Milford planners schooled at meeting

MILFORD — At the city’s Planning Commission meeting Tuesday, committee members went back to school, learning all about how planning affects Milford.

Before Mark Redden, who represents the 2nd Ward, was elected as the commission’s vice chair, Milford’s Planning & Economic Development director Rob Pierce gave a presentation on the roles of the Planning Commission and the Planning Department in the city’s affairs.

“From a municipal planning standpoint, our main function as the Planning Commission, which we did a couple years ago, is to develop our 10-year comprehensive plan,” Mr. Pierce said.

Within that plan, there’s “zoning and subdivision, or land use ordinance review, which is one of the primary functions that the Planning Commission is involved in,” he said, “but we also get involved in code enforcement, capital improvement planning, annexations and, to some extent, regulations involving environmental protection.”

City solicitor David Rutt also contributed frequently to Mr. Pierce’s lecture.

“One of the things everyone really needs to do, sitting on the Planning Commission, is get familiar with Chapter 200 and Chapter 230 of the Milford Code (of Ordinances),” Mr. Rutt said. “Those are the sections of the code you’re going to be working with 95% of the time.”

Chapter 200 contains ordinances pertaining to the subdivision of land.
“The main section that I think the Planning Commission would gain the most from reviewing would be the section under general requirements and design standards,” Mr. Pierce said, which “outlines things like the street widths, … sidewalks, easement requirements, how long blocks can be, how long dead-end streets can be.

“Those are things that I think really affect the characteristics of a subdivision plan and would be the main things to familiarize yourself with,” Mr. Pierce said.

Mr. Rutt added that the “standards will change depending on the zone,” so commissioners must “keep in mind what is the zoning category of the property you’re looking at in terms of what requirements can be imposed on any subdivision or any type of approval.”

Mr. Pierce also mentioned an ordinance that requires any changes to an individual plot of land within a subdivision to be approved by all owners of the adjacent plots and 75% of the entire subdivision.

“I think it will really help protect the interests of those who have already made an investment in a particular area,” he said. “There are signature requirements … before we’ll even entertain the application.”

Chapter 230 is simply titled, “Zoning,” and has sections on topics ranging from off-street parking and landscape screening to floodplain management and source water protection.

“The one that’s probably the most useful to have a great understanding of is the use and area regulations,” Mr. Pierce said. “This sets forth what is permitted in each zoning category and if they’re permitted, if they’re allowed by right or by conditional use. It also goes into setback requirements, what size lots you can have, lot width, lot area, lot coverage.”

He said the zoning code is an evolving text and that he expects more changes to be made to better the code soon.

“Any time there is a proposed ordinance to amend the zoning code, it’s going to come to (the Planning Commission) for review and discussion and then a recommendation to council,” Mr. Rutt said.

For the most part, the committee remained quiet despite Mr. Pierce encouraging members to interrupt him with questions. One member, Shelby DiCostanzo of the 1st Ward, did ask something during Mr. Pierce’s discussion of major subdivisions.

“I’ve only been to one meeting, but it looked to me like what was sent out was very, very comprehensive and very, very detailed,” she said. “By the time it gets to us, am I right to assume that most of the t’s have been crossed and i’s have been dotted as far as the code?”

Mr. Pierce said the commission does have some room to request things from developers.

“There could be things like, the code may say, ‘The site needs to be attractively landscaped.’ What does that mean? Shelby may say, ‘You’re only giving us one tree. Could you plant a couple more?’” he said.

“Those are kind of the gray areas, where there isn’t a rule outlined in every particular function of our code, but there are some things that could be asked” for, like plantings, bike racks or walking paths.

Committee member Kathryn Stetson, also of the 1st Ward, had a question at the end of the lecture.

“Does the city have any regulations around design review? Where I came from, the Planning Commission also served as the board of architectural review and for commercial developments,” she said. “We had some say in how they actually physically looked.”

Mr. Pierce said that with one exception, the Planning Commission has no role in that area.

“Within the business park zoning category, which includes the building I’m sitting in right now, because it’s a city business park, there are some design requirements on the materials that need to be used,” he said. “Everywhere else in the city, there is not.”

The lecture provided was thorough, but Mr. Rutt said he and Mr. Pierce still have more work to do educating the new committee members.

“It’s very important that you understand the ethics and Freedom of Information Act and how all that works, so at some point in the future, we’ll take a little bit of time to run through those things with you, too.” Mr. Rutt said. “We had considered trying to do that tonight, too, but that’s just too much.”