Zoners tackle tricky changes

BETHANY - Residents of the state's small rural towns are being dragged - and sometimes kicked - into the 21st century when it comes to zoning regulations that allow commercial businesses to be operated in residential neighborhoods.

Members of zoning boards and commissions find themselves trying to reach a balance between having quiet, safe, rural-looking neighborhoods and the growing need for people to operate commercial businesses out of their homes for financial reasons.

Bethany is no exception.

Officials said that under the old regulations large vehicles "could be stored on a property if in regular use," but the section regulating that activity was "inadvertently" omitted when the rules were changed in 2000.

On Jan. 16, the Planning and Zoning Commission held a public hearing about making changes to the section of the regulations that was omitted.

The suggested change would allow one commercial vehicle to be parked on a residential lot only if it was regularly used for business purposes by someone who lives in the residence in question.

Trailers would have to be stored in a garage or other building when on the property for more than 48 hours. Registered vehicles used for farming purposes would be exempt.

According to PZC chairwoman Sharon Huxley, the omissions were an accident and no one person can be blamed for it.

In addition to this one, there were several others that were inadvertently omitted from the regulations, including regulations that govern rear lot development and those that address the building of handicap ramps and their distance from property lines.

"We had a consultant as well as a number of people read and proofread the changes and nobody caught them," Huxley said. "It was a mistake and it needs to be corrected."

Some folks think it was a convenient "mistake."

"I moved to Bethany five years ago because of its quiet, rural character," said Litchfield Turnpike resident Andrew Sistrand, "and didn't expect to be living in a commercial zone."

Sistrand said that he was specifically told that his neighbors - who own D & A Reilly Excavating and Paving - were having work done on their property which explained the heavy equipment in the yard.

But the equipment came back day after day, and it wasn't just a small truck with a trailer just big enough to hold a few rakes, shovels and a lawn tractor.

"There's a fleet of vehicles and equipment like a backhoe, bulldozer and paving equipment as well as all size trucks," Sistrand said.

Sistrand also found out that June Reilly, the mother of at least one of the owners, is also First Selectman Craig Stahl's secretary.

Stahl denies there is any connection between himself, Reilly and the PZC.

According to Stahl, when he speaks out for or against something he's speaking as a private citizen and his support or opposition to any proposal doesn't carry any more weight than that of any other taxpayer.

"When I do make a comment, it's based on what I think is best for the town of Bethany," Stahl said, "not because Mrs. Reilly is my secretary."

"In this instance it's not even my decision to make, it's up to the zoning commission," Stahl said, "and I have nothing to do with that."

Since he spoke out at the January 16 hearing, Sistrand said he's received numerous "harassing" phone calls, some of which bordered on being "threatening."

"If zoning regulations were enforced, maybe it would have been different," Sistrand said, "so now that we have a chance to correct it, it should be corrected and then enforced."

Huxley said the hearing was closed to public comment on January 30, but will remain open until 4:30 p.m. on Thursday, January 30 for the submission of written comments.

"Thursday evening is our regular meeting," Huxley, "but this is not on the agenda to be discussed."