After four nor’easters in March and a summer of record rainstorms, the Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission began its review of the proposed Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), which addresses climate change and sea level rise among its top issues.
Consultant Glenn Chalder of Planimetrics (above) is overseeing the POCD updating process.
P&Z chair Chuck Andres asked what specific steps Branford can take to deal with coastal and climate changes.
Chalder said there are no easy answers.
“This issue is likely to be one of the most complex in Branford’s history,” Chalder told the commission Thursday night.
The P&Z will hold a special meeting Wednesday, Oct. 17 from 7 to 9 p.m. at fire headquarters to continue discussing the proposed POCD.
Branford has the longest coastline of any town in Connecticut – more than 20 miles long including rivers and the Long Island Sound shoreline.
The proposed POCD states: “The scope of the issues associated with sea level rise are so extensive and expensive that it will be difficult, if not impossible, for the Town of Branford or any other governmental organization to address them all.”
Chalder said these issues won’t be resolved in the 10-year span of the POCD, but the goal is to start the discussion. “People are looking for guidance and direction,” he said.
Coastal and climate issues were chosen as top concerns during a POCD public workshop in December.
The POCD recommends the town appoint a committee to begin looking at coastal issues regarding climate change and sea level rise. Another suggestion is for the P&Z to evaluate whether Branford should impose stricter rules on development in coastal floodplain areas.
The draft document includes information from the Connecticut Institute for Resilience and Climate Adaptation, which recommends that Connecticut municipalities plan for sea level rise of 20 inches between 2017 and 2050.
The POCD states: “There is a growing realization that sea levels are rising and coastal storms are becoming more frequent and more severe. In March of 2018, there were four “nor’easters” within a short period of time and each storm impacted shoreline areas in Branford especially hard. What was once an area subject to the gentle rise and fall of tidal fluctuations has become an area at risk from events that were not fully envisioned 20 years ago.”
Branford has already been involved with various studies and plans, including the town’s 2016 Coastal Resilience Plan and the South Central Regional Council of Governments (SCRCOG) Regional Multi-Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan.
Commissioner Fred Russo said the issues are regional. “The shoreline is all one shoreline, no matter what your town is.”
The POCD Steering Committee, which has met monthly for a year, unanimously endorsed the 153-page revised draft last month and forwarded it to the P&Z.
Town Planner Harry Smith told the Eagle that the commission may decide on Oct. 17 they are ready to schedule a public hearing, or they may hold additional review sessions.
After the P&Z completes its review, it will schedule a public hearing. However, there is a mandatory waiting period of at least 65 days before it can be held, which means the hearing might not occur until January. During those 65 days, drafts of the POCD will be sent to the Board of Selectman, the Office of Long Island Programs, and the South Central Regional Council of Governments.
Residents will also have time to read through the proposed POCD, which is posted on the town’s website. The committee and residents suggested several changes to the initial draft, which was discussed at a June workshop.
The POCD serves as an advisory document, unless the P&Z Commission ties POCD recommendations to specific zoning regulations. The state requires that the document be updated every 10 years.
The draft includes 19 chapters, including Branford’s history and demographics, coastal concerns, natural resources, economic development, and residential development.
Neighbors Oppose Interior Lot Proposal
Also at Thursday’s P&Z meeting, a public hearing was held for request by William and Barbara Lyons of 186 Damascus Road to re-subdivide an adjacent lot and create two new residential lots, including an interior lot.
The property is across the street from the Walsh Intermediate School.
Anthony Hendriks, a land surveyor with Hendriks Associates in Old Lyme, told the commission that the proposed project meets all zoning regulations and does not need any variances.
The front lot would be .46 of an acre, and the interior lot would be .94 of an acre.
Attorney Jeffrey Beatty, of Beatty & Beatty LC of Guilford, who represents Lyons, said the interior lot will not damage the established development pattern of the neighborhood
“It is the most appropriate use of the land,” Beatty said.
Branford’s zoning regulations allow interior rear lots in residential R-4 zones, if granted as a special exception.
Several neighbors spoke in opposition to the interior lot, and a petition was presented with 18 signatures.
Kevin Healy, who was recently appointed to fill a vacancy in the 7th District of the Representative Town Meeting, said he was concerned about drainage issues from stormwater. His property is adjacent to the Lyons’ home.
Pete Lombardi spoke on behalf of Ron and Jenn Glick, who could not attend the hearing. He read a zoning regulation, which states: “If the commission finds that the established development pattern of a neighborhood would be damaged by the development of an interior lot, it shall deny the application for an interior lot.” He said neighbors believe that is the case, and are asking that the request be denied.
P&Z chair Chuck Andres told the developers, “I understand what you’re saying, and I understand what they’re saying.”
Andres closed the hearing and said the commissioners would be not discuss the proposal until the next regular meeting, which is Thursday, Oct 18.