Despite the planning commission’s task to rezone the East Lakeshore Drive Area, many homes along the Bay preexist current zoning, making actual change seem unlikely.
At their regular meeting on Feb. 4, the planning commission took a virtual tour of the area to determine the scope of rezoning: how much ground their plan would cover, how many houses deep and where the boundary line should be. According to the Town Plan, the planning commission is required to examine rezoning of East Lakeshore Drive within two years of adoption, citing the preservation of lake views as one of the biggest concerns.
The town plan states: “The presence of seasonal camps along East Lakeshore Drive preserves the historic summer seasonal culture of Colchester and contributes to the character of the area, with the majority of residences between the road and the Lake still occupied only seasonally. These area attributes should be sustained. Recent rebuilding of homes between the Lake and the road has inhibited view of the Lake.”
While Planning and Zoning Director Sarah Hadd emphasized the necessity to reexamine the area’s zoning, she noted to the board that, “It’s great to look to the future for what this area could be but a lot of it is maxed out”—meaning, there is little room to build new housing. The question at hand is rather, at what rate will the area reach full build-out.
Much of the meeting meticulously led commissioners on a Google Earth tour of the neighborhood, outlining areas with condos, pre-existing nonconforming structures, new and old houses, seasonals versus year-round houses, and more. Many of the units, Hadd pointed out, have vested rights, meaning if they were built before current zoning then they are not required to change when new zoning is put in place. That same idea transfers to houses that were torn down, like numerous lots in the area owned by Mongeon Bay Properties—remnants of a lawsuit in 2017 that rocked the town and pushed nearly 25 people out of their homes. Mongeon Bay has a right to rebuild those demolished homes.
“A lot of looking at the future of East Lakeshore Drive is going to be determined by what’s already there,” said Hadd.
One of the ways she suggested working around this sticking point is to create incentives for current property-owners to bring their units up to code. “What incentives are you going to give these people to redevelop?” she asked. When rezoning West Lakeshore Drive a few years ago, she recalled that the board “wanted to give people some carrots to restore parts of their property,” more in line with zoning.
Looking forward to the next meeting, board members expressed desires to examine transportation in the area, stormwater, height ordinances and scenario planning.