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P&Z Approves Hawleyville Apartment Zone Change, But Exception Is In Question



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After months of deliberation and much local opposition including a letter of opposition from First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, Newtown Planning and Zoning (P&Z) voted to approve an application for a zone change, apparently clearing the way for a new apartment complex development in Hawleyville.

But a pair of back-to-back votes on a related Special Exception is creating some confusion, prompting the commission to pull a post-meeting legal notice from today’s edition of The Newtown Bee. Officials were circumspect when it came to verifying whether the initial vote against the exception, or an immediate second vote that then approved it was valid.

Upon being contacted for clarification, Deputy Director of Planning Rob Sibley said action on the pair of votes was being reviewed, while assuring that reporting accurately on what happened during the meeting was appropriate.

P&Z members present for the January 19 meeting were chair Dennis Bloom, vice chair Roy Meadows, Corrine Cox, Gregory Rich, Kersti Ferguson, Brian Leonardi, David Rosen, and Connie Widmann, as well as Senior Land Use Enforcement Officer Steve Maguire.

The first item on the agenda to discuss was Application 22.29 by Farrell Building Company, for a zone change located at 90 Mt Pleasant Road, to change the zone from M-2A (industrial) to R-2 (residential).

Attorney Robert Hall continued to represent the applicant.

“First of all, I really want to thank the commission for hearing this tonight. As you know, I did not post the notice of … this application with the town clerk at the time that I should have. Being able to resubmit and lose only two weeks is really appreciated,” he said.

Hall passed out documents for the record including the mail-in affidavit and a document about the notice of the existence of the application.

He then clarified that a story he shared publicly during a previous meeting about a conversation he had with the president of the Hawleyville Volunteer Fire Company was just between lifelong friends and “does not express the view of the Hawleyville Fire Company.”

Hall went on to discuss how the 90 Mt Pleasant Road property has been vacant and not been used as an industrial site, so he feels it is appropriate to change the zone.

“I don’t think any commission changes a zone willy-nilly. I think that good zoning change is based on a use,” he said.

Hall feels that the 200 rental apartment units, proposed in Farrell Building Company’s other application, will be filled.

“We’re looking at a project that can happen if the zone is changed and the special exception is approved … I’m not sure how much more actually needs to be said regarding the benefits of changing the zone,” he said.

Hall urged the commission to consider how a tax paying project would be built and how he believes it would be good for Newtown. He then segued into what he called an “interesting issue.”

Hall said a protest petition has been filed against both the zone change and special exception applications.

“I have prepared a memo, which actually is already in the file regarding how a zone change petition should be reviewed,” he said. “The first thing you need to do is determine who the owners are of the actual properties represented by the petition.”

Hall went through the list of signatures saying how he believes some were not the registered property owner and some only had one of the two owners listed.

As Hall reviewed additional documents in which he identified errors he had made, Bloom stopped him.

“We were informed this afternoon by our law firm that if we were to vote on this tonight it would be a simple majority, win or lose. I just want to make sure that you know that,” Bloom said.

“I really do appreciate that. I’m glad we don’t have to fight about that,” Hall said.

Hall noted that James “Jim” Ryan from JMC was also present and available to answer questions.

Public Input

Before the public participation portion, Bloom reminded residents they would be permitted three-minutes each to speak.

Resident Pat Napolitano said Hall was incorrect when he said 90 Mt Pleasant has not had any light industry approved in the past. He stated there were three medical buildings approved for the property in the past that did not come to fruition.

“This property can be used for other light industry,” Napolitano said.

While Hall brought up taxes the apartments would bring to the town, Napolitano said Farrell Building Company did not mention the loss of property value to private homes in the surrounding area resulting in a loss of property taxes.

“Do the private homeowners have to suffer an equity loss of this property so a developer can earn a profit?” Napolitano asked. “Then you have this coupled with cost of town services that would have to be considered if the property was rezoned to residential — and then the potential for a multi-housing development to be built.”

After the three-minute timer went off, Bloom explained Napolitano’s time was up, but extended him the courtesy of letting the resident finish his thought.

Farrell Court resident Laura Whitwere spoke next and was with her husband. She explained that she and her husband sold their house two years ago during the COVID-19 pandemic and could not find any rental properties.

She shared, “Farrell built that new community [in Sandy Hook]. We were lucky enough to get in before the building had even broken ground. We are so grateful for that, and I have many friends that are in our same position … Farrell is a lovely place to live, and the community is spotlessly clean, 100 percent safe, and everyone we have met is charming and lovely.”

Fellow Farrell Court resident Daniel Bishop said that when looking at other towns for rentals, he could not find a place to meet his needs, but “Farrell Communities was there.”

He has lived there for a year and a half and was one of the first people to sign a lease. He said he is happy to live in the community and that it has “very nice people.”

Bishop added that the property “is so well taken care of” and that it is a “safe environment.”

