The Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) is kickstarting the discussion on two major changes to the town's regulations at one meeting on Thursday night at 7 p.m. in the Town Hall.

The meeting will begin with a public hearing on inclusionary zoning requirements and will then transition into a discussion on new "coverage" regulations relating to Westport homes, according to P&Z Director Laurence Bradley. The meeting will be split up to allow for both topics to be squeezed in and a petition has already been started by one resident to encourage protest of the coverage amendments.

New `coverage' rules up for review, PROTEST UNDERWAY

The P&Z came to a decision on changes to residential housing regulations this summer and will open the discussion Thursday. The changes are expected to be met with opposition from some homeowners and local real estate agents, who are worried about how property values could be affected.

The changes are meant to address the definitions of "building coverage" and "total coverage," said Bradley.

The coverage figures for Westport could potentially expand into the millions of square feet beyond what exists on the ground today, a consultant told the P&Z.

The commission also plans to discuss building heights and setbacks, Bradley added.

The changes that will be discussed include moving swimming pools, decks and porches from building coverage into total coverage, while adding incentives to encourage the use of permeable surfaces. Tennis courts would be counted as 100 percent coverage, rather than 50 percent.

Jillian Klaff, a Westport resident and real estate agent, started a petition effort in protest of the amendements. She said it is important for Westport residents to attend the meeting because their house could be labeled "nonconforming," overnight, "making them considerably less valuable and more difficult to sell and finance, having to beg for a variance just to build a patio or change a dormer on your property, having to pay thousands of dollars for a special survey just to prove that your property is grandfathered and trying to solve the so-called `big house' problem on the backs of residents who have not yet renovated their houses," she said in the petition.

Ron Corwin, the P&Z chairman said, "Over the years a determination of what constitutes building coverage and total coverage has emerged that does not fit well with the current homeowner's needs as well as environmental considerations and evolving standards of scale."

Corwin also said the commission is looking at a series of interconnected issues in Westport, while also balancing environmental needs, the interests of home owners, neighboring property owners and community character.

The commission hopes to start discussion on these changes at 8:30 or 9 p.m. during Thursday's meeting.

AFFORDABLE HOUSING CHANGES IN THE WORKS

Affordable housing regulations, a heated issue that the P&Z has worked on for several years, will come to a head Thursday. The P&Z is holding a public hearing and considering two amendments to add inclusionary zoning requirements to town regulations.

The hearing on the housing issue is set for 7 p.m. to allow for public and commission input. If it goes beyond 8:30 to 9:30 p.m., the hearing will be delayed to allow for further conversation and to begin the discussion on coverage rules.

The amendments are designed to help the town conform better with state General Statute Section 8-21i, which defines inclusionary zoning as --¦[regulations] which promote the development of housing for persons and families of low and moderate income."

Bradley said there are regulations relating to inclusionary housing in commercial zones, but the amendments would adjust those and add regulations for split, commercial and residential zones.

Requirements would be added for multi-family housing on commercial properties by special permit.

Inclusionary housing in split zones would require a re-zoning application.

Connecticut statues require that at least 10 percent of housing inventory in all communities be "affordable," which Bradley calls, "below market-rate units." Under the revised inclusionary housing amendments, about 10 to 20 percent of the town's housing could be defined as affordable.

By adding these regulations, the town would be less vulnerable to a lawsuit from the state or a developer appealing the denial of a project with affordable units, Bradley said.

"If you don't have 10 percent, responsibility shifts to the town," he said, adding that the state asks why the town has not made more of an effort to create affordable housing. "That is what is at stake here. These are efforts to show we are creating housing, we are doing what the state wants."

The Planning and Zoning Commission has worked for more than two years with its staff to develop the regulations and address housing diversity in Westport, said Eleanor Lowenstein, the P&Z vice chairman. It made the decisions over the summer, but delayed the hearing to the fall to allow for public discussion, since many residents are away during the summer months.

"The Town Plan of Conservation and Development, adopted in 2007, laid out a number of objectives that guided us in our efforts," said Lowenstein, who also is chairman of P&Z's subcommittee on incentive zoning. "These included a need to create a range of housing opportunities and choices, a desire to diversify Westport's housing stock and satisfaction of statutory requirements to promote housing affordability."

Bradley said the amendments include incentives such as an allowance for taller buildings, an increase in density, relief on parking regulations and others features designed to help projects that include inclusionary housing.

He said his office has not received a lot of feedback from the public yet, in letters, e-mails or phone calls. "It won't be one-sided, where people either love it or hate it, there will be a lot of mixed emotions," he said of the impending discussion.