Town Officials continue to weigh changes to downtown zoning regulations
NEW CANAAN — The town may need to find creative solutions to attract new businesses to some large, first-floor spaces in town, according to a group of local officials working to rethink New Canaan’s downtown zoning regulations.
“The small spaces are very desirable. It’s a lot easier to rent a small space on Main and Elm (streets) than it is a very large one,” said Planning and Zoning Commissioner Jean Grzelecki on Tuesday.
According to Murphy, tenants are interested in coming into areas with high vacancies, like Main Street, but aren’t always able to fill out the large spaces.
“What we’re hearing is that there is interest in buildings over there, but for service-type industries,” Murphy said. “There’s a possibility of taking those long, deeper spaces, like Joseph A. Bank, and sectioning off the front third for retail space, then have a service business in the back.”
The potential limitations of the town’s zoning regulations — which prohibit first-floor occupancy by the types of service-oriented industries that are rising in popularity — were first presented to Planning and Zoning by Murphy and Budd in March, prompting a discussion between the two entities.
According to Murphy, shifting those regulations to allow for partitioning could help fill vacancies, which are currently about five percent downtown, while maintaining consistent storefronts.
“We want to keep our windows vibrant and active and robust,” Murphy explained.
The group has asked Town Planner Steve Palmer to draft regulations that would allow for partitioning of downtown businesses, and to work with First Selectman Robert Mallozzi, III and Town Attorney Ira Bloom to protect the pedestrian access points.
“I think the ball is left in their court,” Murphy said. “Once we have the language we can run it by some of the tenants.”
Additionally, the group is concerned with the preservation of public access points — especially the one leading from the former Outback Teen Center to Elm Street and the stairs leading from the Park Street lot to Elm Street via the Chef Luis alley.
The town owns the Outback-to-Elm alleyway, but Murphy expressed concern that with the potential sale of the Playhouse Movie Theater, or the Outback, the town might relinquish the walkway and lose it to an expanded building.
“We want to ensure it’s protected. We’re trying to make it deed-restricted,” Murphy said.
As for the Chef Luis alley, which is owned privately by the restaurant, Murphy said Palmer, along with Bloom, are looking at the possibility of an easement.