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Despite Marathon Meeting, Commission Continues Hearing on Controversial Development

Hearing lasts more than 7 hours, but decision yet to be rendered.

A marathon plan and zoning hearing that went more than seven hours on Wednesday evening wasn’t enough to bring a resolution to the controversial proposal by a developer to build 12 houses on 5.53 acres of land in the back of the American School for the Deaf.

The commission continued the hearing to Feb. 3 for the limited purpose of providing technical information to town staff.

The project calls for Sard Custom Homes to construct 12 houses on a 5.53-acre subdivision on East Maxwell Drive. The property is currently owned by the American School for the Deaf, though Sard has a purchase agreement in place to buy the land for $1 million.

The project requires approval from the TPZ, which also acts as the town’s inland wetland commission, because it would lie in the Trout Brook watershed.

Attorney Lewis Wise, who represents Sard, told the commission that the project was modified to allay neighbors’ concerns about the impact construction would have on the wetlands.

Wise said that several homes were moved closer to the road (away from the wetlands), the conservation easements were enlarged, the number of trees saved was increased and the grading of slopes leading to the brook wouldn’t take place until after certain other homes were constructed.

“We believe … our engineer believes .. that with the added protections, the risk of erosion into the wetlands is miniscule,” Wise said.

But commission members peppered Wise, engineer Wilson Alford Jr. and soil scientist George Logan with questions as to whether enough was being done to protect the wetlands and the watercourses.

Commissioner Paul Freeman asked if the developer had considered fewer lots - such as removing the plans for the eastern portion of the development.

Alford said that the project had already been reduced from 15 to 12 subdivisions.

During one testy exchange, Commissioner Jeffrey Daniels said that he wanted more specifics from the developer - such as how many more trees would be saved under the revised plan and how much less the grading would be.

Alford said that he did not have the specifics on hand, but later said that 15 more trees would be saved and more than 3,000 square feet of land would not be graded.

Dr. Stephen Danzer, an environmental scientist hired by the town to independently examine the plans, said that he did not “agree with the paradigm” concerning runoff and watercourse contamination. Danzer said that the developer had a plan for total suspended solids (TSS) with catch basins, but did not have a plan for total dissolved solids (TDS).

In general, Danzer, who had not had a chance to review the revised plan, said that there is “always a way to reconfigure what you are doing to create less of a disturbance.”

When pressed, Dwyer said that would typically mean fewer lots.

And despite the assurances from the developer’s team, 11 people spoke against the project during public comment.

The comments ranged from a technical debate about the proper standard to be used to determine water runoff to a plea to save the wetlands because they provide a habitat for bullfrogs.

One resident - Walter Dwyer - also called for a less-intense project, stating that it was akin to trying to build an 18-hole golf course when there was only enough room for 14 holes.

“It doesn’t work,” he said. “There are too many houses for the site to safely permit.”

Eric Geigle, a vocal critic of the proposal since it was first introduced in May 2013, said that he heard a lot of equivocations - such as “my gut feeling,” “I haven’t gone through the calculations,” and “probably” - from the developer’s team.

Geigle said there was more than enough to deny the application as it stood as a result of the uncertainty.

After public comment, Wise requested a continuance to the commission’s next meeting to take time to rebut the residents’ testimony as well as provide some technical information to staff.

Daniels moved for the continuance, but was not seconded.

Freeman then moved to continue the hearing for the sole purpose of receiving the information from staff, but said that the developer’s team should offer its rebuttal Wednesday evening/Thursday morning out of fairness to the neighbors.

That motion passed, and the meeting went beyond 12:30 a.m.

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