Members of the Derby Planning and Zoning Commission have called a public hearing Aug. 15 to discuss adding language to the zoning regulations that would allow dormitories in a residential zone.
The change would add “educational dormitory residence” as a special exception use within the city’s “R-3” residential zone.
A special exception means school dorms wouldn’t automatically be allowed. A proposal would have to be reviewed by the commission and meet a stringent set of standards.
The commissioners met Monday and voted to send the text change to a public hearing.
About 477 acres of east Derby are within the R-3 residential zone, including Academy Hill Road, Paugassett Road, Commodore Hull Drive, and many more.
The language is being considered specifically because the planners have been holding informal discussions about a plan to convert Marshall Lane Manor, a former nursing home at 101 Marshall Lane, into a dormitory for high school students from other countries.
The students would attend high schools — mostly private — throughout the area, but live in the building on Marshall Lane.
Watertown-based APEX International Education Partners (AIEP) is in negotiations to purchase the property from Simonetti Realty Inc.
The Simonetti family of Shelton ran the nursing home from 1973 until its closing in 2015.
AIEP helps “U.S. secondary educational institutions with the recruiting and hosting of international students from Asia,” according to the company’s website.
No formal application for the dormitory has been made by AIEP to the City of Derby.
The city would still have to review a formal proposal from the company — but adding the language certainly removes a barrier, assuming the project moves forward.
Although no formal application has been presented, David Guerrera, the company’s co-founder, appeared at a Derby Planning and Zoning Commission in April to gauge whether the city would be receptive to the concept.
The Valley Indy livestreamed the meeting on Facebook. The video is embedded below.
Guerrera’s talk begins about six minutes or so into the video.
Guerrera said at the time his company had been searching for a property for a “student-learning center and boarding residence.”
The former nursing home property would work well — but Guerrera said AIEP didn’t want to move forward with the purchase if there was no chance to use the property in the way they are proposing.
Right now AIEP looks for local families to host the foreign students attending area high schools. The dorm/learning center would be another housing option for the foreign students.
The dorm would start off housing about 20 students, according to a story in the CT Post.
That number could max out at 100 or so students within four to five years, according to what Guerrera told the Derby Planning and Zoning Commission in April.
Most of the students would be attending private schools in the area, Guerrera said. The company currently arranges for students to attend Laurelton Hall in Milford, Notre Dame in Fairfield, along with Sacred Heart Academy and Hamden Hall in Hamden.
Private buses and vans would be used to get the students to and from school.
The dorm would be an attractive proposition for foreign students who want to take English as a second language classes in addition to attending highly regarded American private schools.
The students who chose to come to the U.S. are serious about their studies, Guerrera said, and come here with the long-term goal of enrolling in a U.S. college or university.
“They would be international teenagers who really tend to be more reserved . . . (They) tend to focus on academics. There is not going to be any noise issues. Students are mostly indoor studying,” Guerrera said.
The students would not be allowed to have cars — or visitors, he said. The dorm would be more like a boarding school setting, with a staff of resident assistants.
“They would have minimal to no impact on the neighborhood residences’ quality of life,” Guerrera said.
Guerrera said the interior of the 35,000-square-foot building would need extensive renovations before students could live there.
“We are looking to significantly invest in the building to renovate the entire inside. It does need some updating,” he said.
The building sits on 3.5 acres. When it was a nursing home, it had 58 individual units.
The Derby Planning and Zoning Commission Monday formally “accepted” its own zone text amendment and set the public hearing date.
In a curious move after the meeting, neither the commission members nor their attorney would publicly acknowledge the proposed zoning language is connected to the Marshall Lane Manor property, despite public discussions conducted in April, May and June.
That did not sit well with Richard Dziekan, the Republican candidate for mayor who lives near the property.
Dziekan said the neighborhood does not oppose the dorm use as described.
But he’s concerned about opening up the possibility of allowing dormitories that fall outside what the neighborhood wants. Specifically, Dziekan wants assurances the property can’t be used as a juvenile detention facility.
There are no plans for anything like that, but Dziekan said the state opened such facilities when he worked as a police officer in Hamden.
“I just want to make sure I know what’s coming into the neighborhood,” Dziekan said. “I’m just concerned, and I want transparency. Everybody talks about transparency, but you heard what they said in there. Just tell us what’s going on.”
The commissioners are expected to discuss the matter in more detail Aug. 15.
The revisions under consideration by the planners include adding the definitions “educational dormitory residence” and “residential administration staff,” to the zoning code.
Then the proposal says educational dormitories are allowed through special exception in the R-3 zone.
Perhaps most importantly, it lays out a series of conditions that must be met in order to get a special exception from the commission, including:
- The land must be at least 3 acres.
- The dorm can’t exceed 25 students per acre.
- The building must be at least 75 feet away from any single-family houses.
- The building can’t be more than one story.
The complete text is embedded at the bottom of this post.
Derby’s R-3 residential zone already has many uses that are granted by special exception, including churches, libraries, schools, public or “semi-public” housing, and daycare centers.