New Fairfield’s Zoning Commission held a special meeting on Wednesday, January 4. Among the topics discussed was whether to accept a special permit application for work at 302 Ball Pond Road, the site of the proposed school bus lot that is in litigation. Commission members were cautious about next steps but ultimately accepted the application in a 4-1 vote.
The Special Permit, which was filed on December 29, reads “For the removal of demo debris, filling in of earth material and regrading of the site as a result of the demolition of the Consolidated School. Associated site improvements including grading and storm damage. Section(s) 3.1.2 Special Permit Uses (A&B) & Section 6.4- Excavation, Removal, Filling, and Grading of Earth Material by Special Permit Approval. Applicant-Town of New Fairfield.”
Commission members walked through the potential pitfalls of accepting or not accepting the permit for consideration. Apprehensive to move forward on matters regarding this site, they discussed the appropriateness of voting at this meeting or the next and the complexities of the action “clock” that begins ticking when an application is filed.
Commission Chair John Moran initially asked “the board not to accept this [the application] at this present time. We have 35 days to accept it,” going on to say that he would ask for funds for an attorney’s advice, outside of the Town’s attorney Neil Marcus, who is perceived by some to have a conflict of interest regarding this site. Though conflicted over whether to engage with Marcus, who attended the virtual meeting, they did end up asking for advice. Marcus circled the matter saying first that the Commission could table the acceptance but later that it would not be appropriate to do so. He initially said,“You can table an item to your next agenda and still be within the statutory period for acting on it. But again, the only action that you would be doing, as I see it, normally is to schedule a public hearing.”
Later, when the Commission was leaning toward tabling the acceptance Marcus explained that they needed a reason not to accept it and asking for outside counsel’s advice was not enough of a reason, since all application materials are included. He did point out that they have “35 days to basically set the public hearing and then you’ve got time in which to proceed on public hearing, if you need more time to move forward.” He went on to observe, regarding the timeline, “the construction project has time limits and they’re going to be moving way ahead of you guys. So, I’m not sure you want to do that. You could always slow things down for the proper reason at the proper time.”
Marcus went on to say, “this special permit is being applied for because the Consolidated School will be demolished…and without a site plan approved to restore the property, all you would have is a big hole there for a long period of time, which is a disservice to the town because your insurance rates will probably go crazy. It’s really a disservice to the people who live across the street who can’t see a finished site.”
The Zoning Commission will determine next steps for the public hearing to fit the statutory framework, whether to open it at the next meeting or continue it to the following month’s meeting.
Moran reflected that “it’s a difficult situation because of the litigation we’re in and that litigation is going to go on for a long time… so we should get clarity…as applications come up for the property in question, which is being litigated.” Regarding the case he said, “we asked for a change in court, which was allowed. We do have a change… the case was transferred to Hartford.”
The next New Fairfield Zoning Commission meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, February 1, 7:30 p.m.
By Sarah Opdahl