The core of the mission of the Gateway Commission is the preservation of the "natural and traditional riverway scene" for current and future residents of the State of Connecticut. The Commission has the authority to carry out that statutory mission in several ways. One of the most important is through their ability to adopt standards for development within the Gateway Conservation Zone. Section 25-102g CGS enables them to adopt minimum zoning standards that include land coverage, structure height, setbacks and numerous others. The standards adopted by the Gateway Commission are then to be "promptly" adopted into the Zoning Regulations of each of the eight member towns. As a result, if a development is consistent with the zoning regulations in a member town, then its presumed to be compliant with the Gateway standards. If you own property in the Gateway Conservaton Zone, then you are both limited and protected by these standards. Limited, because they require you to be somewhat more careful in the management and use of your property in order to preserve the remarkable beauty of the Valley. Protected, because you know that your own view and the value of your property are assured, since your neighbors and the people across the river are bound by the same standards.
The standards were first developed by the Commission predescesor "Gateway Committee" in 1973 and have been revised throughout the years following. The most recent modification, adopted in 2004, includes a requirement for a Special Exception approval from a town's Planning & Zoning Commission for a structure or structures totaling more than 4,000 square feet. The Special Exception process and the standards that go along with it give the community the chance to review if a development proposal has been designed to "fit the land" and not the other way around. The effort is to guide architects, developers and property owners to develop in context with the land around them. The Commission also encourages the retention of visually-buffering trees and other vegatation to the greatest degree possible. Another added standard requires that the riparian buffer - the vegetated area adjacent to the river, its tributaries and marshes, is left intact so as to allow it to continue to filter storm water runoff, filtering of any fertilizers and pesticides that are still used, and to minimize riverfront erosion.
Simply stated, the standards of the Gateway Commission are designed to give us the best chance to manage development and maintain the beauty of the hillsides of the lower Connecticut River for years to come. As a local conservationist once said, when it comes to the lower Connecticut River valley, we don't want to "love it to death".
*It should be noted that the standards adopted by the Gateway Commission are defined in statute as "minimum" standards. What this means is that each of the eight member towns is obligated to adopt at least the standards adopted by the Gateway Commission. Although rare, there are instances where member municipalities have decided on their own to go beyond the "minimum". This is the case in the Town of Old Saybrook. Instead of adopting a 4,000 square foot minimum cut-off for Special Exception review of structures within the Conservation Zone, the Zoning Commission decided to move that minimum cut-off to 3,500 square feet, in essence acknowledging that structures smaller than 4,000 square feet could have a detrimental visual impact on the "natural and traditional riverway scene" as well. Further, the Zoning Commission adopted a 100 foot riparian buffer restriction in place of the Gateway's 50 foot minimum standard. In both cases, the Zoning Commission built upon the Gateway's protections to insure a greater protection in their municipality.