Should the P&Z Regulate Rock Cuts?

With PermissionIt appears a proposal to build two retail stores on North Main Street may be headed for approval, but a vote won’t be taken until July.  In other news, there will be a public hearing June 21 for the proposed Sterling Ridge apartments in the historic district across from the Canoe Brook Senior Center.

Diana Stricker PhotoThe Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission (pictured) closed the hearing on the North Main retail project and discussed the issues at last week’s meeting. It appears the commissioners may vote to approve the project even though some expressed concerns. One of those concerns centers on major excavations of a rock knoll. 

The 13-acre property at 250 N. Main St. is adjacent to the W. S. Clancy Memorial Funeral Home on one side; and United Tire Inc. and Greystone Manor condominiums on the other side.

John Schmitz, an engineer with BL Companies of Meriden, said last week that recent revisions to the plans involve relocating 10 parking spaces so that the rock cut could be reduced, resulting in a maximum height of 29 feet at the highest point. This was done in response to requests from the commission.

Diana Stricker Photo“It’s a massive step in the right direction,” said Town Planner Harry Smith (pictured) in regard to reducing the amount of excavation of the rock knoll. 

“I do appreciate the effort. I think it’s going to help,” Smith said. He said a couple of fewer parking spaces could reduce the cuts even more, but it’s better than before.  “It will help preserve the knoll,”  Smith said.

Property owners Jeff Shapiro and family, who operate the Cedar Island Marina in Clinton, have been attempting to develop the North Main property since they purchased it in 1997. They have made various applications to the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC)  and P&Z with projects that have down-sized over the years. The property contains numerous wetlands and rock outcroppings.

The current plans call for two buildings, one would be 62,426 square feet; and the other would be 13,200 square feet. As part of the project, a traffic light would be installed at the entrance to the site. The developers have said they do not have any retail tenants yet.

During discussions last week,  P&Z Chair Chuck Andres said the site is zoned to allow for retail use and the plans comply with zoning regulations. “The property owners have a reasonable expectation that if they’re zoned for this, they have a right to do it,” he said.

Andres said he wishes the commission knew the identity of the tenants, but that is not a requirement. “We regulate the use, not user,” he said.  However, the tenants will have seek approval from the commission regarding building plans and architectural designs.

Commissioner Marci Palluzzi said there’s a chance the tenants won’t need such a large building.  Palluzzi, who is a landscape architect,  said the developer is saving quite a few trees and planting new ones.

Creating a Regulation Regarding Rock Cuts

Commissioner John Lust said his biggest concern is the rock cut, but that the development team did reduce the maximum height from 40 feet to 29 feet. He said the P&Z does not have regulations that specifically address rock cuts.

“I think as a commission we have to look at this in the future and decide what’s acceptable for us. But we haven’t done that yet,” Lust said in regard to rock cut regulations. “It’s a tough decision,” he said.

Following considerable discussion of the issues, Smith said he will work on a written resolution approving the project for the commission to vote on. He said it won’t be ready until the July 12 meeting.

The first phase of the project , which created an access road and central driveway, was approved by the IWC and P&Z in 2015. The second phase was unanimously approved by the IWC in January 2018.

In 2003, Costco looked at the site but was not able to get variances from the Zoning Board of Appeals for the proposed project. The town once considered the site as a location for the Public Works building, which is still in a rental facility.

Sterling Ridge Hearing

File PhotoA public hearing is scheduled June 21 for the Sterling Ridge project. The developers are seeking changes to a PDD project that was approved about a year ago.  Those plans called for construction of four 2-unit buildings on a 3.45 acre lot at 26 Cherry Hill Road. The lot also includes an existing house, known as the McCabe House, on the northern end of the property. 

The site is adjacent to the historic Harrison House on Main Street, and the neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The initial Sterling Ridge proposal in 2003 called for construction of condominiums in four buildings, and the demolition of the 1820 Wyllys Russell House at 162 Main St., and the 1928 McCabe House.

Martha Bradshaw and Ann Trapasso, both members of the Branford Historical Society, spearheaded a successful campaign in 2003 to save the Russell House.

A development plan for the property and the McCabe House was approved in 2005, but an appeal was filed by the Branford Historical Society and by Trapasso.  A court settlement agreement was reached and the P&Z approved the modified plans in 2007. The development never materialized, and the property changed owners a couple times before it was purchased by Alan Genn of Greenwich in 2014, who is the current owner and developer.

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