Conflicts emerge over Milford’s land use procedures

A discussion over site plans for two homes — one approved and one pending — brought to light differing procedures and internal conflicts within the Permitting and Land Use Department.

At its Jan. 20 meeting, the Planning and Zoning Board reviewed separate proposals for two storm-damaged single-family beach homes slated for replacement. The board held off on a vote for a house at 81 Shell Avenue, due to concerns about incomplete plans, while it unanimously approved plans for a house at 103 Point Beach Drive.

David Salerno, a contractor who owns Compass Builders, presented the plans for the Shell Avenue home, which needed Coastal Area Management site plan review. Rodney R. Allain Revocable Trust owns the home in the R-7.5 zone.

Salerno said the house would be elevated to 17 feet, four feet higher than required by the flood standards. The existing house and garage have been demolished and would be replaced by a house that better conforms to the lot.

Salerno said the home requires a side setback variance, which the Zoning Board of Appeals unanimously granted at its Oct. 14, 2014, meeting. The project required a side setback on the south side from 10 feet to the available five feet eight inches for the 0.09-acre lot.

In discussing the plans, City Planner David B. Sulkis read from a report prepared by Zoning Enforcement Officer Stephen H. Harris. Sulkis represents the Planning and Zoning Office at the Planning and Zoning Board meetings, while Harris represents the office at Zoning Board of Appeals meetings.

In the report, Harris wrote that Salerno’s plans were incomplete because they did not include specific information regarding the foundation, which would be located in a flood zone. The plans also did not include reports from various city departments, including engineering, public works and the fire department, all of which review such plans.

“Typically we have those as part of the application,” said Sulkis.

In response, Salerno indicated there was a difference of opinion regarding the plans between Harris and Joseph D. Griffith, director of Permitting and Land Use, and supervisor of both Sulkis and Harris.

“Steve Harris said he felt the plans should be more involved,” said Salerno. “Joe disagrees with Steve. This has what Joe said we needed. Joe is trying to streamline the process”

Salerno said he had comments from Gary W. Wassmer, city engineer, and Fire Marshal Robert J. Healey. Salerno said he received the fire department report after Harris had written his summary, and that he had integrated Wassmer’s comments into the plans.

Salerno asked the P&Z to make submission of the information sought by Harris a condition of approval, saying such information is required as a condition of getting a building permit.

“You are not trained to determine foundations. I don’t want a two-week delay,” said Salerno.

In response, Sulkis said, “The regulations specify he should have the foundation plans.”

Salerno said, “I have the foundation all done and I can share that.” He further said the foundation plans had been reviewed by John Gaucher, an environmental analyst for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, commenting, “John Gaucher gave us that blessing.”

Salerno said he had reviewed the foundation plans with Harris.

“I feel like I’m getting caught in the middle on this one,” said Salerno.

The board reacts

Joining the discussion, P&Z Vice Chairman Edward D. Mead said, “Either we have all the sign-offs or Harris should be here.”

Griffith, who attends meetings by sitting in the audience, and not sitting beside Sulkis, stepped to the podium and said, “Our office has been under increased scrutiny by FEMA and DEEP.” Griffith said foundations have to be reviewed by a state-licensed person to check for compliance with requirements of the National Flood Insurance Program.

“I asked Steve not to go into a depth of review,” said Griffith. “Gaucher’s review came back with the requirements. The Building Department will go through the foundation systems and the entire structure.”

Mead commented on Griffith’s remarks by saying, “In the future, maybe we can be notified when there will be a new procedure.”

Board Chairman Benjamin Gettinger said, “We can’t have meetings where we are told one thing by one person and another thing by another person. … I don’t think we can go forward with an arguably incomplete application.”

Board Vice Chair Jeanne Cervin said, “We feel bad about this happening this way. We would be setting a bad precedent if we proceeded in this way. We need information in front of us so we can see it in black and white.”

The board deferred any action on the Shell Avenue house until its Feb. 3 meeting, giving Salerno two weeks to submit all the required information.

By contrast, Mark Pucci of Mark Pucci & Co. quickly and unanimously received approval to construct a single-family home at 103 Point Beach Drive, which is owned by Dr. Jeffrey and Mrs. Betsy Hoos. The 0.24-acre lot in the R7.5 zone is currently vacant land.

Pucci needed a special permit because the house will be located within 25 feet of the high tide line, and also needed Coastal Area Management (CAM) site plan review.

Pucci told the board the previous home had been destroyed by Hurricane Sandy and no variances were required. He presented approval from all city departments: public works, the fire department, and the city engineer, plus a report from Gaucher.

Sulkis read from a report from Harris and said that the foundation plan and elevations were not part of the CAM application. He said, “I did not work on your application. I am just reading from Harris’s report.”

The plans drew no public comment.

Following these applications, Griffith told the board he has been having Harris review zoning applications, primarily CAM applications. Griffith said that signed and sealed elevation and foundation plans can be reviewed by either Planning and Zoning or the Building Department.

“I am trying to understand what the board is requiring,” said Griffith. “I saw these applications as identical.”

In response, Cervin said the Shell Avenue plans lacked an engineering report. She said the board has “some confusion” with the change in procedures. She would like “clarity about who does what.”

Gettinger said, “We are looking to you guys to tell us what a complete application looks like. We can’t have one person saying we need A, B and C, and another person saying, we need A to F.”

Griffith responded by saying, “I don’t think David correctly stated to the board what Harris reported.”

In response, Sulkis said that Harris had two check-off lists for the two projects. One project had the required components, while the other lacked engineering, public works, and fire department reports.

“I’m not going to be blamed for misrepresenting anything in these reports, because I did not,” said Sulkis.