On a recent Wednesday evening, as the setting sun cast an orange shimmer over Malletts Bay, a few people walked along the edge of East Lakeshore Drive in Colchester.
Sunset walkers had to tread with caution as there are no sidewalks flanking the narrow, winding road. Across the street, Marty Ryan stood on the deck of his modular log home. Pointing to the speeding cars, he said he wanted the city to send a police officer to enforce the 25mph speed limit.
One of the city’s main thoroughfares, Lakeshore Drive is a narrow 3-mile road along Malletts Bay, dotted with small camps and older homes.
The 2019 city plan identified upgrading the section as a priority project, and city officials launched a rezoning process for East Lakeshore Drive earlier this year. (The city updated its zoning along West Lakeshore Drive in 2016.)
Establishing building heights, addressing traffic issues and improving walkability are some of what city officials hope to address as part of the ongoing East Lakeshore Drive rezoning process.
“It’s always a challenge to balance community goals with private land rights, but the city is currently working to figure out what people want to see,” said Cathyann LaRose, Colchester’s director of planning and zoning.
At a public meeting in April, residents weighed in on building heights and facades and the types of small businesses they thought would work well on the stretch of road. According to the survey, most people prefer small cabins and inconspicuous cottages to large houses, high fences and skinny buildings.
Originally zoned for medium-density residential use, the draft recommendations for East Lakeshore Drive propose two new neighborhoods – LakeShore3 or LS3 on the bay side and LS4 on the opposite side of the road, said Rich Paquette, president of the Colchester Planning Commission.
“We want it to stay reasonable,” said Paquette, noting that residents “don’t want it to be overbuilt.”
Marty Ryan’s home is perched on a slope overlooking East Lakeshore Drive, situated on a half acre his family has owned since the 1800s. He estimated the height of the home at around 23-25 feet.
Across the street is a new three-story waterfront structure that, at 33 feet, is taller than most neighboring homes. “I’m sorry to say this, but it’s kind of awful,” Ryan said.
The planning commission met on August 2 to review zoning requirements for the two new districts. For two-story buildings, they proposed a maximum height of 28 feet for pitched roofs and 23 feet for flat roofs on the waterfront side, and 40 and 35 feet respectively on the other side of the road. They also agreed to limit buildings to two units on the waterfront side while allowing cottages, single-family homes, duplexes or small multiplexes, and townhouses across the road.
The proposed changes are the final piece in a critical land use planning process for Malletts Bay, according to Pam Loranger, chair of Colchester Selectboard.
“These regulations will provide thoughtful guidance for any future limited development in a neighborhood that borders and cherishes the inner Malletts Bay,” she said.
The city sent about 170 postcards to residents telling them about the rezoning process, but several people approached on the road earlier this month said they didn’t know.
Among those in the dark: Senator Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle, who lives on East Lakeshore Drive and owns Dick Mazza’s general store on West Lakeshore.
“I haven’t heard anything about it,” he said on August 3. “But I will find out.”
The Planning Commission will consider the draft recommendations at its next meeting on Tuesday. A public hearing is scheduled for September 20 at 7 p.m. The commission and selection committee will need to review and approve any changes.
Paquette said the next meeting in September will be “a time to speak up if there’s anything (residents) want to change.” He noted, “We actually got great input from the East Lakeshore community and implemented a lot of their ideas.”