After more than two hours of discussion and public input, and over the objections of two commissioners, the West Hartford Town Plan and Zoning Commission on Monday continued its hearing on the controversial project proposed for the back of the American School for the Deaf property.
The hearing, in a 3-2 vote, was continued until Jan. 22 at 6 p.m.
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.
The project has already been scaled back, according to attorney Lewis Wise, who represents Sard Homes in the matter.
Wise said that the original plans called for Sard to purchase more than 9 acres of land from the ASD, with the area stretching all the way to Trout Brook. But, Wise said, the area was trimmed to 5.53 acres to exclude the waterway and leave several old bridges and a spillway under the control and maintenance of ASD.
In addition, engineer Wilson Alford said that the project calls for just 12 subdivisions with lot sizes between 12,000 and 17,000-square feet, even though the parcel could accommodate 15 subdivisions of 10,000 square feet.
But several commissioners appeared troubled by the project.
Alternate Elizabeth Gillette pointedly questioned Alford whether the plan for erosion control, which calls for regrading large swaths of acreage, was feasible.
Commissioner Jeff Daniels also took umbrage with Wise’s comments concerning the statutory authority the TPZ has as “an inland wetland agency.” Wise, citing a legal treatise and a 1984 Connecticut Supreme Court case, said that the TPZ cannot consider issues related to issues such as air pollution or other environmental impacts of a proposed project.
Daniels disagreed, noting that Wise was relying on a 30-year-old court case.
“The world has changed since then,” Daniels said.
Neighbors in the area of the development have organized since the project was discussed in May 2013.
Several of them got the opportunity to speak before the hearing was continued, as they would likely not be in attendance at the Jan. 22 meeting.
Mitch Cohen, of 19 Rustic Lane, listed a litany of concerns that he had, including stormwater runoff, potential erosion, displacement of wildlife, Trout Brook water quality and whether the sewer lines can accommodate the additional burden.
“There are problem areas that need to be carefully addressed by the developer,” Cohen said.
Eric Geigle, of 2 Rustic Lane, said that this project is an opportunity for the commission to show its commitment to the town’s green guidelines.
“I hope you reject the proposal,” Geigle said. “I at least hope you delay the project until the questions are more fully addressed.”
Geigle said that the developer has been unwilling to meet with neighbors to hear their concerns.
“This team has been reluctant to work with any group,” he said.
The continuation further extends what has already become a lengthy process for Sard Homes, the neighbors and the TPZ.
The commission in November took the unusual step of ordering an independent study of the proposed development.
Dr. Stephen Danzer, an environmental scientist, disagreed with Sard Home’s report that development would have no adverse impact on the wetlands.
Danzer, however, said that three “ecosystem services” will be “significantly impaired” by the development, if it’s approved.
The hearing’s continuation did not sit well with every commissioner.
Commissioners Kevin Prestage and Paul Freedman both said that everyone was present and that, at some point, there needed to be a decision rendered.But the three other commissioners disagreed and continued the hearing.