Ed McKeon is a former Middletown Eye editor, and resident of Pearl Street. He is challenging the expansion of the MX Zone, and recommended that former residences in the ID Zone be regulated as a residential zone with adaptive reuse allowed. This is an opinon piece.
It was a surprise to me. When I asked a staffer at the town's planning office about who could apply for a zoning change, he told me, "Anybody who pays the $160."
Sure enough, I looked through the regulations, and it was true. However, when I handed in my application, it was rejected. I was told I was not a landowner in the ID zone in which I was requesting the change. When I protested that the regulations don't make the distinction about owning land in a zone, the staffer handed me a sheaf of "legal precedent" and suggested I find an ID landowner to co-sign the application. I did, and now I can play the role of "zone-maker."
Still, I'm not completely comfortable in that role.
Sure, I submitted the application because I wanted to give neighbors some protection from developers who want to change their residential zone into a commercial zone. And, in the end, the Planning & Zoning Commission would have to pass judgment on my suggested changes.
But does it make sense that any resident with a notion to change code, should be able to?
Worse still, should any developer, who's looking for an advantage for their particular development be able to write zoning language?
I think the answer is "no" in both cases.
The regulation ought to be changed. I can't think of anything more counterproductive to good town planning than to have developers playing the role of zone-maker. And if one developer is allowed to rewrite code, imagine the precedent that's being set. Imagine the kind of zoning code we'd have.
I think the regulation needs to be changed. What's more, I think our entire zoning code needs reformation.
The often-contradictory Plan of Development is a toothless document without meaningful zoning code, and the town planner has admitted so himself.
Four years ago, Hamden's town planner Leslie Creane was received enthusiastically when she made a presentation to the P&Z about her town's transformation from use-based zoning to form-based zoning, and the remarkably adaptable SmartCode.
She made a few things clear. New code should not be written without lots of public input. They call this process "charette" and its a process designed specifically to get many residents involved in the process of defining what their town is, and what it will be.
She also noted that the zoning must be "coherent." Because it's a zone based on the form of buildings, instead of the function, one neighborhood must relate to the one next to it, and so on. You don't write this code in bits and pieces. You create form-based code for the entire city, so that neighborhoods are integrated (and by the way, pedestrian-friendly).
So, to cut and paste quasi-form-based principles into a proposed zone change, for a slice of a single, small zone in a city, goes against the entire idea of form-based zoning.
Yet, that's what will be proposed at tonight's Planning and Zoning Commission, as the lawyer endorsing an MX Zone change will surely claim that because it's "form-based" it's better. He's likely to get a ringing endorsement from the town's planning department.
The principle of form-based zoning is a good one. But piecemeal form-based zoning, particularly zoning designed by a developer to meet his needs, is not an auspicious beginning.
For this reason, I urge the Planning and Zoning Commission to vote "no" on the MX Zone change.
The Middletown Planning and Zoning Commission meets Wednesday, February 27, 7 PM, in City Hall's Council Chambers to deliberate two significant zoning proposals which could affect Middletown neighborhoods.