A thoughtful redesign of the commercial zoning along upper Route 7 is a good idea — some property owners would argue it’s long overdue. But the Planning and Zoning Commission must move cautiously in expanding commercial uses allowed.
The commission has started to rework the zoning in the area — basically, along Route 7 from Haviland Road north to the Danbury line. The centerpiece of the plan is to permit retail uses allowed decades ago but removed in the 1970s amid concern that the area could become a “commercial strip” like Federal Road between Danbury and Brookfield.
Commercial property owners in the area have long complained that the existing zone is too limiting. It’s hard to find tenants, and the tight rules discourage redevelopment to improve properties.
Looking for more nonresidential tax base and to encourage improvements in the area, the commission is working on zone revisions that could lead to real changes.
A few questions arise.
First, will allowing more retail out on Route 7 be bad for the village? The question, raised Tuesday night by commissioner Michael Autuori, needs to be answered before new business zoning is approved. Is all the business development in the Copps Hill area already hurting Main Street commerce?
If more retail does make sense — and it may — how big is too big? The commission is considering a limit for retail developments of 20,000 square feet — roughly the size of the building that houses Walgreens and a liquor store. Feedback on this is needed from both the public and people in the development business.
What’s wrong with residential? Some commissioners oppose allowing apartments above ground-floor stores. This village-style development can work nicely. Why not allow second-story apartments and require that they meet state affordable standards?
Modest-sized mixed-use developments seem an attractive solution to the area’s lack of vitality. But this should be done carefully. Any zone changes will likely be in place through weaker and stronger economic conditions, for years to come.