Robert Treat Extension resident Richard Meisenheimer intends to develop the more than 14 acres that his family owns in the Turkey Hill Road area, but it’s up to the Town’s Plan and Zoning Commission to decide if a 55 and up cottage community is in the town’s best interest.
A standing room only crowd of neighbors and residents turned out at last week’s Town Plan and Zoning Commission to hear details of the plan Meisenheimer submitted to the board in May, requesting a zone change that would permit construction of a 55-and-up Cottage Project Development Area (CPDA). The CPDA would include less than 40 one- and two-bedroom residential units ranging in size from 800 to 1,800 square feet and be priced in the $300,000-$400,000 range. The plan calls for a walkable community that would feature recreational amenities, private walking trails, community buildings and passive outdoor recreation. Meisenheimer said he spent the past two years seeking input from town leaders and officials including First Selectman Jim Zeoli, Town Attorney Vin Marino, Zoning Enforcement Officer Paul Dinice, former TPZC Chairman Beau Clark as well as outside professionals to fine-tune his application. “We did not want to come into this cold,” he said. “We followed their direction and modified the proposal again and again with their input. I know this is emotional but we are committed to developing this property and we think this is the best use.”
In her presentation to the board on Meisenheimer’s behalf, Attorney Joy Topazian Moore submitted a stack of more than 30 form letters signed by Orange residents who live in neighborhoods all over town in favor of the plan. The letter stated residents supported the plan as it “offers Orange residents a viable housing opportunity and community as they transition into the next phase of their active lives.”
Jeff Gordon, president, Codespoti Associates, and an engineer for the project, maintains a cottage community is less intensive than a typical subdivision since its older residents would generate less traffic and not burden the school system. “The comprehensive Town Plan of development points out the need for more housing options for the town’s aging population and we are trying to provide that,” he said. “Diversity means you don’t just put all senior housing along the Post Road. Some people may prefer to live near a farm or in a neighborhood. “Gordon describes the project as “Fieldstone Village Lite” – a less luxurious and less pricey version of the Grassy Hill Road Active Adult housing complex.
But of the more than 50 people who crammed into Town Hall’s basement for the public hearing, none were there to speak in favor of the plan. Zoning Enforcement Officer Paul Dinice read into the record a pile of emails and letters he received from residents vehemently opposed to the project, citing increased traffic, overburdened town services, disruption to wetlands and open space and overdevelopment in town. Letters from the police chief, town engineer and sanitarian expressed concerns about the development’s plan to use private septic systems and the possibility of excessive medical calls for elderly residents.
Members of the audience who spoke at the hearing echoed many of the same concerns. Michael Devito of 470 Turkey Hill Road described the proposed project as literally in his backyard. “Machines have been going behind my property for the past year and initially I was not opposed to the idea that it might be a five-home subdivision,” he said. “But do I want 40 houses? Absolutely not!” DeVito countered the applicant’s claim that a 55-and up development would generate less traffic with his own “facts,” based on the activity at the assisted living facility where his dad lives in town. DeVito said he monitored who went in and out of his dad’s apartment for four days and visits from physical therapists, family and friends, delivery persons and home health care aides totaled 12 cars entering and exiting the property. He urged the board to do “what’s right for Orange” and deny the application that would strain the town’s services and roads.
Missy Hackett of 467 Turkey Hill Road said she and her husband Eric love the large lots in town and it is one of the reasons they chose to live in Orange, a quality that would be disrupted by permitting a cottage development. She cited the project’s proximity to the exit from Turkey Hill School would lead to a “log jam of busses and cars” that is already overburdened by traffic travelling to and from the Wilbur Cross Parkway and the University of New Haven on Derby Milford Road.
At the conclusion of the public hearing Meisenheimer addressed the crowd and the board, pointing out a ten-home subdivision would have a more detrimental impact on traffic patterns and increasing the Turkey Hill School population. “We’ve tried to do everything you’ve asked. We want to be good neighbors and this is the best use as far as impact,” he said.
TPZC Chairman Ozzie Parente said he is keeping an open mind about the project. “I think Mr. Meisenheimer sent a message that this land will be developed either way,” Parente said. “If this application is denied and he submits an alternate subdivision plan that meets zoning regulations and the town department heads sign off on it, it would be approved.”
By Laura Fantarella – Orange Town News Correspondent