The Planning and Zoning Commission, acting on the town attorney's advice, Thursday night tabled consideration of a controversial zoning amendment that would limit the size of retail outlets until May 1.
While Town Attorney Ira Bloom said the P&Z has the authority to enact Text Amendment 672, which would restrict stores' size to no more than 10,000 square feet, he suggested the commission gather more evidence for its case in order to demonstrate that the change conforms with criteria outlined in state law.
The P&Z voted unanimously to delay further review of the proposal, which triggered strong opposition from some local commercial property owners.
"The way I see it the primary purpose of this amendment is basically to limit the size of stores and my review of the law indicates that you can do that," Bloom told the P&Z, having also met with the panel in executive session prior to Thursday night's public meeting.
"That's been upheld by Connecticut courts, some of our trial courts," he said. He cited a 1996 case in which the Savings Bank of Rockville challenged the upstate town of Tolland in its legislation to limit individual store space to 40,000 square feet. The town's ruling was upheld, but was tied to the assertion that it would reduce traffic.
"This was a regulation addressing the size of stores ... and they upheld it, and I think that's important for us to keep in mind," Bloom said.
Several weeks ago a lawyer representing the Bedford Square development partnership suggested the amendment, if adopted, could face a legal challenge. The lawyer said the commission was overstepping its authority by trying to regulate the size of stores.
"Traffic is one of the legitimate criteria to implement a regulation like this," Bloom said, adding later that it's the most likely standard that could be used to limit store size. Other factors, he said, include the character of the community "and things of that nature."
He said that as long as the amendment is "in harmony with a comprehensive plan ... Your scheme of zoning has to be consistent with that, (then) the court acknowledged that the commission can regulate the size of buildings."
"I think you need still at this point to pin down that connection to one of the criteria for Section 8-2," Bloom said. "My suggestion is that you should probably postpone further review of this ... so that you can make that connection much more clearly ... to bolster your case."
"To let you go on with this analysis, which I think is a legitimate one, we're going to need to get that additional information to support this case," he said.
While some members of the public tried to express their opinions after the vote to table the proposal, P&Z Chairman Chip Stephens said it was moot.
"Any discussion we have now might not have application to what we come up with," he said. "What you're going to argue right now is probably not the form we're going to come back with."
"People can still send in suggestions by email," Commissioner Alan Hodge said.
"There may be something you've heard from people in the public that you might want to consider," Bloom said.
David Waldman, principal of the Bedford Square project, which is scheduled to be developed on the site of the Westport Weston Family Y, met with his lawyer immediately after the P&Z voted to table the matter to May 1.
"I have no comment," he said when asked for a comment.