A floating precinct application has been submitted for the Victorian Village
The Planning and Zoning Commission (PZC) has voted to continue deliberations on two applications relating to a potential floating zone which the applicants say would allow for the redevelopment of the Victorian Village Inn hotel. The next meeting is on Monday, October 16th.
Earlier this summer, Victorian Village LLC, owner of the property at 345 East Main Street, filed two applications. One application asked the commission to create a new floating area called a Multifamily Adaptive Reuse Zone (MARZ), and another application asked for the area to be landed at 345 East Main Street.
At the PZC meeting on September 11, the committee voted to continue deliberations on the applications submitted for the meeting on October 16. City Planner Abby Pearsall explained that there was a clerical error in the agenda, so out of an abundance of caution, he recommended the committee schedule a vote on the requests.
At a public hearing on September 11 regarding the requests, no members of the public spoke; However, Scott McNeil, counsel for the applicant, spoke briefly to the committee.
MacNeil read a memo from fellow attorney Andrea Gomez that reiterated the applicant’s view that rezoning the property would improve the site, particularly in making the property more welcoming and adding character to the part of town.
“Given the totality of the proposed site improvements, which include sidewalks along the site frontage, an improved stormwater management system, and enhanced landscaping, the proposed redevelopment will address this conflict by enhancing the transitional nature of the area, including, in particular, residential uses.” To the south and west, enhance screening for nearby commercial and retail uses, the memo stated in part, and improve traffic on and off the site.
The memo also said that while the city’s Plan of Preservation and Development (POCD) expressed a desire for residential development, not facing Route 1, that is not a requirement. This was a sticking point for some committee members at an early meeting of the party’s Central Committee.
The memorandum also confirmed the applicant’s intent to attempt to retain current residents.
During the PZC meeting in August, a letter from Diana Chase, a current resident living in the Victorian Village, was read into the record. In her letter, Chase strongly opposed the estate plan because of the potential for rent increases.
“If this development happens as planned, at least 35 people will become permanently homeless. These people are mostly manual workers who cannot afford post-coronavirus rental prices. We go to bed desperate and wake up even more desperate,” Chase wrote in part.
Speaking at the meeting, Chase noted that even with some potential units designated as affordable housing, the rental price would still be too high for some current residents to afford.
Committee member Cinzia Lettieri said at the August meeting that she, too, is concerned about the future of current residents on the property and the lack of affordable housing in the city.
At that meeting, Daniel Ackerman, a representative of Victorian Village, LLC, told the committee that he would like to work with the current tenants to retain as many of them as possible and that he would like to avoid charging exorbitant rent.
While the committee sympathized with the plight of Chase and other current tenants, it said that legally the case had no bearing on the actual applications submitted to the PZC.
In the letter that McNeill read into the record on September 11, these two points were emphasized again.
“Although the concern has no impact on the property’s rezoning application, the applicant here reiterates what it indicated during the public hearing on August 14: The applicant intends to work with the current residents to the greatest extent possible and within the constraints of fair housing dispositions to ensure that All current residents have the option to remain on the site, as it has been redeveloped.
Plans and applications
At a PZC meeting last month, Gomez spoke about the plan to redevelop the property.
“The property currently houses the Victorian Village Inn, which was historically used as an inn but has been used in recent years as a short-term residential community,” Gomez said.
Gomez told the committee the final plan is to demolish four buildings on the property and renovate the remaining eight buildings into 14 one-bedroom properties. Furthermore, the owner was also proposing to build a new two-story building on the property with 26 one-bedroom units. Fifteen percent of those units (six units) — “will be limited to those households earning at or below 80% of the 40-year area median income,” according to the application.
In order to do this, applicants propose to use a floating zone called MARZ. Under the proposal, a property could qualify for a MARZ if the property is “a parcel or group of parcels located in the I-2 zone and facing East Main Street.” Or located on “an area of no less than 1.5 acres, and a maximum of 4 acres…”
Under the proposed approved uses, the MARZ would allow multiple residential units on the same lot, off-street parking, and outdoor recreational areas such as outdoor seating, barbecue areas, or gazebos.
According to the applicants, if the new district is created and lands on the property, the applicant will come back with a special exception request to redevelop the property into the proposed complex.
At a PZC meeting last month, some committee members had major concerns about the proposal.
Commission member Walter “Bo” Clark said he is not a fan of cities using floating areas.
“In my opinion, floating zones are dangerous for cities,” Clark said at that meeting. In his view, Clark said zoning regulations should be as black and white as possible, and the ambiguous nature of floating zones could lead to accusations of favoritism. Committee member Eddie Alberino echoed Clark’s comments.
A floating area is an area where regulations specify specific conditions for what can occur in that area and under what conditions it can be used – even though the area does not actually exist on the map at the time of its adoption.
For this reason, they are said to “float” above the map and can only be affixed to a specific location if the PZC determines it will be compatible with the city’s POCD.
In floating areas, the PZC has greater freedom to refuse approval or request changes to the application before approval. Floating zones also rely more heavily on estimation of each PZC than traditional zones.
While they can be beneficial for development, they can also be controversial. In 2016, Clinton PZC allowed the floating zones to be included in city regulations, and the floating zone was later used to redevelop the property that became the current CVS. The CVS app caused intense controversy with some members of the public in 2016-17, in part due to the use of the floating zone.
But committee member Adam Moore disagreed with that opinion. Moore argued at the August meeting that since the city allowed floating zones in its bylaws, it would be unfair to penalize the applicant for using them. Moore also argued that the applicant’s request largely satisfies the city’s POCD.
The PZC will deliberate on the applications at its meeting on October 15.