Neighbors fear a proposal to build a new house and renovate a seawall (pictured) will adversely affect an adjacent portion of Sunset Beach, which is jointly owned by an association of 38 families in the Pawson Park area of Branford.
The Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) held a two-hour public hearing last Thursday, during which time experts for both sides presented testimony.
Attorney Edward Zelinsky, who represents the Sunset Manor Association, asked the P&Z to consider all the factors, including rising sea levels, before ruling on the coastal site plan.
“It took mother nature millions of years to create our beach,” said Zelinsky, who has a home on Sunset Beach. “It could be destroyed by one bad manmade decision.”
The project engineer said the proposal for 29 Sunset Beach Road exceeds current FEMA standards for shoreline homes.
About 45 people attended the hearing, some opposing the plan and others supporting it. However, they did not have an opportunity to speak because the commission had other proposals on the agenda since the previous meeting was canceled due to SuperStorm Sandy. The Sunset Beach hearing will resume Dec. 20 to allow time for public comments.
A spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) said the agency will decide soon whether to issue a certificate of permission for the seawall.
The P&Z also listened to a proposal from the developer of the upscale Anchor Reef condominiums at 60 Maple St., across from the train station. The project calls for constructing two additional condo buildings on the property, but omitting the hotel that was part of the original master plan. The commission will resume deliberations on the proposal at the Dec. 6 meeting.
The property at 29 Sunset Beach, which was purchased by Steven and Brenda Young in 2010, is directly next to a quarter-acre area of beach owned by families in the Sunset Manor Association.
Project engineer Robert Sonnichsen, of Waldo & Associates in Guilford, said the Youngs plan to tear down the existing one-story waterfront home that was built in 1929. In its place, they want to build a two-story home that will be elevated according to FEMA requirements.
Sonnichsen said the home, which is in a flood zone, will comply with new FEMA flood plain regulations that will go into effect in June 2013. “That’s of critical importance,” he said.
He said the new house will mostly follow the existing footprint of the current one. Plans also call for structural repairs to the seawall and concrete patio, and replacing an existing timber wall with a granite wall.
“This shoreline on Sunset Beach…has been very consistently stable for the last 25 years,” Sonnichsen said, disputing claims that beach erosion has occurred.
He said the engineering and architectural team worked with the DEEP and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in regard to plans for the seawall and patio. He said the lower area of the seawall is undermined and that “its structural integrity is compromised.” They also plan to place steps in front of the wall that will extend one foot farther onto the beach.
Sonnichsen said the DEEP initially had questions about the plans, and some revisions have been made. He said a recent email from the DEEP said all areas of concern have been addressed.
“We are actually taking a house that is substandard and bringing it up beyond what the current standards are,” Sonnichsen said.
Stony Creek architect Glenn Arbonies discussed the proposal and displayed a sketch depicting the elevated home.
Town Planner Shirley Rasmussen gave a staff report regarding the project and explained that decisions on coastal site plans are based on compliance with four policies: coastal resources, coastal use, water retention and potential for adverse impact.
Regarding the coastal resource policy, Rasmussen said the proposed home would be built in compliance with FEMA regulations for elevating homes. She said it will replace a house that is deteriorating when waves crash into it. “That’s a really key benefit of a proposal like this,” she said.
Rasmussen said the revised plans allow for rain-water retention, and there is no change in the proposed use of the property. In regard to possible adverse impacts, Rasmussen said the DEEP said the coastal site plan does not violate any policies and wouldn’t result in “significant alteration of the shoreline.”
The DEEP has authority for structures on the water side of the high tide line, which is now referred to as the coastal jurisdiction line. The P&Z has jurisdiction on the land side of the line, but relies on assistance from the DEEP in regard to coastal site plans.
“The decision is local (regarding coastal site plans) but we provide technical assistance,” John Gaucher of the DEEP told the Eagle. He said the DEEP has reviewed the Youngs’ revised site plans and found no inconsistencies with the state’s Coastal Management Act.
The certificate of permission that is required for the seawall, steps and other structures is a separate matter. A DEEP spokesman said it is anticipated a decision on the certificate will be made soon. A request by the neighbors that the DEEP hold a hearing on the seawall issues was denied this week.
Branford’s Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA), which previously denied variances for the project, gave its approval in December 2011 for the revised project. “Our proposed project conforms completely with those variances,” Sonnichsen said.
Attorney Zelinsky filed a lawsuit to appeal the ZBA decision, claiming the variances should not have been granted. That appeal is still pending.
“The kind of overbuilding and shoreline armoring the Youngs propose too close to the beach, threatens Sunset Beach,” Zelinsky (pictured) said at last week’s hearing. He said they should not be permitted to build within 9 feet of the beach when 25 feet is the standard, especially in light of Tropical Storm Irene and Storm Sandy.
Zelinsky said the proposed upgraded seawall and other structures will divert water onto the association’s beach. “The seawall expansion the Youngs propose is unnecessary,” he said. “A FEMA compliant house doesn’t need expanded seawalls whose principal effect will be to divert water from the Youngs’ parcel onto Sunset Beach.”
Jennifer O’Donnell, a coastal engineer with Coastal Ocean Analytics, spoke on behalf of the association. She is also a member of the new Shoreline Preservation Taskforce that was formed after Irene. Click here to read a story about the taskforce.
During a power point presentation, O’Donnell showed photos of the beach area before the 1938 hurricane, after that hurricane and now. She said she believes there has been beach erosion in the area.
She said there are alternatives to seawalls that protect beaches without hardening the shoreline. “The proposed plan degrades the tidal wetlands, the beaches and the dunes,” she said.
Depicted in the photo above are residents watching the power point presentation, with property owner Steven Young standing at the window.
O’Donnell said the Sunset Beach area is prone to flooding and that rising seas and the frequency of storms should be taken into consideration. “The key issue is, we need to be making long-term decisions,” she said.
Attorney David Gibson, who represents developer Jason Ziegler, is asking the P&Z to modify the original master plan for the Anchor Reef property, and approve both a revised site plan a coastal site plan.
The site was previously the location of Malleable Iron Fittings (MIF), which was Branford’s largest manufacturer before it closes in 1971. It is located near Kirkham Street across from the town’s railroad station.
The original master plan that was approved in 2001 called for three new condo buildings, a hotel, offices and a renovated existing building. One 30-unit condo building was constructed and a factory building was renovated into 14 upscale residential units. A club house was also built on the property.
“All the residential units that have been built have been sold,” Gibson told the P&Z.
Gibson said the revised plans call FOR constructing two tower condo buildings. The hotel has been omitted and the offices have been scaled down. The area where the hotel would have been built will now be a lawn area used for passive recreation.
“The project is really a continuation of the original project, “said Adam Fox of HRP Associates. He said the two new condo buildings, which will have 30 units in each, would be “mirror images” of the existing one.
The P&Z will resume deliberations on the project next month.