Monday night’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting once again heard arguments from multiple parties regarding a proposed development at 648 Wallingford Road and 66/14 Talmadge Road, and still no definite conclusion has been reached.
The meeting featured technical and regulatory discussion and debate regarding the merits and demerits of the project. There were also some strong emotions, with one member of the public, John Attwood, calling “the whole project something that gives your board a black eye.”
Commission Chair Sean Strollo later joked that the discussion should be tabled for the next meeting, “because I don’t want to get into a fight in the parking lot.”
Speaking on behalf of property owners Lauren and Earl Kurtz and Lovley Development, Inc. was attorney Anthony J. Fazzone, of the Law Offices of Fazzone, Ryan & Ricciuti LLC. Fazzone laid out his clients’ case, pointing out that the project recently gained approval from the Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Commission, after a lengthy delay due to quorum issues. Cheshire Town Engineer Marek Kement also approved of the initial plan, with stipulations regarding stormwater infrastructure.
Cheshire Town Planner Michael Glidden subsequently stated that, “I believe the record supports the application,” and that his office would be available to answer questions.
The development of this parcel has been scaled down from its original version and changed several times. It has gone from a proposed 34-unit townhouses, to 40 age-restricted houses, to its current incarnation: a cluster subdivision of 20 homes without age restrictions, sized between 2,700 and 3,400 square feet and priced between $700,000 and $925,000.
This plan, according to Fazzone, “completely protects the 3.5 acres of wetlands that are on this parcel.” Under the new plan, the open space would be “passive space” owned and managed by a homeowners association.
Further, an earlier request for a waiver on sidewalks was withdrawn, but there would be sidewalks “on both sides of the cul-de-sac.” Glidden stated that under legal precedent, the Town could not require sidewalks on Talmadge.
Fazzone argued that their engineer, Scott Hesketh, showed that “this subdivision will not present a burden on the existing roads.”
The issue of what constitutes a “benefit” to the town was debated. Committee member Jeff Natale pointed out that building more houses in less space was a benefit to the builder, but questioned what the benefit was to the town. That position was echoed by fellow PZC member Casey Downes.
Strollo countered by saying that, “the benefit to the town is you’re not ripping up more land,” and added that cluster subdivisions are the way the business of development is going, seeking greater efficiency as populations grow and green space diminishes.
Andrew Quirk, professional engineer with Kratzert, Jones & Associates Inc., who is working with Lovley, made the claim that forested areas on the site, including two vernal pools, will receive more protection under the current plan. “Fifty percent more open space provides that much more benefit to those areas, which does benefit the town.”
Member Robert Brucato asked whether it would be possible to make the roads private, reducing Cheshire’s need for plowing and garbage services. Glidden replied that it was a requirement that the roads be public.
Several local individuals were present to argue against the development.
Resident David Schrumm offered historical data that suggested the original amount of wetlands on the site was approximately twice the size that would be protected under the current plan. “There was filling of wetlands — how much is debatable. There was clearly a violation between 1988 and today. The question is, what’s the town going to do about it?”
Fazzone countered that the engineers who made the survey in question were “good engineers, but not soil scientists.”
Attwood argued forcefully that, while he supports the idea of the cluster, “that’s not what’s going on here. What they’re really doing is taking away land to add another four to six homes. It should be 10 homes, that’s it.”
Charles Martin raised the question of conflict of interest. “The benefit to the town? There isn’t any. The only people that would benefit from this cluster subdivision would be the Kurtz family and Lovley Construction who both will line their pockets. I continue to believe that there’s a conflict of interest between the Kurtzes who run the Wetlands Commission, the Planning and Zoning Commission, now selling the land. It just doesn’t add up.”
Commissioner Louis Todisco replied that having a family member with a property interest or being a Commission member doesn’t change the fact “that this Commission has to rule on applications that come before it. That’s our job to do. I don’t think there’s any reasonable basis for saying that any person here will not try to follow the evidence, utilize their own best judgment. Every member of the Commission will follow the evidence and the law and make their best judgment and that will be their decision.”
The Commission closed the public hearing on the subdivision application. No indication was given as to when the group planned to render a decision. The next meeting of the PZC will be Monday, Sept. 26.