By SHERIDAN CYR
In a tight decision, the Planning and Zoning Commission denied a special permit application to construct an age-restricted (55 and over), multi-family development of 40 rental units located at 37 and 43 Hunters lane in an R-12 zone. The 4-3 vote came after a tense public hearing and a lengthy discussion by commissioners as they picked apart the details, regulations and stipulations of the matter.
Stephen Giudice, land surveyor with Harry Cole & Son, represented the applicant with a detailed presentation of the project prior to the public hearing. The applicant was seeking PZC approval of the 24-acre development that included 40 units, car ports, a picnic pavilion, community garden, parking and sidewalks.
The plan also included storm drainage and adequate landscaping surrounding the development. The units were proposed to be one-story, ranch-style units, and were designed to look similar to the surrounding neighborhood.
“Part of the application was to submit a report from a realtor appraiser to make sure it is consistent with the neighborhood,” Giudice said. “We feel the report supports that position and that the property will fit in very well and not have negative impacts from a real estate perspective.”
The location includes an environmental land use restriction (ELUR) because of wetlands on the property, and Giudice said the site plan would have no impact on the wetlands. Traffic and environmental studies were included in documents that Giudice submitted to the commission. The traffic study summarized that there would be no adverse effect on the budding properties or streets nearby.
Giudice said the applicant would not propose any residential building on the property near the ELUR, but potentially, at a later time, seek to develop some solar energy panels there, which is permitted by the town’s regulations.
The public hearing was necessary to approve an age-restricted development. Giudice presented a few other concept designs which would not require a special permit, and each of those designs was larger with increased traffic and environmental impacts.
“A lot more could be done on this property if the applicant decided to go in a different direction,” he said. “The least intrusive option was the age 55-plus option, which is the reason we thought this was the best use for property.”
No residents spoke out in favor of the development, but eight speakers spoke against the special permit. Some residents said that it felt like Giudice was threatening the commission with the other concept designs. Giudice said that he was just showing what that land is capable of handling per the town’s planning and zoning requirements.
The property has been before the PZC before with an application for an industrial permit when the land was zoned for industrial use. The ensuing lawsuit by neighbors was dropped with a stipulation in 2014, and the property was re-zoned as residential.
According to Town Attorney Carolyn Futtner, the proposal was in compliance with the stipulation, but it would be up to the commissioners to decide whether it falls under special permit regulations as an age-restricted development.
At the hearing, residents voiced concerns about the environmental impact on the wetlands, water runoff, changes to property value, consistency with the surrounding areas, effect on the budding Hunters Lane community, existing traffic, sidewalk and lighting concerns on surrounding streets, and the timeline and surrounding effect of construction.
“We believe our proposal follows your plan of conservation and meets or exceeds your plan of development,” said Giudice. “We do think it’s consistent with the town.”
Dagmara Scalise (D) made a motion to deny the permit, stating that the application was not consistent with harmony and character of surrounding areas, and would potentially affect property values and safety. Each member had to state reasons for their vote on the record.
Robert Hammersley (R) seconded the motion. “When I’m making a decision that affects our town, I don’t like uncertainty,” Hammersley said. “I don’t like subjectivity. I don’t want to put the people in that part of Southington—or in any part of Southington—in a position where I make my decision with some level of uncertainty that outweighs the certainty.”
The motion passed, 4-3, with Susan Locks (D) saying that it “wasn’t the right thing to do for this area.” Jen Clock (R) voted for the denial, saying that a 40-unit development wouldn’t be in harmony with the surrounding area, but cautioned neighbors that are protesting any development on the site.
“The site is going to be developed and you need to prepare yourself for that,” she said. “The question is what is going to go there.”
Peter Santago was one of three Republicans to vote against the denial of the special permit. He said that he didn’t like the use of the property, saying that people were “sold a bill of goods,” but he voiced concerns that denial of the special permit wouldn’t stand up to appeal.
Paul Chaplinsky and Mike DelSanto also voted against the denial, both citing the fact that over-55 housing was specifically mentioned as a possibility for the property in the stipulation with neighbors.
DelSanto said Southington is a “three-time loser” with this decision, citing the approval when the property was an industrial subdivision, the ensuing lawsuit and stipulated agreement, and the current decision which includes housing on a former industrial property.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Cyr, email her at SCyr@SouthingtonObserver.com.