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The Deep River Town Hall auditorium was packed to the balcony for the Jan. 17 Planning & Zoning Commission public hearing on floating zones. (Photo by Brian Boyd/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Seeing is believing: The Deep River Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) saw dozens of their neighbors stand to speak in oppposition of the commission’s floating zone proposal at its Jan. 17 public hearing. For further evidence, when resident Bob Ghinder asked “Who here is in favor of this?” not a single hand from the 150-plus residents in attendance was raised.
The PZC effectively killed the proposal in a brief meeting following the two-plus-hour hearing. The PZC voted to send the proposal back to the Regulations Committee for re-evaluation.
“It seems pretty obvious the residents are not on board with this,” said commission member Anthony Bolduc as the commission discussed its options for the vote on the proposal.
The public hearing began with a briefing from PZC Chair Bruce Edgerton who cautioned the audience, “…we all live in Deep River and we are all neighbors, let’s raise not lower the bar of civility. Don’t let your message get lost, temper it. Act like adults.”
From there, Zoning Enforcement Officer Cathie Jefferson gave a brief explanation of the proposed commission-sponsored amendments to the Deep River Zoning Regulations to allow floating districts in the R-80 and CIP Districts for Landscape/Nursery Services and Contractor’s Business and Storage Yards.
She explained that the town already has to be open to amend zoning regulations by state statute, so, she said, the door is wide open for new proposals already.
“[Floating zones} will give you the opportunity to have a three-part tool…with more restriction than is currently in place,” said Jefferson. “We took the regulations from other towns [including Madison, Clinton, Old Saybrook, and Middletown] and adapted them to what we thought would work in Deep River. This doesn’t open the door for anything, the door is already open. This is an attempt to make it more transparent. We do listen and transparency is important to the commission.”
However, there were still several unanswered questions from the residents, the bulk of which were centered around why this proposal was being brought up now. Residents questioned the proposal’s likelihood of improving Deep River’s character or benefiting the town as a whole.
“Even if it’s just landscapers and commercial businesses [applying for floating zones] right now, this will install the opportunity and open the flood gates for other floating zones in the future,” said long time Deep River resident Dan Morrissey.
“How will floating zones, if they will be converting residential property to commercial use, protect us?” Rob Kinne asked. “I thought the commission said we can’t do that, it’s spot zoning. What is the benefit of this?”
Partway through the meeting, public questions began to shift to asking the commission how townspeople could force the vote to a public referendum rather than leave it as a PZC decision.
“If we pay taxes, we should have the right to determine what goes on in our town,” Gail Gallagher stated.
Property owner Richard Rea was one of many speakers to be met with applause after his statement, “I like Deep River the way it is. It’s not a Clinton or a Madison. I think we should let Deep River figure it out for itself. I’m not saying it’s not going to happen, but I think we should look at the mistakes other town have made so we don’t make the same ones.”
“I am very skeptical as I sit here,” said Susan Smith, a 37-year resident. “You are saying, ‘This is the way it’s going to be,’ but people don’t keep things the way it’s supposed to be. What’s coming down the road with this?”
Brett Thompson said, “I think we are unnecessarily threatening the quality of life here, and the rural character and our unique identity.”
In a rare occurrence, two members of the commission joined the residents in commenting on the issue; newly re-appointed commission member Johnathan Kastner and Jane Samuels.
Samuels stated, “I suggest we vote ‘No’ if we do take a vote tonight. Let’s consult the residents first and do the right thing.”
Kastner said, “What we are hearing from the residents is an undercurrent of distrust, which I find disappointing. It’s not an us and them.”