Date: Fri 09-Jul-1999
P&Z Questions Unauthorized Construction At Walnut Tree Village
BY ANDREW GOROSKO
Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) Chairman Daniel Fogliano wants to know
why the developers of Walnut Tree Village made so many changes to the plans
that the P&Z approved for the 80-unit condominium complex on Walnut Tree Hill
Road in Sandy Hook during the course of its construction over the past four
years without first getting P&Z approvals to make those changes.
"Why weren't some of these obvious shortcomings addressed before this," Mr
Fogliano asked the developers at a July 1 public hearing at which they were
seeking amendments to their special exception for the complex.
The requested amendments described on three pages of text include work
involving sidewalks, exterior lighting, stone retaining walls, guard rails, a
pond aerator, sewage treatment, walkout basement window and door options, fire
hydrants, trees, bushes, signage, lighting, a gazebo and a falling rock
problem. P&Z members did not act on the requested zoning amendments.
Mr Fogliano asked how the developers could deviate so far from the plans which
the P&Z approved in 1995.
"I can't understand how we can [diverge] so far from an original approval to
this," the chairman said.
George Trudell of Walnut Tree Developers responded that the various changes
made by the developers are relatively minor ones. Walnut Tree Village was the
first project of its kind in town, he said. "There's a learning curve on both
sides," he said, noting that both the developers and the town learned during
the construction process.
"We're not happy about this either. This is bad news for everybody," Mr
Until the developers get their requested construction amendments approved by
the P&Z, they won't be able to a get a final certificate of occupancy for the
complex's community center.
P&Z member Heidi Winslow asked why Walnut Tree Developers has created living
areas in the basements of some condo units, explaining that the zoning
regulations don't allow that in areas with EH-10 zoning for elderly housing,
such as Walnut Tree Village. "You're walking a pretty thin line when you put
what you call a family room in the basement," she said.
The P&Z regulations allow living areas on only one level in areas with EH-10
zoning, Ms Winslow said. The P&Z approved a "dark, framed area" for the
basements, not windows and doors and living areas, she said.
"How did we get this far," Mr Fogliano asked, noting that the numerous
amendments sought by the developers take up three typewritten pages of text.
"I am positive that we would not be here today had it not been for complaints
about this project," he said.
Several dozen unhappy Walnut Tree Village residents met May 18 at the town
land use office in Canaan House at Fairfield Hills to review drawings for the
construction changes which were made at Walnut Tree Village.
At the July 1 meeting, architect Hugh Sullivan said that during the course of
construction, the developers returned to the P&Z for changes involving the
mass and height of buildings.
But the developers made modifications to plans without consulting the P&Z when
condo unit owners requested certain changes, such as the addition of doors and
windows in basements, he said.
"I wish it could have been done differently," he said.
"These developers have put this commission between a rock and a hard place,"
said Mary Burnham of 24 Walnut Tree Hill Road, who lives next to the complex.
She likened the developers making the many changes without first seeking P&Z
approval to driving down the road at 80 mph, getting a speeding ticket and
then trying to get speed limit laws changed.
Matthew Keane, a Walnut Tree Village resident who served as a spokesman for
more than 20 families there, said "We want to protect our investment. The big
situation here is the rock," he said.
Several residents from the complex had complained about falling rock from a
rockface near one of the condo buildings.
Complex resident Frank Crisona of 17 St George Place asked what he can do
about boulders that have been coming down toward his condo from the rockface.
There are liability questions because the developers did not follow the
construction plans for cutting the rockface, Mr Crisona said, suggesting that
the problem can be corrected with small-scale blasting.
Jack Bestor of 24 Walnut Tree Hill Road urged that an independent engineer be
hired to study correcting the rockface problem.
"Mutual mistakes were made. Nothing was hidden from the town," said attorney
Stephen Wippermann, representing the developers. Town officials were made
aware of the construction changes as they were made on the property, he said.
"The rockface is not the right grade. It's a mistake," Mr Wippermann said.
Beyond seeking the construction amendments for the 80-unit first phase of the
complex, Walnut Tree Developers has applied to the P&Z to add 133 more condo
units in a second construction phase. The land where the 133 units would be
built is much steeper and more difficult for construction than the site for
the first phase.