Thursday, May 07, 2009

Will the Council right a wrong?

A guest post by David C. Schrumm on the proposed Richmond Glen / Serenity Ranch development:

Connecticut’s Conservation & Development Policies Plan established a statewide conservation map that encourages certain land use patterns in municipalities. Over-development in sensitive areas is discouraged by denying sewer funds to towns that allow sewer expansion into conservation areas. This does not mean that development cannot take place; it only means that high density development will not be enabled by the construction and maintenance of expensive public waste water systems. Private septic systems could be used and allow for some residential development.

Cheshire conservation areas include large parcels of land east of the town center along Academy, Wiese, Talmadge and S. Meriden Roads.

Cheshire’s Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) denied sewers for a 41 unit condo development on Wiese Rd. citing the state guidelines (among other reasons) since an approval would jeopardize future state aid.

On January 11, 2008 the developers filed a lengthy application with the state’s Office of Policy and Management (OPM) to change the conservation map for their development. Such action would remove the major obstacle to getting sewers thus getting the maximum number of units on a relatively small parcel of land.

State statutes give towns the right to request a public hearing on conservation map changes since they can have significant impacts on future development and budgets. The Town Manager, Planner, Engineer and Council Chairman Matt Hall were notified of this application. Other than a passing mention of the issue during the February 12, 2008 Council meeting, no public action was taken by the town to notify residents or provide evidence to officials in Hartford. It appears that the rest of the Town Council was not fully informed of the potential consequences. There was no public discussion of this issue, local residents most directly affected were kept in the dark and it even appears that Planning and Zoning and the WPCA were not notified of the potential change until it was a fait accompli.

On April 2, 2008 OPM recommended against changing the map and sent this recommendation to the Legislative Committee that makes the final decision. Town officials were reminded again of the impending vote but declined to respond in any way. Other than Councilman Hall, other members of the Council were not given this information. On April 21, the Legislative Committee met in Hartford. In attendance were representatives of the developer. The minutes of the meeting make a point of noting, “The Town of Cheshire was not represented at this meeting.”

Why was Cheshire AWOL? Casual indifference to an important decision at best? Or purposeful cover-up of the public’s right to know at worst?

Why should residents care about this chain of events?

1. A bad precedent has been set. When other developers request map changes how can the town oppose them when they were purposely mute on this one?

2. According to the state DEP, it is rare that a map will be changed if a municipality recommends against it. Cheshire didn’t show up and the map was changed.

3. The conservation areas contain some of our last expanses of rural land, many containing valuable farms. These 41 condos will sit next to a beautiful farm that is a great source of locally grown produce. If this ill-considered map change becomes a precedent, how long will it be before the farm is hemmed in by residential sprawl making farming operations difficult or impossible. Supporting “locally grown produce” means making wise community planning decisions; this development is the antithesis of good planning.

4. The extension of sewers into a new area is short-sighted. It increases the ongoing operating costs of the waste water treatment system. It also hastens the day when an expensive upgrade must be made to the main sewer treatment plant. Recent estimates have ranged up to $30 million for such an upgrade. The same town officials who fret loudly during budget time about keeping town spending under control laid down for a developer whose 41 units will add another cost layer to future budgets. Is anyone at Town Hall connecting the dots?

5. Another perplexing aspect of this project is the fact that WPCA’s eventual approval of sewering this project was in direct opposition to their recently completed long range plan for the sewer system. Whereas the Commission sent their plan to the state DEP indicating that this area should not get sewers, several months later they gave this project sewer approval. Part of this confused decision making can be laid at the feet of the political meddling that has gone on with the WPCA over the last several years, but that is another story altogether.

6. Finally, residents should be very concerned about how this project was allowed to proceed without the public transparency citizens deserve. While most of the decisions in the approval process were conducted according to local regulations by the relevant boards and commissions, the lynchpin decision was treated in a dubious manner which calls into question how local government is being run.

On May 12 the Town Council will vote on whether to give the developer access to Cheshire’s sewer system by way of an easement over town owned land. The Council would do well to say no to this request. They should give the residents of the impacted neighborhoods, and all Cheshire citizens, the protection that they could have spoken for themselves if this process had been as transparent as it should have been.


Anonymous said...

"Other than Councilman Hall, other members of the Council were not given this information."Correct me if I'm wrong, but isn't councilman Hall's title as "Chairperson" just a title for the person to run the meetings?
Should he be privy to information that effects the town while the rest of the town council isn't?
Isn't he also an attorney who represents developer(s) in this town?
Was he suppose to pass that info to the rest of the council? If so, why didn't he?
My God, there are so many issues here.
This is inexcusable!
Hall should be questioned hard on why he kept that meeting to himself and he better have some good answers. This is nothing but a major coverup by an attorney with connections to developers.
Please don't let him get away with this Tim!
Mr. Schrumm.....Please come back to the council...this town needs you now more than ever.Thank you for still staying involved in these issues.

Anonymous said...

The proposed high density age restricted housing makes no sense considering the state of the economy and the state of the local real estate market. For these reasons alone this development is suspect and should not move forward.

Beyond the fact that it would be an economic failure at this point all the other issues raised here cause voters to wonder just what their hard earned tax dollars are providing.

Could it be that this proposed development got to this point by some stroke of luck? After all, it seems that unless the town grants an easement there can be no sewers and therefore no large scale development. This of course raises many questions associated with the official review process to this point. Sounds as though it was cursory at best, and more likely flawed for some reason.

So, where was the official adult supervision along the way? How come the town manager, the council chair and the town council allowed this to get to where it is?

The next election cannot come fast enough. And with it maybe some long overdue changes in town supervisory personnel too.

Anonymous said...

The easement for the sewers has been proposed at only $10. Assuming a cost of about $10,000 per complete septic system per unit the builder would be looking at almost a half million dollars in expense. The easement should be valued at no less than that.

Of course maybe with septic only 10 units can go on the property. If that is the more likely scenario the value of the easement to the builder is more like 30x$400,000 if the units were to sell for $400,000 each. Not bad, just $12,000,000.

Anonymous said...

"How come the town manager, the council chair and the town council allowed this to get to where it is?"Why do you think???

There is money to be made by many of them!

Anonymous said...

"There is money to be made by many of them!

May 07, 2009 9:56 AM"

Only Bubble-Head politicians and Bubble-Head municipal employees would think money could be made on speculative real estate development in our current economic down turn.

It will be a very long time before another real estate bubble like the one which just burst descends upon Connecticut again.

Hopefully the Bubble-Heads will be out come November.

Anonymous said...

"The Town Manager, Planner, Engineer and Council Chairman Matt Hall were notified of this application"

There is no simple mistake here. It is a conspiracy for the purpose of providing this developer with access to the town's sewage system which is near capacity. These 4 individuals served the special interests of this developer and hide the developers request from all concerned. These people can not be trusted with the responsibility of serving the residents of Cheshire.

I'm sick of these people raising our taxes by serving the special interest of the developers, realtors and and realestate lawyer.

The only right action that the council should take is to apply to the state to reinstate the conservation restrictions on this land. Matt hall should be ashamed of himself and should recuse himself on an vote concerning this land.