P&Z Scrutinizes Details and Big-Picture Plans

Branford GISThe Planning and Zoning (P&Z) Commission began its review of site plans for the long-proposed Sterling Ridge housing complex in the town’s historic district. The commission also set a date for a public hearing for the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).

In other business at Thursday’s meeting, the commissioners discussed concerns about a tree that was removed from a construction site at 250 N. Main St.; and they denied a request for an interior residential lot on Damascus Road.

They also appointed a new zoning enforcement officer.

POCD Hearing in January

The commission voted unanimously to accept the most recent draft of the POCD and to schedule a public hearing. There is a mandatory 65-day waiting period from when the draft is accepted by P&Z, so the hearing won’t be held until Jan. 17. In the meantime, the draft will be sent to the Board of Selectmen, the state Department of Energy and Environmental Resources, and the South Central Regional Council of Governments. 

The town’s Steering Committee met monthly for more than a year to revise the document, which is mandated by the state every 10 years.

Sterling Ridge Plans Nearing Completion

The commissioners are scrutinizing site plans for the proposed Sterling Ridge housing project at 26 Cherry Hill Road. They approved changes to the project’s master plan and Planned Development District (PDD) in July, after the developers reached agreements with neighbor Ann Trapasso and the Branford Historical Society.

The project site is across from Canoe Brook Senior Center and adjacent to the historic Harrison House on Main Street. The neighborhood is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Photo by Diana Stricker“This is the second step in a two-step process under your PDD regs for approval of the detailed site plan,” said Attorney Bernard Pellegrino, of the Pellegrino Law Firm in New Haven. He represents property owner Alan Genn of Greenwich and his 26 Cherry Hill LLC corporation.

Pellegrino said each of the units would sell for an estimated $355,000. Plans call for four duplex buildings, for a total of eight units. A portion of the property, which includes the knoll area and the wetlands, will be placed in a conservation easement.

Pellegrino said the master plans that were previously approved by neighbors and the commission over the past two years were also detailed site plans, so he hoped the current approval process could be prompt.

“In submitting the master plan, we designed the project essentially to the full site plan level – full drainage reports, landscaping, and architecture,” Pellegrino told the commission. “There were changes that were made during the master plan process that really got down to the nitty-gritty.”

Photo by Diana StrickerHowever, Town Planner Harry Smith said some additional information is still needed.

Smith said even though the commission examined the plans during the master plan hearings, they need to look at them now with closer scrutiny because it’s the site plan level. “The devil is in the details,” he said.

Smith said the biggest question is who will oversee the land in the conservation easement, which is slated to remain in its natural state. He also said there are not enough stipulations regarding the easement area. “It leaves the door open for someone to massively alter the appearance of that area and re-landscape it,” he said.

Commission chairman Chuck Andres asked if the Land Trust or the Historic Society might accept oversight of the conservation easement area. “You gotta find someone to accept the easement,” he told the developers.

Pellegrino said they granted the easement, but didn’t realize they had to find someone to accept the property.

Local conservationist Bill Horne said there are financial requirements when an organization takes stewardship of a conservation easement site. He said the property also has to be monitored to ensure the natural status of the land is preserved.

Smith also had questions about a single-family home on lot 2, known as the McCabe House, which is part of the PDD. A condition of approval calls for any repairs or replacement of the home to follow federal requirements for historic properties. No plans have yet been submitted for that house.

Andres said the hearing will be continued at the Nov. 15 P&Z meeting.

A Storied Background

The Sterling Ridge proposal has gone through various re-incarnations and several owners in the past 15 years. The initial 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 two homes. Information about the history of the two homes is in a 2009 story in the Branford Eagle. 

A “Significant Tree”

Discussion continued Thursday about residents’ concern regarding the removal of a mature oak tree labeled as “significant” during construction at 250 N. Main St. According to the plans approved by the P&Z in July, the tree was not supposed to be cut down.

The plans call for construction of two retail buildings on the 13-acre property, which is adjacent to the W.S. Clancy Memorial Funeral Home. The property is owned by Jeff Shapiro and family, who operate the Cedar Island Marina in Clinton.

Andres said he received several letters from residents who opposed the tree’s removal. The P&Z contacted the developers, asking why the tree was removed and what remediation would be taken. Andres said he had not yet received their response. He said there was some unconfirmed information that the tree had been damaged during a storm, and that was why it was cut down.

“The tree is gone, we would like some remediation,” Andres said.

Zoning regulations require that if a tree that was labeled “significant” is removed, it must be replaced.

During the hearings for 250 N. Main St., residents expressed concerns about the number of rock cuts and the size of the proposed buildings.

Interior Lot Denied

The commissioners unanimously denied a request from William and Barbara Lyons of 186 Damascus Road to re-subdivide an adjacent lot and create two new residential lots, including an interior lot. A public hearing was held last month for the proposal. The property is across from the Walsh Intermediate School. 

The commissioners ruled Thursday that the interior lot was smaller than other interior lots in the area and was not in accordance with the established development pattern of the neighborhood.

New ZEO

Jaymie Frederick, who was previously the environmental assistant in the Inland Wetlands Department, was appointed as the new zoning enforcement officer (ZEO).

Frederick replaces Jennifer Acquino, who was recently appointed as the assistant town engineer. John Hoefferle, the previous assistant engineer, became the town engineer after Janice Plaziak left to take the town engineering position in Guilford.

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