The other “prong” of Gateway’s preservation of the “natural and traditional riverway scene” is the management of visual impact of development – primarily residential – along the hillsides of the lower river. To accomplish this important goal, legislators in 1973 gave the Commission the power to adopt zoning standards designed to minimize the visual impact of development on the river scene. Those standards include, among other requirements, maximums for structure height and structure setbacks from the river and its wetlands and tributaries. The current standards also include a requirement that insures that vegetation within the 50 feet of land closest to the river and its tributaries remains intact so as to retain the filtering quality of the vegetation that leads to improved water quality. In addition, the Commission has adopted rules that require that any structure or structures over 4,000 square feet in total floor area undergo either a Special Exception or Site Plan review (depending upon circumstances) before the zoning authority in each of the eight member towns. This provides the extra management ability that towns need to insure that development is sensitive to the treed hillsides and built to fit the land, rather than having the land modified to fit any particular architectural design.
By virtue of membership in the Gateway “compact” (each of the eight member towns voted at Town Meeting in 1973 to be a member of the compact), the Gateway standards are to be “promptly adopted” into the zoning regulations of the eight towns where local authority takes over. The newest revision to the Gateway standards was adopted by the Commission in late 2018. Before that, the last major revision went into effect in 2004.
Further, if any variance of zoning regulations are requested for properties within the Gateway Conservation Zone, each municipal Zoning Board of Appeals is required by state law to forward such applications to the Gateway Commission for review and comment. The Commission’s response usually takes one of three paths – opposition to the granting of the requested variances, no opposition to the granting of the variances, or no opposition if certain protective conditions are applied by the ZBA. These Gateway reviews only determine if the proposed development will have an adverse impact on the “natural and traditional riverway scene”.
The Gateway Commission, through state law, has the standing to appeal any local decision that would result in adverse impacts to the “natural and traditional riverway scene” in the Superior Court of Connecticut. This latter tool has been used in the past, but very sparingly as the Gateway Commission sees itself as a partner of the member towns. Adversarial relationships are avoided through early discussions between Town officials, private property owners and Gateway officials where the goal is to allow property owners to achieve their goals while at the same time being sensitive to the greater need of protecting the beautiful lower Connecticut River Valley for all residents of Connecticut.