The Inland Wetlands Commission faced a disgruntled crowd earlier this month when they learned a public hearing regarding a cluster housing application was not going to happen.
Commission Chair Rick Mangione told the more than fifty people crammed into the basement of Town Hall that the Board did not have the necessary paperwork to permit the public hearing to take place. “I learned about this as I walked in the door,” Mangione said to the assembled crowd who collectively groaned upon hearing the news.
The application for a public hearing, submitted by Miland LLC, NB LLC and Genvest, LLC, proposes a residential development of 10 multi-family residential buildings and a single community building on more than 22.5 acres. The parcel adjoins the Wilbur Cross parkway which fronts on Turkey Hill Road and includes an undeveloped portion of Cranberry Lane.
Signs urging residents to turn out at the public hearing to oppose the cluster housing plan had been placed on lawns and town spaces weeks before the meeting was to take place. All the seats were taken and people lined the walls expecting to hear the details of the plan. When told the hearing was cancelled, several residents stood and addressed the board, complaining that everyone was inconvenienced by the last minute change of plans and demanding answers.
Town Attorney Barbara Schellenberg told the crowd the mix up was “an unintentional oversight on the part of staff” and they could not hold the meeting. Proceeding without the necessary paperwork could jeopardize any legal proceedings down the road if the Commission’s decision is appealed in court. “In order to protect everyone’s rights, including those who might appeal as well as the public, the public hearing must be rescheduled,” Schellenberg said.
According to the town’s code and regulations, the owners of all properties abutting a proposed development must be notified of an impending wetlands and zoning application. First Selectman Jim Zeoli, maintains the confusion stemmed from different protocols for each board. For a zoning application, the developers or their associates are responsible for notifying neighbors, but in the case of wetlands applications, the town must inform the surrounding property owners. “It was an error and sometimes people make errors,” he said.
For several decades, the town’s former Wetlands Enforcement Officer R. Scott Allen handled the necessary paperwork for Wetland’s applications, but Allen retired earlier this year. A new Wetlands/Zoning Assistant is currently training to assume responsibilities for both departments.
According to Jeff Gordon, president, Codespoti Associates, and a representative for the project, the developers even provided the town with all the names and addresses of the abutting property owners. “It is in the town’s own code that homeowners must be notified no less than 15 days prior to a meeting of any wetlands application that could impact their property. They never did it,” Gordon said. “It was the town’s obligation, not ours.”
The current Wetland’s application is not the first time the developers submitted a proposal for the Turkey Hill site. Last year they presented a plan to the Town’s Plan and Zoning Commission requesting a text change in zoning regulations that would permit a Cottage Project Development Area for those aged 55 and up. The zone change would have allowed construction of about 40 one and two-bedroom residential units priced in the $300,000-$400,000 range. The plan called for a walkable community that would feature recreational amenities, private walking trails, community buildings and passive outdoor recreation. The TPZC unanimously denied the application, citing the project was not a good fit for a residential zone.
In anticipation of public interest, three public hearings have been scheduled to take place at the High Plains Community Center beginning on October 3. “Everyone will have a chance to be heard,” Schellenberg said.
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent