By LINDSAY CAREY
The Southington Planning and Zoning Commission is holding another public hearing for the revised zoning regulation amendment on recreational vehicles. The hearing will be Tuesday, Jan. 6 at 7 p.m. at the Municipal Center.
After an overwhelming turnout at the first public hearing in October, the commission had to go back to the drawing board on its update of the policy on appropriate use and storage of RVs.
The problem the PZC has with the existing policy, which has been in place for decades, is that it does not do an efficient job of defining a recreational vehicle and it also limits storage of RVs to the rear of the property.
The biggest problem with the existing policy, said PZC Vice Chairman Paul Chaplinsky is the issue of clarity.
“We can see that our current regulation is not adequate,” said Chaplinsky. “The residents either didn’t know about it or had a hard time interpreting it.”
Chaplinsky said the commission itself was divided on what the regulation actually meant.
“It’s not a good sign when the PZC and town staff don’t agree on what the regulations mean,” said Chaplinsky. “It just wasn’t clear and transparent.”
When the PZC first attempted to change the policy in the fall, however, the proposal was faced with strong opposition from residents at the public hearing.
The proposal in October accurately defined a RV, however, some of the regulations were considered unreasonable to RV owners in town. The proposal included a policy limiting property owners to one RV per property and also stipulated that the RV must be registered by the Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles.
The revised proposal, which will be up for public discussion on Jan. 6, does not include either of those limitations.
“There are a number of reasons why someone may have their RV registered with another state, the public spoke strongly about this,” said Chaplinsky.
For some property owners, Southington is somewhere they stay for only a few months during the year and RV owners defended their right to choose where they want to register their vehicle at the hearing in the fall.
Another aspect of the proposal discussed in October, which faced an enormous amount of opposition, was a stipulation RV owners explained they felt was based solely on the aesthetic desires of non-RV owners.
The old proposal stated the RV had to be screened or buffered “to minimize the visual impact or public right of way.” After hearing from residents this would place an additional financial burden on taxpaying RV owners, this provision also was left out of the new revised regulation proposal.
In addition to the public hearing, the PZC also solicited feedback from an online survey.
“I think it helped the process immensely,” said Chaplinsky, who created the survey. “With the help of social media and the town website, we got 300 people to respond.”
This was the first time a town group had used an online survey in order to get feedback on a policy, said Chaplinsky.
The feedback revealed there were two strong perspectives that needed to be considered.
“We needed to find a balance,” said Chaplinsky. “I think the work that Steve Kalkowski did really listened to the feedback and put it into meaningful regulation in order to balance the needs of everyone in town.”
The online survey allowed the PZC to hear more voices in the community, by accommodating those who couldn’t make it to the public hearing. Chaplinksy said circulation of the poll online also created more dialogue and interest in the topic.
“What this did for us is it really raised awareness,” said Chaplinsky. “Without the polling and social media getting the word out about the hearing, I really believe we wouldn’t have heard as many people come out to talk about this. If the commission doesn’t hear people perspectives, we can’t come up with good policies.”
Chaplinsky said the revised regulation allows residents to use their RVs to a greater extent. The two major stipulations in the regulation are: the vehicle must be registered and cannot be used for permanent or temporary habitations like a mobile home; and the RV can be stored in the side and rear yard only.
If the PZC does decide to use an online survey again, Chaplinsky said there must be improvements made.
“We want to get better at asking questions more clearly,” he said.
As for the new revised regulation, Chaplinsky said he believes it’s a huge improvement from the current policy in terms of clarity and transparency. If the public hearing reveals even more concerns, Chaplinsky said changes can always be made to accommodate it.
“This is not the end zone, this is the first step, but I think it’s a good first step,” said Chaplinsky.