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According to an audio recording of the May 10 Borough Zoning Commission (BZC) meeting, BZC members are considering suggestions made at that session, which the BZC held to solicit ideas on possible future zoning regulations covering Main Street in general, and Edmond Town Hall in particular.
BZC Chairman Douglas Nelson said those ideas will be reviewed as BZC members formulate a set of proposed zoning rule revisions, which will be the subject of an upcoming BZC public hearing.
When town government offices left Edmond Town Hall in October 2009, and moved to Newtown Municipal Center at Fairfield Hills, the town stopped paying the Edmond Town Hall Board of Managers rent for that office space, eliminating a large portion of the revenue that the managers received to run the building. That major revenue cut has resulted in local officials now seeking new sources of income to operate the building.
Paradoxically, although the town owns Edmond Town Hall, it had paid rent to the Board of Managers, which is the designated management entity for the structure under the terms of a state law covering Edmond Town Hall. The town government now subsidizes Edmond Town Hall’s operations through its annual municipal budget. It also covers the costs of various capital improvement projects for the building.
Mr Nelson said the BZC is considering creating a new set of zoning regulations that would foster possible new revenue sources for the Board of Managers.
He said the BZC received a letter recently from First Selectman Pat Llodra, on behalf of the Board of Selectmen, asking that the BZC create zoning regulations that would allow space in the building to be rented out as professional office space at market rates. Renting out the suitable space in the building has been estimated as a way to generate roughly $95,000 in annual revenue, he said.
Mary Ann Jacob, who heads the Legislative Council, said she attended the May 10 session as a local taxpayer.
Ms Jacob said that the town has covered the costs for a past boiler replacement project at the building and also will cover the upcoming costs for heating-ventilation-air-conditioning (HVAC) equipment improvements there. Also, the town’s annual subsidy for the building’s operating costs has been increasing, she said.
The Board of Managers needs new zoning regulations to allow the building to generate more revenue, Ms Jacob said.
“We have to maintain Edmond Town Hall so it doesn’t become an eyesore,” said George Benson, town director of planning.
One resident at the May 10 session recommended that Edmond Town Hall be modified to make it more like Ridgefield Playhouse, a converted public building where performances by well-known artists are staged by a not-for-profit organization.
“It’s being considered,” Mr Nelson responded.
Borough Warden James Gaston suggested that an ad hoc panel be created to study creating a cultural arts center at Edmond Town Hall.
Also, Mr Gaston strongly cautioned the BZC against making any zoning rule changes that could lead to the character of Main Street changing for the worse.
Ms Jacob suggested that the BZC create zoning rules to allow Edmond Town hall to have uses such as office space for lawyers, accountants, and real estate firms. Having a coffee shop there also would be a good way to generate rental revenue, she said.
Mr Benson suggested that the BZC consider creating a zoning mechanism that would cover “landmark buildings,” such as Edmond Town Hall. Through such a regulatory approach, a set of zoning rules could be created for an individual building, he said.
Resident Karen Banks of West Street said professional offices would be a good use at Edmond Town Hall. Ms Banks added that the building’s gymnasium could be converted for retail use.
Ms Jacob urged that there not be any uses allowed which would alter the external appearance of the building, such as the placement of neon signs.
The minister of Trinity Episcopal Church commented on a news release that the BZC had circulated to publicize the May 10 session.
That news release stated, in part, that Newtown Meeting House on Main Street is a possible future candidate for closure, as is Trinity Episcopal Church on Main Street, when considering the ongoing consolidation of religious facilities across the country.
The Reverend Doctor Jennifer G. Montgomery, who recently became the priest-in-charge at that church at 36 Main Street, said, “I want to reassure you all that closing our parish is not on anyone’s agenda. In fact, just the opposite is true… The red doors of Trinity Church on Main Street are open to all and will remain open to all.”