As you may have read in the Easton Courier article in January, the Planning and Zoning Commission is considering changing the town’s zoning to include an “overlay zoning district” in the vicinity of the firehouse green and Route 59 area.
The article states in part: “Certain non-residential uses might be allowed, such as galleries, craft centers, antiques stores, small retail stores, professional offices, and public buildings (including a post office).”
Citizens for Easton has long advocated keeping Easton’s zoning as is. There have been various proposals over the years to expand or create so-called “commercial districts.” Our reasons for advocating otherwise can perhaps best be summed up in a word: Why? Why allow more traffic? Why allow more congestion? Why allow more pollution? Why create something that will inevitably lead to more development pressure, town hall oversight, and potentially threaten an already stressed watershed, which is our town’s mandate to protect? Yes, to an extent, our argument is based on a camel’s-nose-in-the-tent premise. By letting the proverbial camel in, the consequences are impossible to predict, other than the obvious and immediate ones noted. The basics continue to apply:
- Easton is predominantly a suburban town with an agrarian and natural character. The three-acre zoning was put in place to protect the town’s extensive watershed lands. The current 2006 Plan of Conservation and Development correctly and thoughtfully reasoned that Easton’s role primarily should be that of “providing pure water, clean air and permanent green space to support a livable environment for the half million people of the area.” As the 2016 Connecticut State Superior Court decision dismissing a previous Saddle Ridge appeal demonstrated, protection of these lands greatly outweighed perceived benefits of that development.
- The commercial district, which P&Z is considering incorporating into the update of the Town Plan of Conservation and Development, is in close proximity to a tributary draining directly into the Easton Reservoir, less than one half mile away. The likelihood of so-called “non-point source pollution” such as oil and toxic chemicals from spills, sanitation dumpsters, septic, delivery trucks and runoff impervious surfaces from parking lots is increased. When this occurs in the watershed of a public drinking water supply, it may lead to conditions that could threaten the water quality.
- The proposed “Overlay Zone,” if included in the updated Plan, is the mechanism that will allow commercial development. This is a radical departure from the current Town Plan of Conservation and Development (which only permitted grandfathered entities) and opens the door to legal challenges and the potential for expansion into other areas of town. These challenges would be time-consuming, burdensome and costly. Additional strain for overseeing this district will be put upon town hall offices such as zoning, zoning enforcement, building department, police and fire departments.
- The shopping center P&Z is contemplating for that area (retail stores, offices, etc.) will cause more traffic and congestion in the Sport Hill Road (Route 59) and Center Road area. Road alterations, such as traffic lights, will irreparably degrade the rural and historic character of this area. Being able to travel unimpeded from the Fairfield town line to Monroe is truly priceless and a rarity in the ever more developed Fairfield County. Weston’s shopping complex has traffic lights installed both before and after that commercial area.
- Will concerns among some residents over lack of “community interaction” be remediated by the addition of commercial zoning? In Easton, there already exists many meaningful community opportunities through our public library, Parks and Recreation programs, Community Center, Senior Center, after-school/summer camp programs, and a range of civic, religious and cultural organizations. Moreover, annual community events such as the Fireman’s Carnival are also part of what makes our town unique and brings residents together.
- Easton’s local farms and existing grandfathered establishments already provide numerous services and products. The most recent 2014 Senior Center directory, which perhaps newer residents may not be aware of, lists many other local businesses and community resources.
- Unlike some surrounding communities like Weston, Easton has several bordering towns that fulfill a vast variety of shopping and commercial needs. Monroe, Trumbull, Redding Ridge and Fairfield are all easily accessible and some areas of Easton are actually closer to businesses in those towns than they would be to the proposed commercial district.
- CFE applauds P&Z’s other efforts in exploring ways for farms to expand their base of operations to help them thrive and see a way forward in the future, so long as it does not foster congestion, traffic, – or above all – threaten the fragile watershed, the protection of which has remained a core Easton mandate for over a century. Now is not the time to challenge – or eviscerate – that mandate. Additionally, P&Z’s contemplated site of the shopping center would create a commercial zone in the area where a farm is located, contrary to preservation efforts.
The Greater Bridgeport Regional Council fact sheet on Easton notes:
“In the ever more complex and congested 21st century, bucolic Easton remains a serene and special place…although Easton lies on the fringe of an increasingly urban and suburban area of Fairfield County, it remains distinctively different from its neighbors. Here there still exist extensive forests, open meadows, sparkling streams and lakes, country homes and stone-wall-bordered winding roads and lanes. …When one enters the town from any direction there is a sense of arriving at a country-like unspoiled place…”
By being wise and dedicated stewards in upholding our residential zoning as is, current and future generations will be able to experience the unspoiled and unique treasure that is Easton.