OLD LYME — In a surprise announcement, the Florence Griswold Museum and the Lyme Art Association — two of four nonprofits along Lyme Street that were part of a proposed overlay district — pulled out of the plan on Friday after -midday.
The news was made public at the Historic District Commission meeting on Monday morning by Terrance Lomme, the attorney who represented the four entities in the proposal: Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, Lyme Art Association, Florence Griswold Museum and Roger Tory Peterson Center.
“I received this letter at approximately 4:30 p.m. on Friday,” Lomme told members of the Historic District Commission, who were to discuss proposed uses in the overlay, including retail, food and short-term rentals, as all four properties are located in the historic district of the city.
Lomme said the proposal started with Lyme Academy as the petitioner, rather than the four institutions.
“We kind of ran the ball here, with support from the other institutions. As a result of all of this, I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he said.
Claudia Weicker, chair of the board of trustees of the Connecticut Audubon Society’s Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center, told CT Examiner that the news of the withdrawal came as a surprise, and as of Monday she had had no contact with members of the museum board. or the artistic association.
“At this point, a neighborhood of cultural overlap with the two most established cultural institutions pulling out is, for me, as I say premature,” she said. “To my knowledge, there was no prior discussion between our organizations regarding their decision or the reasons for it.”
She said the Roger Tory Peterson Center is far from having finalized plans and that the overlay district will not affect the center’s future plans. She said any uses established under the Cultural Overlay District will still require going back to the Zoning Commission for various approvals.
“That didn’t preclude any future action or discussion at the Zoning, or if there are any alterations to the exterior of the Historic District Commission buildings, but I saw it as relevant as not only the chief d an institution located in the historic district, but also as residents of the historic district… I see the cultural layering district as something that would benefit the city and set parameters, which can happen in a certain radius, and establish what are the ground rules, the umbrella under which we could all operate,” she said.
Florence Griswold and the Lyme Art Association respond
Elsbeth Dowd, executive director of the Lyme Art Association, who attended the meeting, told the committee that she and Rebekah Beaulieu, executive director of the Florence Griswold Museum, were “totally supportive of the work of our sister institutions,” but had decided to withdraw. after discussions with their respective councils about the proposed settlements.
“We believe it is in our interests not to be petitioners or part of the overlay district, although we offer full support to the Roger Tory Peterson and the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts for their work,” Dowd told the commission.
In an email to CT Examiner, Beaulieu said that together with the Lyme Art Association, the museum “has chosen to clarify our position as supporters, that we have been approached since the first time regarding a potential cultural overlay district “.
“The Florence Griswold Museum and the Lyme Art Association remain devoted allies to our peers at the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts and the Roger Tory Peterson Estuary Center in their petition. We aim to support current and future mission-driven nonprofits in our common goal of creating sustainable operating models while serving the Old Lyme community,” Beaulieu wrote.
When asked why the two organizations decided to stand down, Dowd replied:
“We recognize that we have enjoyed strong partnerships with city agencies for some time and are already able to deliver on our missions, engage the community and maintain operations in the spirit of the proposal. »
Rezoning according to the City’s Conservation and Development Plan
With the removal of the Florence Grisworld Museum and the Lyme Art Association, the overlapping neighborhood would comprise two non-contiguous properties, raising the question of impermissible zoning.
Spot zoning is the rezoning of a small property into a larger area that is inconsistent with a city’s general plan, known in Connecticut as the Conservation and Development Plan. For example, spot zoning would allow a small parcel in a larger residential area to be rezoned as commercial and build a gas station there even though it did not conform to the city’s master plan.
But, small plots of land can be rezoned for specific uses provided the uses are in accordance with the conservation and development plan, according to a zoning lawyer who asked to remain anonymous.
“You can absolutely take a single property and rezone it to something else as long as your rezoning is in line with the conservation and development plan,” the lawyer said. “If you go back, there hasn’t been a localized zoning case found by a Connecticut court in quite some time, literally decades. Usually conservation development plans are followed and no one is crazy enough to try and rezone something that is incompatible with the POCD.
Avoid unintended consequences
Lomme explained that the overlay neighborhood would expand certain uses, like short-term housing, but also provide boundaries, in this case by not allowing full kitchens.
But Russell Todd, a member of the city’s historic district commission, said he was concerned about unintended consequences, such as the construction of an affordable housing complex on open land across from Lyme Academy, and said asked how the superimposed neighborhood would prevent such a project. .
Lomme responded that the overlay district will allow non-profit institutions to operate and thrive, which insulates them from having to sell land to 8-30g project developers.
“There is no way to prevent this. We can’t say, ‘You can’t do that here’, but the best way to prevent this is to have a good, solid organization,” Lomme said.
Commission Co-Chair Dini Mallory asked how the proposal would affect what might or might not be built, including restaurants.
Lomme said regulations allow a “café or bistro” on every campus, but only if one currently exists.
But commission members said the language was confusing in places and that the definitions of “recreational”, “ecological” and “historic” needed to be clarified so that future uses were limited.
“Not a big flaw”
Mora Rowe, executive director of the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts, told CT Examiner that the withdrawal of the two organizations was not a big deal.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily that they’re going out…I thought Becky and Elsbeth’s letters were very similar to how we started out, which is to say they’re totally from agreement, but do not necessarily want to be a petitioner,” she said.
Rowe said that when Lyme Academy presented the proposal and contacted the other three organizations, Roger Tory Peterson was already meeting with the Zoning Commission with very similar requests for additional uses, including a cafe and rooms where visiting scientists could stay.
“[They] looked so much like us… and we thought, we’re trying to do the same thing, so why not see if there’s something we could do together? she says. “And we haven’t had time yet to figure out what the process is going to do – if we’ve changed the language, if there’s things they don’t like about the language, why they can or no want to be a petition partner, so none of this is known yet.
Rowe said she understands the commission members’ hesitation about the properties’ future uses.
“I think what we want would be culturally in line with the town of Old Lyme…and so everything we want to do aligns with that vision. But, if we were to rent a space to another organization that maybe saw things differently, whose values didn’t necessarily match, what would that look like? ” She says. “I think what I heard from [commission] today was the hesitation is not necessarily that any of us would do anything to damage the culture and vibe of Old Lyme, but if the superimposed neighborhood [were approved]what would be the impact for the future if it was not our organizations that led the way? »
The idea of submitting a proposal for the four nonprofits, given their similar needs for specific uses, had been the suggestion of former zoning enforcement officer and land use coordinator Dan Bourret, she said.
Discussion of the overlay district on the Zoning Commission’s agenda tonight will be postponed, according to Rowe.
“We will probably reschedule and have a group meeting and then see how to proceed,” she said.
Editor’s Note: A statement made by Russell Todd, at a meeting of the Historic District Commission, regarding housing has been erroneously attributed to John Noyes. This story has been corrected.