Public hearing on new Easton master plan reset for Oct. 29

A Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on a new draft master plan for Easton will now take place Monday, Oct. 29, at 7 p.m. at Helen Keller Middle School.

The hearing had been scheduled for Oct. 1 but was cancelled when an error by the Easton Courier led to a required second legal notice not being published in the weekly newspaper.

While a notice then was successfully placed in the regional daily newspaper, Chairman Robert Maquat said the public hearing should be held without any confusion about satisfying the legal notification process.

“It’s best to have it under normal circumstances,” Maquat said at the Oct. 1 meeting, when the P&Z still met briefly to discuss other matters. “The prudent thing to do is reschedule it,” he said.

A written notice on the Keller cafetorium door explained the hearing was being rescheduled, with a few dozen people filtering into the room to observe the regular meeting that took place.

The public hearing was expected to attract a few hundred people, with much of the focus likely to be on the proposal to create a state-sanctioned Village District at Sport Hill, Center and Banks roads. The proposed location includes the Easton Village Store, parts of Silverman’s Farm, the firehouse and EMS headquarters.

The proposed Village District would have regulations to control the type of commercial-related development allowed. According to the draft of the master plan, formally called the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), the district would be “a compact, pedestrian friendly service village of traditional architecture, designed to provide for a variety of community needs, and fulfill a unique civic purpose beneficial to the … entire community.”

The area might include small retail stores, specialty shops, a small restaurant, farm and garden center, craft center, post office, business and professional offices, and residential development.

Easton currently has no commercial zoning, and the few existing commercial enterprises are grandfathered in because they existed before the town enacted zoning.

At the upcoming hearing, land-use planning consultant Glenn Chalder will make a presentation on the POCD draft, with the public then able to offer comments. Chalder has been working with the P&Z on updating the POCD as well as town zoning regulations, a related but separate step.

“The purpose of the hearing is really to hear from folks,” Maquat said. “We want the benefit of all the public input.”

The POCD should be revised every 10 years by state law, and the last Easton plan was approved in 2006.

The P&Z has the sole authority to approve the POCD, an advisory document that offers a general blueprint on how the town should be developed during the next decade.

The zoning regulations are more specific, and revised regulations would be passed subsequently as a way to implement POCD recommendations.

“A lot of the details are in the draft regulations that are coming,” said Maquat, adding a thorough zoning regulations update hasn’t been done in Easton for a long time.

“A lot of effort has gone into this,” Maquat said.

Town Land-use Director John Hayes described the POCD as “a policy document,” noting the zoning regulations “must be in conformity with the plan.”

Themes in the POCD draft include promoting agriculture, protecting open space and water quality, encouraging walking and cycling trails, and building a sense of community.

SHU ballfield?

Also at the Oct. 1 meeting, the P&Z held a brief follow-up discussion on Sacred Heart University’s request to build a baseball field on the Morehouse Park property.

Members were told a town official would provide data on whether a specific site in the park could handle such a facility. This includes looking at how much land would be needed, septic system capacity and other infrastructure issues.

No formal proposal has been made by SHU, and the P&Z is just taking an initial look at the idea based on a letter it received from the Board of Selectmen. “It’s really just in the discussion stage,” Maquat said.

A college baseball field would likely include bleacher seating, team dugouts, restrooms and a new parking area,

Putting a SHU baseball field at two other town-owned sites, the South Park property or Veterans Field near the Easton Community Center, has been ruled out by town officials.

The possibility exists that SHU could find an alternative site in another town, Maquat said.

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