October 1, 2022

Essex Zoning Commission Sets Dec. 19 Meeting on Accepting Current Connecticut River Gateway Standards

ESSEX— The zoning commission has scheduled a Dec. 19 public meeting to discuss whether Essex should accept the current standards of the eight-town Connecticut River Gateway Commission. The meeting begins at 7 p.m. in town hall.

Essex joined the Connecticut River Gateway Commission with its inception in the early 1970s. The commission, which also includes the towns of Chester, Deep River, East Haddam, Haddam, Lyme, Old Lyme, and Old Saybrook, offers advisory opinions to local zoning authorities for development proposals falling within the ridgelines on both sides of the lower Connecticut River. The panel also administers a fund created in the 1980s to purchase properties or easements in the scenic Gateway Conservation Zone.

But Essex declined to accept new standards that were adopted by the commission and all of the other member towns in 2004. Torrance Downes, staffer for the Gateway Commission, said Wednesday that some Essex residents felt the new standards were too restrictive, particularly an increase from 50-feet to 100-feet in the standard’s setback requirement from the edge of the Connecticut River.

Downes said under the standard accepted by the other Gateway towns, construction activity including home additions would be subject to an advisory review by the Connecticut River Gateway Commission. Downes said the local zoning board of appeals would still retain final regulatory authority over construction within the 100-feet setback, but the regional commission would have the standing to challenge a local ZBA decision in superior court.

The 2004 standards also include a requirement for a special permit from the Connecticut River Gateway Commission for new homes and structures, including additions, within the Gateway Conservation District that exceed 4,000-square-feet. This is the so-called “McMansions rule.”

Joseph Budrow, zoning enforcement officer, said he expects most of the discussion to focus on the proposed expansion of the setback rule to 100-feet, a step that would cover more than 100 additional existing homes in Essex. “It brings a lot more people in to play,” he said.

Budrow said the Dec. 19 session would be for discussion only, with the panel expected to hold a formal public hearing on accepting the latest Gateway standards early next year. The zoning commission holds the sole authority over whether to accept the current standards, with no requirement for town meeting approval.