P&Z Reviews Hilario’s Landscape Buffer, Proximity To Gas Station
The Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) met over Zoom on November 19 to continue the public hearing for Application 20.09 by Paul Hilario for a special exception and site development plan for property located at 135-139 Mount Pleasant Road.
Nick Yuschak, a registered landscape architect with CCA Engineering, represented the applicant when addressing the landscape buffer for the proposed project.
He explained that the zoning regulations require commercial properties with parking areas adjacent to residential zones to “be landscaped and have a visually impenetrable screen year-round,” which can be done with plantings if there is not already a natural buffer.
Yuschak shared his screen to show the landscape plan and pointed out specific locations where buffering will be done, including shade trees near the west parking lot.
Moving along the west property line, he pointed out existing vegetation that will help with screening.
“It consists of a large wetland area. This area will never be developed. This is a couple of hundred feet deep… so it is our opinion there is ample existing vegetation in this area,” Yuschak said.
He showed that farther west, by the proposed garage, there is also existing vegetation and plantings on the property that will remain there for natural screening.
To the south, behind the rear-most public garage, “is a 210-linear-foot, six-foot-high solid screen fence at the property line,” Yuschak said.
Turning at the property corner, the fence continues along the east property for another 140 linear feet and when it ends, they are proposing to put in red osier dogwoods and northern bayberries for additional screening.
He explained that the area to the east of the property is an accessway and that the adjacent property will not have residential property built on it.
“The remaining of the east property is a very large, existing natural buffer that ranges from 100 to 200 feet deep and contains a wetland. Once again, it will be an impenetrable screen year-round,” Yuschak said.
Following Yuschak’s presentation, P&Z member Jim Swift asked what materials would be used for the fence behind the rear building.
Yuschak said it would be up to the applicant and that the material was not chosen yet.
Swift expressed concerns with the surrounding neighbors’ visibility of the fence and wondered if there would be plantings.
Yuschak brought up an aerial view of the property and said, “In order to screen that fence, I believe, we would have to plant on the adjacent property and we would need permission to do that.”
P&Z Chair Don Mitchell raised a concern that the adjacent property could be developed in the future, even though Yuschak sees it to be unlikely because the area has wetlands.
P&Z member Barbara Manville inquired what the plantings would be along Route 6, to which Yuschak said there would be shade trees consisting of oaks, maples, and tupelos, as well as understory trees.
When the public was invited to speak, Wayne Addessi said the property is “a gateway to Newtown” and that he was concerned with the level of landscaping. He queried if the commission thought it needed more coverage.
P&Z member Corinne Cox answered that she was concerned with the front landscaping along the road and that she would not want to see the building.
Among multiple questions Addessi posed, he asked if the application was a “special request.”
Mitchell explained, “This is not really an exception to the zoning regulations. The use that is proposed is an allowed use. The term ‘special exception’ or ‘special permit’ means that although it’s an allowed use, it may not be appropriate for every parcel in the zone, and so we get to look at specifics of the location…”
When Mitchell asked if the applicant, Paul Hilario, wished to speak about anything they covered thus far, Hilario commented that he is “all for” keeping a buffer on the back corner away from the residential neighbor.
He added, “But I did hear some of the people on the commission say they don’t want to see me out on Route 6, and I just want to give you a business perspective… I’m a small business guy and I can’t screen myself out of the public’s view where I screen myself out of business. I understand that sometimes people don’t want to see me, but there is a need for the things that I do.”
Hilario said he wanted to develop on a main road to be seen and hopes a balance with screening can be made with the commission.
Mitchell said Hilario has the right to have people see his business and it is not the P&Z’s job to mandate the business be “invisible.”
Proximity To Gas Station
Mitchell then segued into talking about an issue brought up at the last meeting, which was the interpretation of “the proximity of this development to the existing development at 131, which is the existing gas station repair shop.”
Mitchell said he researched whether a measurement mentioned in the regulation is from “driveway to driveway” or “driveway to lot.”
The language references it needs “300 feet measured from the street lines from said entrance or exit.”
He suspects that either interpretation is reasonable, and since it is ambiguous, it would go in favor of the land owner, meaning the measurements in this case would be driveway to driveway.
The proposed emergency exit-only is “well within the 300 feet” and he does not think the proposal will comply with the separating distance. The exit would have to be eliminated.
Mitchell added, “Frankly, I’m all in favor of two accessways, especially on a development of this size and this use, but the regulation is pretty clear about any entrance or exit and I don’t know how we get around that.”
Hilario inquired if the regulation, which was said to have been created in 1972, could be amended.
Cox noted that it seemed like a safety issue to eliminate the second exit, to which Mitchell agreed. She added that she feels Hilario should be allowed to have that and a zoning exception should be made.
“We don’t have the authority to make exceptions to the regulations,” Mitchell said.
He went on to say it could be fixed if the regulations were amended, but if it was, it still would not be in time to help this application.
Mitchell then brought up that Hilario needs to submit a sign plan.
A motion was made to close the public hearing, but after some discussion, the commission voted against closing the public hearing and the motion did not pass.
Immediately after, Mitchell made a new motion for continuing the public hearing to the next P&Z meeting on December 3. All commission members were in favor and the motion passed.
For more information about upcoming Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, visit newtown-ct.gov/planning-zoning-commission.