Members of the East Haddam Planning and Zoning Commission discuss an application seeking a zoning amendment Tuesday night (CT Examiner/McDermott)

East Haddam Planning and Zoning Agrees to Draft Denial of Zoning Amendment

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EAST HADDAM — The Planning and Zoning Commission agreed Tuesday night to ask the town’s attorney to write a draft denial of a zoning amendment application that would have allowed the owners of the Banner Country Club Estates banquet hall to convert that empty building into an estimated 20 residential units.

“I just feel if we’re doing an ordinance change, it should benefit the town in general, and I don’t see this benefiting the town,” said commission member Edmund J. Gubbins, Jr., during the commission’s Tuesday night meeting. “I see this benefiting one developer and that’s all.”

In the application, Banner resort owners Anthony and Frank Longhitano sought a change to town zoning rules to allow buildings built prior to 1973 and exceeding 6,000 square feet to include more than four housing units. If the amendment is approved, it will apply to the 1930s-era banquet hall and three other buildings located in the resort district.

Gubbins said he might have supported the zoning amendment if multiple property owners had supported the application, but “we only had one developer coming in to us to say that this is what they want to do with that one building. They didn’t canvas the other landowners that could benefit from it and none of them came with them to say that they would like to do it also. So I can’t see us voting in favor of making an amendment to an ordinance just for one person bringing it forward.”

Banner Banquet Hall (CT Examiner/Hewitt)

The application met with strong opposition at a public hearing before the commission on January 28. About 75 members of the public attended that hearing, filling the room.

All of the voting members of the commission either criticized or opposed the amendment, variously pointing out that the application hadn’t included a traffic study, and that there were other options available for the banquet hall that did not require a zoning change.

Commission vice chair James Curtin pointed out that the commission had already given Banner permission to build additional condos.

Member Bernard Gillis said that current homeowners near the vacant hall had purchased property under the assumption that the hall would be used as a health center.

“To me I don’t think you’ll ever see Banner be successful as a condo project if you reuse that building, because that is a good-looking building, although it was probably built in the thirties. To me, if you have demand for housing up there, build some condos, you have approval for tons of them,” said Gillis.

Commission member Susan Kinsman — an alternate filling in for member Justin Anderson — said that the change could affect a large number of properties and provide a “backdoor to affordable housing,” an issue that she said would be better be handled on a town-wide level.

“I think we should be presenting a proposal to the town about affordable housing and then open it up to public comment and public hearings. And as far as the Banner properties are concerned, I think there are other potential uses for that building. It was built for a different purpose and the potential is still there for that original purpose, so I would be opposed to going forward with this change at this time.”

Commission member Richard L. Pettinelli said that the study was incomplete, because it lacked a satisfactory traffic study.

“If [that study] is one of the required [items] that you’re supposed to look at in these things, it needs to be in the record.”

After the members reached a consensus to oppose the application, Pettinelli and town land use administrator James Ventres both suggested that the commission hold off and instead allow the town’s attorney to write the motion.

“I think that this is a potentially contentious motion that we’re about to make,” Pettinelli said. “I think we all know the way that we’re leaning. We don’t need to make the motion tonight. I suggest that maybe we come up with a draft and run it by counsel to make sure that it’s tight and covering the appropriate points.”

Ventres noted later that the commission had until April 1 to respond to the application.

“Haste makes waste,” Ventres said. “We’re going to do it the right way.”

The commission’s next scheduled meeting is February 25.


Earlier coverage of the proposed zoning amendment can be found here.

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