WALLINGFORD — At the request of the mayor, a proposal to allow more kinds of business and industry in the Watershed Protection District has been withdrawn.
The Planning and Zoning Commission reopened a public hearing Monday night, continued from its previous meeting, and voted unanimously to withdraw the application for changes to permitted uses in the Industrial Expansion (IX) Zone, the Interchange District (I-5) Zone and the Watershed Protection District (WPD), which are located in the northeastern part of town.
Most of the land within the I-5 zone and a large portion of land in the IX zone feeds into the Muddy River, which is the primary source for Mackenzie Reservoir, the main source of the town's drinking water. All land within the watershed for Mackenzie Reservoir is designated as a Watershed Protection District.
While expanding the types of businesses that can operate in the affected zones may stimulate economic activity, town officials — including members of the town’s Water and Sewer Divisions — and members of the public voiced their concerns about potentially compromising the town's drinking water supply at the commission’s Dec. 14 meeting.
The surface water system provides approximately 94 percent of the public drinking water, serving about 39,500 local residents and businesses.
Dickinson, Public Utilities Director Rick Hendershot, Economic Development Specialist Tim Ryan and Town Corporation Counsel Janis M. Small signed a letter dated Jan. 5 to PZC Chairman Jim Seichter which requested that the proposed amendments be withdrawn “with the intention to encourage a more comprehensive proposal for the Commission’s consideration.”
“Due to serious legal and policy concerns about the proposed changes, we are requesting additional time to develop thoughts and language for consideration of the Planning & Zoning Commission,” the letter stated.
The four town officials plan to meet to revise the language in the proposed regulation changes and produce a draft by March 31, if not sooner, the letter stated.
“I found that there were quite a few parties involved and various offices that had different interpretations of what was being discussed,” Dickinson said Monday, “and I really felt it was time to try to have everyone be on the same page, as far as what the language would mean and what the language would say.”
Read the letter to the Wallingford PZC.Dickinson declined to go into further detail about “serious legal and policy concerns.”
“I’m just not going to add to what I wrote at this time,” he said.
Hendershot and Small did not return calls for comment Monday.
Ryan said Monday that he would rather Small weigh in on the legal concerns and Dickinson on the policy concerns.
“What we are collectively about to do is make a very significant decision,” Ryan said, “and you really need to make sure, at least from my standpoint, that we are very, very prepared to make that decision. It just seemed like there was too much tugging and pulling going on, which doesn’t lay the ground for the best decision.”
He said that all future applications for permits and activity in the I-5 and IX zones would be vetted through these new regulations.
“We need to get it right,” Ryan said. “That’s why I was happy to sign the letter.”
The IX zone is a horseshoe-shaped zone with the I-5 zone abutting its lower right side. In the middle of the IX zone and abutting the eastern boundaries of the I-5 and IX zones are rural residential districts.
Wallingford resident Jen Frechette, 29 Valley View Drive, lives in the area that would be impacted by the regulation changes.
At Monday’s meeting, she expressed her frustration with Dickinson, saying to the commission that she feels like “the mayor is serving a private party.”
“As a citizen, I feel like this is delaying further,” she said. “I feel like I have to continue to watch agendas and, you know, look over my shoulder. It’s very anxiety-provoking, and I appreciate what you guys are doing, but I’m really disappointed in our mayor right now.”
Commission member Jaime Hine asked about why Water and Sewer Divisions officials object to expanding permitted uses in the I-5 zone to include what’s already permitted in the IX zone.
Acting Town Planner Tom Talbot said that in discussions with Water and Sewer Divisions officials, he felt that they have made it clear over the years.
“They think that that … represents that much more of a threat to the watershed,” he said. “To them, existing regulations are a done deal. They’re not so much focused on equity in the two districts, in terms of usage … It’s expansion of uses that they’re, I’m going to say it, that they’re suspicious of, and they’ve expressed this a number of times.”
Commission member Jim Fitzsimmons said that while the proposal to change the regulations is not going away, “it’s just going to be pushed to the side for a little while.”
“We’ve been talking about this for several years,” he said, “so I think several months is going to give people time to regroup, so to speak, in light of the information that the Water and Sewer (officials) raised.”
Commission member Jeff Kohan said he was taken aback the letter, which originated from Dickinson’s office.
“For a concerned party to come back at this late stage in the game, is a little disconcerting to me, especially with the wording ‘serious legal and policy concerns,’” he said. “Why are they being serviced now?”