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Date: Fri 09-Jul-1999

Date: Fri 09-Jul-1999

Publication: Bee

Author: ANDYG

Quick Words:

P&Z-Walnut-Tree-Village

Full Text:

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

Trudell said.

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.

Living Area

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.

Rockface

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.