost a lesson that I wish we learned a little bit sooner.”

LTakores@record-journal.com203-317-2212Twitter: @LCTakores

Dr. Tracy Malton, new owner of the former Wallingford Bank and Trust Company building at 100 Center St., on Jan. 14, 2020.
This warehouse on South Cherry Street is slated to become an Amazon facility.
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