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Commission recommends Stonington proceed with enacting demolition delay ordinance

Stonington — The Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously Tuesday night to recommend the town proceed with enacting a 90-day delay on the demolition of buildings.

In addition, commission members agreed to investigate the possibility of creating village districts that could help further protect historic structures.

If the Board of Selectmen supports the demolition ordinance, it could be sent to a town meeting for voter approval later this year. If enacted, the demolition delay also would apply to the borough. 

The commission's decision came after members received a Historic Preservation Strategies Report prepared by Town Planner Keith Brynes that offers options for preserving the town's historic buildings. These include implementing demolition delays, creating historic and village districts and offering preservation incentives.

Brynes told the commission that while demolition delay ordinances do not prohibit demolitions, they give the town and residents time to attempt to purchase a property or pursue other options. 

Unlike the demolition ordinance, which requires voter approval, the commission could implement a village district for areas of town such as downtown Mystic and Pawcatuck. The borough has its own zoning regulations. In contrast, creation of a historic district would have to be approved by two-thirds of property owners in a proposed district.

Establishing a village district would give the commission more discretion than it has now under zoning to regulate proposed development changes within its boundaries.

Under state law, Brynes wrote in his report that village districts allow a commission to review additional factors, such as historic preservation, public views and village architectural character, when reviewing applications.

He also wrote that a recommendation to establish village districts was removed from a draft of the town's 2015 update of its Plan of Conservation and Development after the business community and Board of Selectmen were concerned about the impact of additional regulations on businesses and homeowners.

While commission members said there are pros and cons to the village district concept, they agreed to look into it.  

Member Fred Deichmann said he and his fellow commissioners could "put on our bulletproof vests" and see if residents want to proceed with the village district concept.

The issue of preserving historic homes and buildings has come to the forefront in the past few years. It came up in 2018, when the town issued a controversial demolition permit for two homes on Haley Street in Mystic without the 90-day waiting period that had been informally used in the past. Two weeks ago, the commission approved a plan to turn the empty lot where the homes once stood into a 14-space parking lot for the former Odd Fellows building on Cottrell Street to serve its commercial and residential tenants.

The issue also came up in 2019, when state officials said the town must preserve a home on the proposed Mystic Boathouse Park property, which is part of the Rossie Velvet Mill Historic District, after the town planned to tear it down to make way for a boathouse. Plans have now been redrawn to incorporate the home into the boathouse.

Also in 2019, a 19th-century building that was part of the mill complex on Mechanic Street in Pawcatuck was torn down. Its historic importance had been recognized by the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, which said it should be the center of a revised industrial and commercial complex.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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