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Planning, Zoning and Development

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Jan 07

Zoning is Forever

Posted on January 7, 2019 at 12:45 PM by Eric Knapp

The title is trite, I know.  But the underlying point is something that people generally have a hard time wrapping their heads around.

Applications before the Zoning Board of Appeals, the body that grants variances from the Zoning Regulations, almost always center on whether the neighbors like the people who are asking for the variance. Except the people requesting the variance are human. They are mortal, which means they will eventually no longer own the property and others, perhaps others who are less friendly, will eventually be the beneficiaries of the bending of the rules.

So, before you think it is fine that the neighbors' garage can be 5' from your property line, it might be worth asking if this would always be okay.  Since it will now be that way forever.

Likewise, uses approved by the Zoning Commission for specific locations are approved forever.  Once a *use* has been approved, the specific tenant or owner can change and almost certainly will.  Everyone might be wildly enthusiastic about a high-profile tenant asking to move into a location.  But retail, or restaurant or service businesses are hard to run profitably, particularly in the internet age.  And once a use is a approved, the tenant could leave tomorrow, and someone else could be there with a less appealing version of the same use.

All of this is not to say that you should not care about the qualities of a particular neighbor.  My first question to almost every possible applicant is "have you talked with your neighbors yet?"  Good communication is really important.  But neighbors will come and go.  Land use permits are forever.
Jan 03

Zoning in Three Dimensions

Posted on January 3, 2019 at 10:40 AM by Eric Knapp

A lot of what I do involves looking at two-dimensional objects, i.e. maps, plans, surveys, architectural drawings, and trying to make sense of it in three-dimensional space.  Trying to explain the concept of a "building envelope", that three dimensional space within which the building is now or is proposed to be within, to a person who does not do this for a living can be a challenge.  It is important, though, because the setbacks contained in the Zoning Regulations are not just lines on the ground.  They are imaginary vertical walls.  So, if your house already has one floor encroaching on a setback, that may be a pre-existing nonconformity.  But if you are proposing a *second* floor, over that first floor, even if it is exactly over the old footprint, it breaks more of that imaginary vertical wall and can't be approved, absent a variance. 

I'd probably be better off letting my son explain this using Sims4.  He's building houses all the time.  But zoning never seems to be an issue there.  Probably just as well.
Dec 26

A Moment's Reflection and Thanks

Posted on December 26, 2018 at 10:05 AM by Eric Knapp

It is the day after Christmas, Boxing Day in Britain. As I sit here at my desk, I am taking a moment to consider the changes 2018 has brought.

This is not the same desk I was at this time last year.  I was still the Zoning Enforcement Officer in Clinton, next door.

I would like to thank the Westbrook Zoning Commission for taking a chance in hiring me. The Commission, in fact pretty much everyone here in Westbrook, has been welcoming. 

I am grateful for the First Selectman, Noel Bishop, who has been nothing but supportive of the needs of my office.

I appreciate the Planning Commission being willing to think outside the box and allowing me, a non-planner, to take over as staff to the commission. 

I am trying to fill a lot of shoes, and there has been a learning curve.  Both the Zoning Commission and the Planning Commission have shown nothing but patience.  Their respective chairs, Tony Marino and Marilyn Ozols, deserve a major share of the credit for this. They have been great.

I would be remiss if I did not also thank my staff and the entire crew of the Land Use Office generally.  Kim, Susan and Joey on my "side", Kim (we have a lot of those around here), Robin and Shirley on the other "side".  David Maiden, Sonia Marino and Heidi Wallace have had nothing but kind words, most of which were probably sincere. ;)

Finally, I would like to thank the Town of Westbrook and its residents in general. I feel welcomed by this Town and its people.  You came with a good reputation, and I have not been disappointed.  I look forward to meeting more of you in the coming year.

To all, a Happy Holiday and a Joyous New Year.