Televised coverage of Planning and Zoning Commission meetings proved a game changer Thursday when a resident dashed over to Town Hall to voice concerns on a sewer application on which she saw the panel begin deliberations.
Through a 8-24 request by the first selectman's office, a property owner was seeking approval of a variance to allow construction of sewer lines for properties at 1 Hillandale Lane and 10 Hilltop Trail because one property is incapable of supporting a viable system that meets code standards regarding soil, while the other can handle a septic system only for a two-bedroom house. Installation of the sewer lines, however, would mean that 19 other homeowners in proximity to the sewer line would have an opportunity to link up to the line if they chose.
"We have sewer avoidance policies in our Town Plan," said Helen Block, who arrived out of breath just in time for the public-comment portion of the meeting, after racing from her Patrick Road home when she saw the proceeding underway on television.
"I'm particularly concerned about the fact that these properties are in a double-A zone," she said.
But Block's concerns weren't the only ones. Several commissioners expressed unhappiness that there was no time to consider the matter before being asked to vote. In the case of an 8-24 request, there is only a 35-day window for the commission to rule on the matter. If the commission makes no decision, the lack of action is deemed a positive report.
Given that the report was forwarded to the P&Z on Nov. 20, commissioner had only until Dec. 25 to make a decision.
In the end, the commission voted unanimously to issue a negative report.
"I'm more disturbed by the fact that we were given one day," Commissioner Catherine Walsh said.
Concerns were also by P&Z members regarding incompleteness of the request, a lack of more substantial comments from the Health District and Department of Public Works, and more details on the 19 other properties that would be affected by the proposed sewer line.
"When you sewer an area like this in a double-A zone, you end up offering all these properties to sort of tear down (and) McMansion build up," Commissioner Jack Whittle said. "It has implications."
"I agree with Jack," said Commissioner Alan Hodge. "I don't want any unintended consequences of a positive report."
"If we were to say yes to this, this would open the door to all the other properties," he said. "This could have a whole flurry of teardowns as a result."
Zoning Director Lawrence Bradley referenced a 2002 waste-water facilities report on which the applicant, Christopher Cocco, based his request. "Soil testing showed that it didn't have suitable conditions for septic," Bradley said of the neighborhood, which is rated as having a moderate to high need for sewers. "Moderate to high is a strong likelihood of future failure," he said of septic systems on properties in this area, "based on the soil conditions."
"I anticipate developing on both" properties, Cocco said, noting that his two lots are small, non-conforming lots with limited expansion possibilities.
"I'm happy to see that you're taking a good look at this," Block said. "For me, it's really a passion with regards to water quality."
"You're going to have a lot of things to look at in terms of commercial development in this town ... The priority for sewering our town is in commercial development first," she said. "Residential development has to take a back seat to that."