By Paul Zakarian
Belt and Suspenders – White Oak Subdivision
Last night was the first meeting of the Planning and Zoning Commission since the Dec.12 election of officers and was dominated by the long standing proposal for a 15-lot subdivision on land at the foot of Mt. Higby, near the intersection of Country Club Road and an old dirt road known as Massa Tom Road. The land borders city-owned open space and a popular hiking trail, and is uphill from Fall Brook.
Attorney Michael F. Dowley represented the applicant Dominco Fragomeni who has been working for several years to get the 15 lot subdivision proposal approved. His presentation in support of the application lasted almost two hours and included expert witnesses including an expert in “blasting and explosives.” The advocacy focused on the ongoing efforts the developer has made to comply with recommendations and regulations from various city agencies. “We have worked with and received approval from every single department in the city” stated Attorney Dowley. Advocacy also focused on the process required by the city. He suggested that the subdivision approval process of ‘preliminary approval’ and ‘final approval’ combined with the Health Department’s requirement for final approval of the septic systems created a “belt and suspenders” redundancy for the city.
The primary concerns with the project include drainage concerns related to the slope of the parcel and the adjacent land in addition to concerns about the placement of the conservation easement. The overall concern is that the proposal may be trying to create more lots than the land is capable of supporting.
Attorney Dowley countered that the drainage problems were a pre-existing condition that originated in adjacent city land and that the problem would be mitigated through an engineered drainage system. That drainage system was presented as potential cure to the problem of icing Country Club Road that has resulted in numerous automobile accidents. In addition, the proposal would contain engineered septic systems and a new placement of the conservation easement so that it created a wildlife corridor and potential trail to open land owned by the city.
The ‘explosives’ expert talked at great length about the controlled blasting that would be required to create the storm drain trenches, catch basins and lower the surface of the roadway. If the blasting guidelines presented to the Commission were followed by the contractor it was guaranteed that there would be no impact on adjacent property and houses.
Two member of the public spoke in support of the subdivision. One speaker was in favor due to the potential improvements on Country Club Rd and another was appreciative of the change in the location of the conservation easement. However, Joan Liska highlighted the slope and drainage problems with the parcel. She provided photos to the commission showing significant water flow, including small waterfalls, on the parcel.
Due to the late hour and remaining agenda items Chairman Russo offered the Commission the ability to postpone the deliberation and vote until the next meeting. However, Commission members were ready and voted to deny the cul-de-sac waiver (6 to 1) and the overall application (5 to 2).
Homeless Shelter in B-2 Zone
The next hearing involved a zoning code text amendment to allow Homeless Rehabilitative Shelters for Men in the B-2 zone. While the change is being sought by Mount Olive Church specifically related to a proposed shelter at 695 South Main Street it would allow the usage in all B-2 Zones including those on South Main Street, Washington Street and Saybrook Road. Church members and supporters spoke out in favor of the text amendment and more specifically the shelter proposal. Two members of the public spoke against the change.
There was some confusion when Pastor Mike Winn’s presentation of the application detailed ‘low income housing’ which was not what was noticed and placed on the agenda. Pastor Winn decided to go ahead with the original proposal for a homeless shelter. Based on feedback from the Commission Pastor Winn decided to withdraw the proposal and will seek guidance from Planning and Zoning staff about alternatives to zoning code text change.
The final item on the agenda was for a map amendment to rezone 610 East Street. However no one was available to explain the proposal.