P&Z rejects plan for Wilton Road apartments, triggering lawsuit threat
Updated 2:09 pm, Friday, February 5, 2016
A proposal to construct a six-story apartment building, with 30 percent “affordable” units, on the banks of the Saugatuck River came to a screeching halt Thursday.
Citing environmental, traffic, safety and procedural concerns, the Planning and Zoning Commission voted unanimously to deny the application by Garden Homes Management to build a 48-unit, 45,796-square-foot apartment building at 122 Wilton Road, with 15 of the units classified as affordable under state guidelines.
The project encountered staunch public opposition, with negative comments voiced by neighbors at earlier hearings and a petition signed by 633 residents urging the P&Z to reject the application.
Richard Freedman, president of Garden Homes, had no comment on the decision other than to indicate that he would pursue a legal challenge, "We’ll appeal. Well, I have no comment on what’s going to happen going forward. We’ll have to decide what we’re going to do," he said after the application was denied.
As for when Garden Homes may file suit, Freedman said, "We have to decide within, I think it’s within a couple of weeks."
Several P&Z members expressed frustration at Garden Homes’ refusal to give the commission an extension on making a decision so they could review all the materials submitted by the applicant.
Chairman Chip Stephens said, "We’re asking explicitly, why we’re not given the opportunity to digest the New York City firefighting manual and all the other bales of this stuff you set on us, that’s all."
Garden Homes’ lawyer Mark Branse shot back saying, "And that’s what I was trying to answer … And the reason why my client will not consent to an expansion of time is because he simply does not believe this commission is able to or willing to grant them an approval, no matter what.
"So we just don’t believe no matter what we do, no matter how long it takes, that we’re ever going to get an approval, that’s the reality," Branse said.
A letter dated Feb 4, produced by a consultant for the applicant, takes aim at earlier fire-safety concerns raised by Chief Andrew Kingsbury regarding challenges he said would be posed by trying to situate ladder trucks on the 1.16-acre site. The consultant, Joseph Versteeg, wrote, “The use of ground ladders for fighting fires in taller buildings is no longer the preferred option, and is no longer necessary because of improved code requirements."
P&Z member Alan Hodge, along with other members, said he hoped to question Versteeg on his assertions, but the consultant was not at the meeting.
"It is a concern to me Mr. Versteeg is not here today,” Hodge said. “And this actually goes very fundamentally to the point that I have been making and that everyone else has been making — the lack of time.
"I have many questions I wanted to ask Mr. Versteeg and he needed to be here in order to hear his answers and develop anything that I could. Because you’re failing to give us an extension, I personally have been denied the opportunity to raise many questions I had," Hodge added.
Before the final vote, P&Z members generally criticized the lot, at the corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North, as a poor place to build apartments. Jack Whittle went as far to say, “There probably isn’t a worse site to pick for a 48-unit apartment building.”