The Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) deferred any action until its March 21 meeting regarding changes to plans for a 15-unit apartment complex at 335 Meadowside Road..
Following a March 7 public hearing, at which a few neighbors voiced their concerns regarding details of those changes, the board directed City Planner David B. Sulkis to get input from the city attorney to clarify what power the board has to rule on the application.
Field & Son Builders, which is owned by Christopher and Warren Field Jr., owns the one-acre property under the name of 335 Meadowside LLC. The Fields filed the application under state’s affordable housing statute, 8-30g, a law that overrides local zoning regulations. The property is zoned for single-family use.
Warren K. “Buddy” Field applied to the P&Z for a minor modification to an already approved site plan for the project, a step toward receiving a certificate of occupancy for the townhouses, which would allow him to start earning rental income. The board voted 4-3-1 at its Dec. 20, 2017 meeting to conduct a public hearing on the minor modification.
Attorney Thomas Lynch outlined the changes from the approved plans, most of which have already been done. Lynch said changes included moving an electrical transformer, shortening the sidewalk in the front center of each unit to allow for additional landscaping, and using more costly stone pavers in front of the unit instead of the asphalt paving that was approved.
Lynch said the final placement of a natural gas line was based on a request from Southern Connecticut Gas Company (SCG). Lynch read from a company provided document, which indicated SCG reserved the right to determine where gas lines are located on a property.
“There are some concerns the line was moved for some nefarious reason,” said Lynch. “They [SCG] felt it was the most efficient way to bring the gas in from Meadowside Road.”
Frank and Denise Ginise of 331 Meadowside Road own an interior lot that is accessed by a 350-foot long driveway, which runs parallel to the rear of the townhouses, which are built on a grade that is several feet higher than the driveway.
The Ginises had previously expressed concerns about water running off the townhouse property onto their driveway, causing ponding of water, and a new driveway apron installed by the Fields that they said is not level.
Lynch said part of the apron had settled, and the Fields had agreed to replace it so water from Meadowside Road does not pond on it.
Field told the board he inspected the driveway and said, “A majority of the water is coming from the neighbor’s property at the back. Very little water, if any, is coming off the embankment.”
Field proposed installing a curtain drain the length of the property that would be 1.5 feet deep, lined with a pipe, and covered with crushed stone to catch any run-off from the townhouse property, and pipe it out to the street. He had already added three drains between buildings where he thought there might be ponding of water.
Field also proposed installing a vinyl fence between six and nine feet high, “giving the neighbors the privacy we want to give them.”
Neighbors Oppose Changes
During the public hearing, no one from the public spoke in favor of the changes, and several neighbors, and two elected officials spoke against them.
Frank Ginise presented the board with a packet of pictures to illustrate his concerns. Ginise said he did not previously have problems with water running off the 335 Meadowside Road property onto his driveway. He said that property is now 3.5 feet higher than his property and said the pictures from a recent rainstorm show “water runs off onto my property.”
Ginise said the original plans showed the natural gas line against the buildings, and said the line was installed 18 inches from his property line, and in one area is as close as six inches to the property line. He said the gas company recommends that new gas line installation should be three to five feet from a property line.
“They dug up my property to put that gas line in. They assumed they were on their property,” said Ginise. “If anything goes wrong, they have to dig up our property and we don’t want that. We would like to see that main moved where it is supposed to be.”
Ginise supports the idea of a fence, but said he would also like to see eight to 10 foot tall arborvitae planted for privacy and to block lights from the townhouses. He said he wants the grade lowered to only a foot higher than his driveway. He said the curtain drain would freeze in the winter.
John Pagliano of 325 Meadowside Road said the privacy fence and the arborvitae are “worthless” to him because the first level of the buildings has the garages, which do not even have windows. Pagliano said he would like to see 12 to 15 foot tall trees planted for privacy. He said the water from the townhouses runs onto his property, and said the curtain drains would be a problem, too.
State Sen. Gayle Slossberg complimented Buddy Field for offering solutions to neighbor concerns, including the privacy fence, and the replacement driveway apron.
However, Slossberg said, “The grading is substantially different than what was approved” and said the drainage onto the Ginise’s driveway “has been a significant problem.”
Slossberg said the change in the gas line placement is “really troubling,” commenting the public has the perception that if something is approved “that is what is going to be built.”
State Rep. Kim Rose said she echoed Slossberg’s sentiments, and asked that the board honor the request for greenery and larger trees. Rose said, “The deviations were not minor.”
In response to the neighbor concerns, Lynch said the city engineer and the project engineer said the curtain drain would solve the drainage problem. He said the gas company placed the gas line there. He said there is not enough room between the buildings and the fence for the type of plantings requested by the neighbors.
Field said a gas company salesman told him that the company has the jurisdiction to put a gas pipeline wherever it wants on a property, and there are no restrictions with regard to property lines.
Ginise said he contacted Sulkis’ office to inspect the project, but said Sulkis told him he would not come out until the project was finished.
“Nobody has been monitoring this,” said Ginise.
In response, Joseph Griffith, director of land use and planning, said the Building Department does multiple inspections of the construction, but said, “They are not specifically looking for changes.”
Griffith said the site inspection is done when the work is completed, and the developer has to submit a set of “as built” drawings when it applies for a certification of occupancy, drawings that are compared to the approved plans. He said his office “conducted numerous inspections” after Ginise contacted him.
Griffith said he let Field know the P&Z would conduct a hearing on the site plan changes. Since the project was approved by the P&Z under a special permit, “it comes back to this board,” said Griffith.
Board member Richard Lutz asked Griffith if his department had verified the grading on the plans and if the project grading agrees with the approved plans.
In response, Griffith said for the actual grade, his office relies on the as-built drawings. Commenting on the other question, Griffith said, “These plans show a change in grade from what was originally approved.”
Washington Cabezas, the project engineer, told the board, “These slopes reflect what is there now. I shot it myself. The grading on the original plans were imperfect.”
In response to Lutz’s question about how the P&Z could verify what was originally approved, Griffith said he could not verify what was shown on the as-built drawings as being the original grading.
Board Chairman Scott Marlow asked Griffith if the proposed elevations are the same as the ones that exist now, and Griffith replied by saying, “No.”
In response to board member questions regarding the P&Z’s authority to vote on the proposed amendment, Sulkis said as long as the project meets building codes, since it was filed under the 8-30g law, “It is an exempt project.”
In response, board member Jim Quish, said he believed the statement from Sulkis was “misleading,” saying, “We can make conditions.”
Lutz said he wanted to know from the city attorney if the board has the authority to ask the contractor to bring the project into compliance with the original plans, and “What are the remedies for an 8-30g project that is not built to specs?”
Sulkis said if the Fields disagree with the board’s ruling, they could “follow the legal path” under the law, which allows the board to reject only projects that have an adverse affect on the public health and safety.
Board member Michael Dolan asked if the grading remained the same, would potential icing on the driveway pose a safety risk.
Sulkis said the city engineer would have to review and approve the curtain drain.
The project has a garage for each unit, plus an additional 32 surface parking spaces. The three-story townhouse style buildings stand taller than the neighboring homes, most of which are one and a half story raised ranch style single-family houses.