Ponds continue to be questioned

BETHANY - The earth removal application of Stephen and Adele Gombos of Woodbridge to make two ponds for their Christmas tree farm and proposed castor bean crop continued to run into snags at the Planning and Zoning Commission's second public hearing on the matter Jan. 8.

PZC Chairman Sharon Huxley told Gombos that the couple's application still lacks information on a number of technical points raised by the PZC staff, its engineering consultant, the county Soil and Water Conservation District and the South Central Regional Water Authority, on whose watershed the ponds would be located.

The ponds are proposed on a 2.5-acre portion of the Gombos' 11.5-acre Paradise Valley Farm in a residential zone at 292 Amity Road.

The couple also has an on-going Inland Wetlands Commission public hearing on the ponds location in a wetland, which was clearcut without a permit, and whether the farm qualifies for an agricultural exemption. That hearing will continue Jan. 27.

Saying, "This is still a free country," Gombos told zoning members that he has a right to build the ponds and that the board might be 'tangling with the Constitution" by having so many regulations for a property owner to meet at much expense of time and money.

Huxley reviewed the board's need for full information on the application, including site hydrology, as well as answers to questions raised by the staff (18 items), the board's engineering firm, the water authority and soil and water district.

"You applied but you did not supply (all the information needed)," said PZC member David Tressel.

The board was also concerned about sight lines at the juncture of the Gombos driveway with Rt. 63 because of the steep upgrade for heavy trucks that would be involved in any excavation.

"You weren't concerned when I was building the driveway," Gombos replied.

Tressel said the board's assessment and decision are based on the regulations and the information supplied by the applicant.

PZC Commissioner James Seaton asked if Gombos had considered digging a well, as recommended by the water district, which wrote that a well would provide more water than ponds.

Gombos replied he didn't need advice from a "super farmer" and that well water was too cold for his plants, especially tropical ones like castor beans. He said he needed water no greater than 20 percent colder than day or night temperatures so plants wouldn't be"shocked."

"I think my living is being denied," Gombos said. "It's my land and my farm. I paid for it."

Huxley said that excavation isn't allowed in a residential zone except under certain conditions and that the board needed specific information on the ponds' impact on the watershed and "drainage down the line" into the Lake Chamberlain reservoir.

Gombos denied the ponds would pollute, saying any drainage into the tributary brook on his property would be only one percent or less of its flow into the reservoir. He said it would be difficult to document the water usage and allied questions concerning impacts in advance because of storms and weather uncertainties.

"This is not even legal," he said, presumably referring to such requirements. "I'm moneyed out."

Huxley said there were "significant technical defects" in the application, including the need for a reclamation plan. An engineer could provide the information the commission needs to make its decision, she said. Gombos said he had already spent $2,500 for engineering and didn't want to incur further expense.

Huxley said the board was prepared to close the hearing and make a decision unless the additional information could be submitted. When Gombos agreed, the board extended the hearing to Feb. 5.

At the Inland Wetlands Commission "show cause" hearing earlier in the week on the cease and restore order it issued to Gombos , he told the board he had "made a mistake."

The order concerned clearcutting trees without a permit in an area defined as poorly drained wetland soils. He was asked to present a plan to restore 80 percent of the wetland covering within 120 days or state why he believed the restoration order shouldn't be enforced.

Gombos asked the commission to wait until a decision is made on his pending application to build the ponds. He said he had placed barriers to stop runoff as ordered by wetlands enforcement officer Malcolm Evans during a site visit. The commission tabled a decision until it has decided on the pending application.

The fine for failure to comply with a cease and restore order can range up to$1,000 but, according to Evans, the town strives to restore sites rather than fine owners.

Judy Tierney contributed to this article