A Scotland resident, Larkin Trainor, has made a Facebook post asking for support in her efforts to establish an agritourism business on her property on Cemetery Road. I wish to make it clear that as the First Selectman, and as I told her when she first proposed it last summer, I heartily endorse her idea for a permaculture education center. As she has described it to me, her plan is consistent with our plan of conservation and development. It would be an asset to the community, and would provide a much needed service to us and to the world at large. I am confident that regulations can be written for such a use and serious consideration given to incorporating them into our zoning rules.
It is unfortunate for Ms. Trainor that our current regulations do not include a set of rules for a permaculture retreat. As the chair of the zoning commission when the regulations were rewritten a few years ago, I can say that this idea simply did not cross our minds. We certainly had agricultural uses as one of our top priorities, but this was not one of the uses that we considered. Zoning regulations are permissive. That means that if a particular use is not specifically permitted in the regulations, it is not allowed. That doesn't mean it can never be done. It just means that the use has to be defined, and the requirements that have to be met to get a permit must be established.
People who want to do something on their property not already allowed are encouraged to come forward with proposed new regulations. Once they do, the Planning and Zoning Commission must consider the new regulations. The proposal will go to a public hearing, and then the PZC will vote on whether or not to incorporate them into the regulations. At that point, the applicant (or anyone else) can apply for the permit in question.
As part of its review, the PZC will refer the proposal to its attorney. That is why our lawyer cannot work with Ms. Trainor--because he is the lawyer for the town, not individual residents, and the town might have interests that the individual resident does not. For instance, should the town adopt regulations that violate state statute, it is the town that would be liable. So we need our own attorney to work for us.
I hope this information is useful. I want to reiterate that I support Ms. Trainor's efforts, and I wish her well in her endeavors. I also want to add that our zoning commission and staff have provided Ms. Trainor with time and resources to aid her in this, and will continue to do so. What we cannot do is provide her with legal advice or write the regulations for her. Nor can we allow her to operate a business without the necessary permits while we require them of others. That would be unfair to everyone.
So the simple solution is the one we have been suggesting all along: propose a text amendment, work with the PZC to make it conform to the town's needs, and allow the commission to do its job. I have every confidence that if we all act in good faith, the outcome will be good for all of us.
Please direct any questions or comments you have for me about this (or anything) to me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call the office at 456 7797 x1.
Some questions have been raised that I am glad to answer in this forum. Answers are in bold.
is there a law that states a lawyer has to represent the new proposed zoning reg. ? No, there is not. The PZC generally recommends that applicants hire an attorney because there are details that lawyers know that civilians don't. Usually this will mean a quicker journey through the approval process, one that is less burdensome on the commission and on the applicant.
Why are they not allowed to review others that have been adopted by other towns and submit to the towns attorney?
Assuming that by "they" you mean the applicant, the answer is that they can and should review regulations from other towns, and use them as a model for their own. People who don't want to hire an attorney have done this with some success, but there are still procedural issues that lawyers can help with.
From what I understand, you are always allowed to represent yourself?
Correct me if I’m wrong.
Once the resident submits their regulation, the town attorney will review it, and make the decision for the town as to whether or not it should be adopted and has the towns best interest.
In brief, here is how it works. The resident applies for a text amendment. The application will include the language proposed for the new regulation and changes to other parts of the regulations, such as definitions that have to be changed for the new use. OPnce the application is in and complete, it is accepted by the commissionn for consideration, and a hearing date can be set. In the meantime, the proposal goes to the regional planning agency, in our case the Northeast Connecticut Council of Governments for its comments. The referral and hearing are required by statute. The Commission will also refer the matter to its attorney for his or her advice on applicable state laws and other legal matters. This is not required, but it is standard practice, as it protects everyone in town. At the hearing, any member of the public can speak. Once it closes the hearing the Commission deliberates in public. It takes into account public testimony, the attorney's advice, the regional planning agency's response, and anything else that comes before it. It has to render a decision within 65 days. The entire process can be done in a few months, but rarely quicker than that.
It sounds like the resident doesn’t have the thousands of dollars that would be sucked up to draw up a document that several towns already have. I would suggest acquiring others, and modifying it.
We have suggested this exact approach in this and many other cases. It generally does not eliminate the need for an attorney, but it might result in fewer hours spent by the lawyer in drafting the amendment.
My other question is. Why can’t this just be a modified version of a farming permit? As long as the proper insurance policies are in place, and the surrounding residents are for it, all the bases would be covered.
There is no such thing as a "farming permit." Farming is generallyh allowed without a permit. If a person wants to grow produce on their land, they do not have to get a permit. But there are uses related to farming that are allowed. You can see them at at https://municipal-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/uploads/scotland-ct/planning-zoning-commission/resources/files/293/scotland_zoning_regulations.pdf
where there are three pages (starting at p37) of uses that are allowed as farming uses. Unfortunately, Ms. Trainor's proposed use does not fit any of them. That's why we are suggesting that she propose regulations that will work for her use.
Once she does that, and assuming the commission adopts her proposals, then she has to meet the criteria laid out in the regulation. Applicants who make their own text amendments generally can do that, because they wrote the regulation. She will apply for the use to the zoning commission, and if the application requires a public hearing, one will be scheduled--this time not for the text amendment, but for the use itself. This process can take another month or two to be completed.
Yes, it's a long road. Maybe unnecessarily so, but so long as we have zoning regulations, this is the kind of thing we have to do to ensure fairness and flexibility.
Finally, to the question of why the town does not write these regulations, it is because in cases like this one, in which an individual is seeking to add a particular use to existing regulations, that seems like the only fair way to go. I acknowledge that it can be costly and time-consuming, and I wish it were not so, but our job as selectmen is to use our resources for the greatest good. While we certainly wish Ms. Trainor well, and think this would be an asset to the town, this use would be primarily for her benefit, so it would not be fair to past and subsequent applicants for text amendments to do this for her.