Ruth Kazmier is concerned about her future. The 85-year old woman has owned and lived in a two-family house on Liberty Street since 1952 and wants to keep her second unit for her children or someone else who might need to take care of her as she ages – and is worried about a plan by the city to rezone her area for single-family homes.
"I need my second floor apartment if I become disabled," Kazmier told a packed room of about 50 residents who came out to City Hall for a public hearing on the plan Tuesday night.
Despite Kazmier's concerns, her home's current use would be grandfathered in, city staff said, if the city council approves a proposed measure to change the zoning of nine areas in Meriden from multi-family, or R2, to single-family, or R1, use. The city's Economic Development, Housing & Zoning Committee passed the measure Tuesday night following the public hearing, which means it will now go before the full council at a future meeting.
City planners say the change is an attempt to help maintain the character of existing neighborhoods that mostly have single family homes, but are zoned R2. These neighborhoods were identified in the city's 2009 Plan of Conservation and Development "Future Land Use Plan Map" as places that should be single family home neighborhoods because of their large percentage of these homes.
With the zoning amendment, only new construction in the areas would have to conform with R1 regulations -- current multi-family homes like Kazmier's would remain the same. But a multi-family house destroyed more than 50 percent in a fire or other disaster would have to be rebuilt as a single-family home – an issue brought up by many at the hearing.
The nine areas include 523 developed parcels – 451 or 86 percent of which, the city's Planning Department says, are single family homes.
Opinions were split about the change at the hearing, with most multi-family and undeveloped lot owners opposed to it, and single-family homeowners championing it.
"Keep it all single family homes, we have a lot of traffic coming through the neighborhood as it is," Lorne Humpage of Pearl Street said at the meeting.
Humpage was one of many single-family home owners who said the multi-family homes currently in their areas increased traffic and resulted in multiple cars parked in the street.
Other single-family home owners who supported the zone change said that multi-family homes are often less well cared for than single family homes, when landlords don't live in them – disturbing the character of the single-family neighborhood.
"In my experience, people tend to take more care of their property if they're personally invested in it," said David James of Carl Street.
James supported the zone change, but also echoed a number of other single- and multi-family property owners at the hearing, in his concern for those who had bought multi-family homes in these areas and would lose out on rental incomes if the house burned down and had to be rebuilt as a single-family unit.
"I would like the city to explain or investigate a bit more about a destruction clause...if a house burns down, because I know that people who have multi-families are personally invested in them," James said.
Cathleen Nalty of North Pearl Street is one of them, she said at the hearing.
"I'm concerned that I purchased that property as an income, if the house was to burn down, I would not be able to rebuild it as it is," Nalty said.
Zoning language could be amended so that if a two-family home was destroyed more than 50 percent by a fire it could be rebuilt as a two-family home, the city's Planning Director Dominick Caruso told city councilors at the later meeting. But doing that, he said, opens the door for developers to come in, purchase the lot from an owner and build multi-family units – something the city doesn't want to see happening.
The city, Caruso said, could not mandate that only the original owner could rebuild, "You can't write anything into the regulations that deals with ownership. It's a form of discrimination."
If passed as is and a multi-family home owner in an R-1 area did want to rebuild a home that had burned, Caruso said that person could go before the zoning board of appeals to ask for an exception at that point – but there's no guarantee the request would be granted.
Fire was the big topic of the night, but Caruso and some councilors said the likelihood a home would burn down to more than 50 percent of its current structure is slim.
"For your house to burn down to that point, is akin to hitting the lottery for $1 million," Councilor Trevor Thorpe said of the chances.
Two-family home owner Cecilia Bermudez expressed some concern about the possibility of fire, but otherwise supports the change in her neighborhood, near Roger Sherman School, based on school enrollment.
"Roger Sherman seems overwhelmed," Bermudez said, who has one child at the school. "Allowing additional multi-family homes burdens the district."
A lawyer for for Albert DiDominico, who owns an undeveloped lot at 15 Cutlery Avenue, asked that his client be excepted from the change, as DiDomenico had recently submitted plans to the city for a three-unit condo complex there.
"It would be a substantial hardship," lawyer Jon Patrucco said. "He has made sewer and other improvements to the lot. The value of the property would decrease substantially."
Committee members ended up excepting the property from the group, along with two others, adding an amendment to the resolution they passed Tuesday night.
"I can respect the fact that this person bought land with the intention of developing it," Councilor Bob Williams said.
Areas Affected By the Proposal
Homes that would be affected by the zone change are on the following streets, though zoning for all homes on these streets will not be changed:
Murray St., Sunset Ave., Williams St., Liberty St., Horton Ave., Collins Ave., Newton St., Cottage St., Norrie Place, Wall St., North Wall St., Del Terrace, North Pearl St., Elizabeth Rd., Yale Acres Rd., Welles Terr., North Ct., South Ct., Broadvale Rd., Broadview Terr., Cutlery Ave., Meadow St., Camp St., Rice St., Webb St., Hobart St., Evansville Ave., Baker Ave., Cheshire Rd., New Cheshire Rd., Raven Dr., Carl St., South Vine St., Botsford St., Eddy Ave., Bacon St., Fair St., Leonard St., Bailey Ave., Kensington Ave., Joseph St., Jerome Ave., and Paddock Ave.
Maps of the proposed areas are available in the City Planner's Office at . Public hearing notices were posted in neighborhoods that would be affected.