The neighbors aren't happy about it but last night, Old Lyme Zoning Commission voted to approve a special use permit to allow the construction and operation of an indoor athletic facility on Machnik Drive in an area zoned for light industrial use.
It was far from a unanimous decision. The Zoning Commission voted three to two in favor of approving the special use permit after first hearing a motion put forth by one of the two commissioners who opposed the idea to reject the application.
Commission Chair Jane Cable, Commission Secretary Jane Marsh, and Commission Vice Chair John Johnson all voted in favor of the idea, saying they felt it was an appropriate use for the site.
"I think you could do a lot worse," Johnson said, in a comment directed at the neighbors who live nearby, noting that a light industrial zone opens the door to many seemingly more objectionable operations in their backyard.
The Zoning Commission did, however, pay close attention to the objections neighbors raised at the public hearings on the matter. Accordingly, the commission's approval came with a number of restrictions regarding how and when the indoor ice hockey rink and indoor athletic field would be allowed to operate.
- The facility's driveway and parking layout will be subject to Zoning approval.
- There must be areas inside the facility to accommodate spectators and players to ensure that people aren't tempted to loiter outside the building.
- There will be no alcohol sold or consumed on site.
- The Commission will require adequate fences to ensure that people don't wander off into residential neighborhoods that abut the site.
- There will be buffers to insulate the surrounding neighborhoods from the noise.
- The facility must have private security guards on staff.
- There must be at least one parking space for every four patrons.
- The lighting must be low impact.
- Truck delivery hours will be limited.
- Any accessory uses of the facility will require zoning approval.
For the most part, these restrictions fall in line with what the applicants, Patrick Pryor and Casie Munson, both of Old Lyme, already have in mind. The one sticking point may turn out to be the hours of operation.
The Commission initially proposed to limit hours of operation to 8:30 a.m. to 10 p.m., and then changed that to 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Either way, the Commission had been advised by the town's attorney that it has the power to place conditions on the special use, including regulating the hours of operation.
Cable said she based the times on comments from neighbors who, when asked what hours would be acceptable to them, most often gave times within that range. However, these are not typical hours of operation for an ice hockey rink. Normally, rinks open for early morning practices and stay open until midnight for adult hockey league games.
You might assume the limits placed on the hours of operation would sit well with the people who live near the site proposed for the rink. But after the meeting, a number of local residents said they had concerns about the rink's ability to succeed if the hours were limited.
"[The Commission] arbitrarily picked operating hours but the industry is not running like that," said Xiao Ning Wang, who would be the closest neighbor to the proposed building. "It's guaranteed to fail."
Wang is opposed to having an indoor recreational facility in her backyard. However, she's equally concerned that if it is built and the business fails, she'll be looking at a large building that won't be usable for anything else.
Still, it's early days yet. As Pryor noted, "this is the first step of many."
Pryor said he thinks that many of the neighbors' concerns can be addressed by the site plan.
"From the beginning we've always had nothing but the best intentions to be the best neighbors," he said. "I live here too."