P&Z wades back into debate over pool coverage regs
Updated 11:52 am, Thursday, March 17, 2011
Two months after the Representative Town Meeting overturned a controversial package of building coverage regulations passed by the Planning and Zoning Commission, the issue of pool coverage has resurfaced on the P&Z agenda.
Representing Westport resident Bryan Terzian, Norwalk-based lawyer Frank Zullo presented Text Amendment 627 last week, which would exclude swimming pools from residential properties' total building coverage.
The change was originally included in a list of coverage regulations under Text Amendment 621, but the RTM last January vetoed the package after residents complained the new laws would diminish property values.
"They've tried to do it by the package route," Zullo said. "It's obvious that it's not the route to go. It's something that should be able to be handled in isolation."
The proposed amendment would affect properties in the A and B zones, which respectively have minimum lot sizes of a half-acre and 6,000 square feet. Parcels in the A zone have a 25 percent total coverage limit, while B zone lots have a 35 percent cap. Both zones have building coverage limits of 15 percent.
Terzian, who lives in the A zone, plans to build a pool that would cause him to exceed current coverage limits, thus requiring him to subtract building coverage elsewhere or seek a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
About 20 people applied for pool variances during the last 10 years, with the ZBA granting about half of those requests, according to Planning and Zoning Department numbers. During that time, pool permit applications have declined with the Building Department issuing about 80 in 2006 compared to approximately 30 in 2009. A P&Z Department report estimates 627 would likely produce "little or no" increase in the number of pool permits issued.
The amendments represent the latest chapter in a long-running town debate about regulation of residential development following the town's 2007 Plan of Conservation and Development's call to amend zoning laws to ensure that houses be built in scale and proportion with their lot size and neighborhood.
In addition to reclassifying pools' coverage, 621 also would have imposed a 15 percent building coverage limit in the AA and AAA zones. Additionally, the amendment would have counted patios for the first time in total coverage, and reclassified porches from building to total coverage.
The reclassification was also proposed as a stand-alone modification in another text amendment, 608, which P&Z rejected last year. In the resolution explaining their vote, commissioners wrote that pool coverage rules should be evaluated as part of a "comprehensive review" of building and total coverage regulations.
But in the wake of 621's overturn, commissioners may reconsider that stance, P&Z Director Larry Bradley said.
"I think they have to make a decision going forward how they would like to deal with it, now that they didn't have it as part of a package," he said.
"Everybody wants to modify the regulations for their own end," he said. "That's where the P&Z has to look at it more globally and decide what's right and wrong for the community."
"I'm troubled by this amendment because I believe this will, ipso facto, increase house sizes in smaller lots in Westport," he said.
With swimming pools not counted in building coverage, 627 would allow A and B zone homeowners to devote more of their building coverage allotment to home additions.
Others are split, meanwhile, on 627's implications for local water management issues. Groundwater recharge-- the amount of water that is stored in the ground for plants and drinking water wells--would not be significantly reduced by allowing more pools, said Rob Frangione, a New Canaan-based engineer who consulted Zullo on 627.
"That amount is going to be infinitesimal when you talk about a 700 square-foot pool," he said. "You're talking about gallons of water that aren't getting recharged. From an environmental impact, it is minimal."
Westport Conservation Director Alicia Mozian told the Westport News she was concerned about the amendment's impact on groundwater flow. More pools, she said, would likely divert groundwater onto neighboring properties, which could lead to increased basement flooding in A and B zone lots.
"That water's got to go somewhere," she said. "You have half-acre lots that are going to be developed pretty intensively."
The P&Z now has about two months to vote on Text Amendment 627.