Newtown resident Mark Ricciardi said he appreciated the Farrell Court residents sharing their personal testimonies, but their input does not take into consideration the people who currently live around the 90 Mt Pleasant Road parcel.

“Selling another project to Farrell is not acceptable to the surrounding neighborhoods and a zone change. I would appreciate the board not consider that as a sales pitch,” he said.

‘Good For Newtown’

Commissioner Rich asked Hall, “We just heard a statement indicating that the development would cause an impact on the value of the surrounding homes. Is there any way we can prove or disprove that? Or any comparison versus what change it would have on property value if, say, an office building went in there or it remained an overgrown, unimproved lot?”

Hall responded, “Generally speaking, the concerns that people have are more concerns of the unknown than they are of actual dollars and cents.”

When pressed for an actual answer, Hall said he does not believe his applicant’s project would impact property values.

The P&Z then closed the public hearing on Application 22.29.

It was read into the record that the application is found to be consistent with the plan of conservation and development and the comprehensive plan, and should be approved.

Prior to the vote, Rich said, “Sooner or later something is going to be approved to be built on this site, whether it is this one or another one in the future. I appreciate the fact that Farrell has a track record of taking this project from birth to development and continuing to operate it. I would have a lot more concerns if Farrell were building it with the intention of selling it to companies unknown to operate in the future.”

He concluded by saying, “Speaking as myself and [as] a commissioner, I think this is good for Newtown, and I think it should move forward.”

Cox said she knows Newtown needs more apartments, but she was concerned with the location. Meadows said he has walked the property twice and looked at the M-2A regulation of uses.

“Whenever you look at the slope of this property, most of the uses that are mentioned in the [regulations] of the M-2A really don’t fit on this piece of property very well,” he said. “This is a sloping piece of property. You can’t put a big manufacturing facility or warehouse or something like that. There are office buildings and other things that could go there.”

Meadows voiced that this project would be a good use for the property.

Alternate commissioner Widmann said, “I agree with Roy, as much as some locals are opposed to it.”

Fellow alternate commissioner Leonardi said, “I try to look at this holistically. Obviously, one, there’s a significant need for this type of housing in town and across the state … I also commend the applicant. The development itself is very aesthetically pleasing and keeps with the character of town.”

He added that he believes the project creates “a nice transitory zone” going from single family housing into this proposed rental area to the established industrial zone.

Leonardi said that, as an attorney, he looks at the precedent this can set. The voting commissioners should consider that the town has invested a significant amount of money to prepare the area as an industrial zone.

According to the meeting record, Meadows, Rich, and Ferguson then voted to approve the application, with Bloom and Cox voting to deny it, so the proposal passed.

Special Exception

P&Z then moved into voting on Farrell Building Company’s joint Application 22.26 for a special exception at 90 Mount Pleasant Road, so as to permit the construction of 200 rental apartments in ten buildings with associated driveways, parking, and clubhouse.

The public hearing for this application had been closed at the previous P&Z meeting, so no discussion took place prior to the vote.

When the vote took place, Meadows and Rich voted to approve the application. Bloom, Cox, and Ferguson voted to deny it. Bloom announced, “Motion is denied. The special exception failed.”

Whispers then erupted from the applicant’s representatives and the public over why the zone change was approved but the project was not. Meadows then made a motion to reconsider the vote.

When a new official vote was called, Ferguson then voted to approve it resulting in the exception passing 3-2.

Rich told the applicant, “Farrell — good luck and welcome to the neighborhood.”

The zone change becomes effective February 11, while the Town has yet to issue a final statement regarding the exception following the retraction of the aforementioned legal notice.

Cannabis Applications

The second part of the January 19 meeting was designated to public hearings for the following joint applications:

*Application 23.01 by Highway 202, LLC, for a text amendment to the Newtown zoning regulations to delete the definition of Cannabis Establishment in Article 1 Section 2 Interpretations and definitions, and to add Cannabis, Cultivator, Dispensary Facility, Cannabis Food and Beverage Manufacturer, Hybrid Retailer, Micro-Cultivator, Person, Cannabis Product Manufacturer, Cannabis Product Packager and Cannabis Retailer to Article 1, Section 2 Interpretations and Definitions, to amend §1.06.1400 and to add dispensary facility, hybrid retailer, and cannabis retailer as a special use in the M-1 district.

*Application 23.02 by Highway 202, LLC, for a special exception use located at 255-259 South Main Street, so as to permit the use of a Cannabis Retailer.

The commission decided to continue both public hearings to its next meeting scheduled for 7 pm on Thursday, February 2, at the municipal center.

Editor John Voket contributed to this report. Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at alissa@thebee.com.

Comments are open. Be civil.
  1. matt says:

    200 apartments here, plus another 165 at Fairfield Hills. I know there is a need for apartments, but how many does Newtown need? Is there some kind of study that the town is looking at for all these projects to determine the need?

    1. tomj says:

      Fantastic! I am very glad to see that this proposal is moving forward.

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