EAST HAMPTON — Despite warnings from the attorney for the developer, the Middle Haddam Historic District Commission will oppose a proposed zone change for a property located in the historic district at the April Planning and Zoning meeting.
Developer William Wayne Rand, under the name Long Hill Estates, LLC, has proposed a zone change from R-2 to commercial for a new 1.5-acre lot that is currently part of 53 Long Hill Road, a 17.6-acre parcel that he purchased on Nov. 20, 2020. The proposed new lot is next to Sports on 66 at 265 West High St and is expected to be used for parking.
At Thursday’s commission meeting via zoom, Chair Charles Roberts said the commission held a responsibility to the property owners in the historic district, which was formed in 1977 by a 79 percent approval of 151 landowners. He said property owners in the district are required to apply for a certificate of appropriateness when making exterior changes that can be “viewed from a public way, whether that be road or river.”
“The current property owners expect the Middle Haddam Historic District in the Town of East Hampton to protect these homes and the entire district because they’ve given up some of their rights,” he said.
But Timothy Furey, an attorney with Furey, Donovan, Tracy and Daly, P.C. in Bristol, who represented Rand, said the commission had no jurisdiction or appropriate role in subdivision nor the proposed zone change that the Planning and Zoning Commission will consider on April 7.
“If you do [proceed], and you do act in an ultra vires manner, beyond your role as a commission, and if it damages us, we will explore what our rights are,” said Furey.
Furey said that according to the statute, the commission can comment on an application for a variance or a special exception but not on a subdivision of land or a zoning change of land. The commission can comment on the preservation or changing of structures, he said, but there are no structures proposed as part of the subdivision or zone change.
Furey also disputed the boundary of the historic district and said the property was not included in the original map. He warned the commission members to stop the proceedings.
“You can go forward but you go forward at your own risk and depending on what is said here, we will protect our rights,” he said. “I’ve read the statute and I understand it, and I think you’re way outside of your lane.”
Roberts responded that the commission represents the owners and residents of Middle Haddam and opened the discussion to the commission members and the public.
Ann McKinney of Long Hill Road said she gave up some rights to her home and property when the historic district was drawn.
“Have I always been happy with the Middle Haddam Historic District? No, because there are restraints, but the restraints have proved important to keep this historic district, a historic district,” she said. “Mr. Rand should have been quite aware of the fact that he was purchasing — and I’m sure he is — in the historic district.”
Resident Margaret McCutcheon Faber said the map of the historic district was filed in 1977 and the boundary has not changed. She also said that the State Historic Preservation Office determined that the historic district commission has a statutory right as a fellow land use board to weigh in on the issue in an advisory capacity.
Faber said she had been present when Rand submitted proposals in the past.
“I’ve been on the Middle Haddam Historic District commission before and Mr. Rand has a history of sending his attorney to these meetings and threatening to file suit if things don’t go his way and I think that tactic is underhanded, and I don’t think that the commission should tolerate it,” she said.
Resident Peter Parker commented that Furey “seemed rather angry.”
“I don’t understand why — it’s a perfectly normal thing in this country and in this town for us to discuss any changes that are coming up and sometimes that can lead to a better outcome for everyone involved and I certainly hope that they would take that attitude going forward,” Parker said.
Furey responded that he was sorry if he sounded aggressive or mean-spirited.
“It is my nature, fortunately or unfortunately, but the charge of protecting my clients rights is something that people sometimes take as a threat. I’m sorry,” he said.
Furey said he believed everyone has a right to be heard and urged residents and commission members to speak as individual citizens at the Planning and Zoning meeting.
“I apologize because I think people have a right to speak their thoughts about their property … but I think it’s also important that various commissions do stay in their lane, stay within their statutory authority,” he said.
The commission members voted unanimously to allow Roberts to represent them and to oppose Rand’s proposal at the April 7 Planning and Zoning meeting.
To attend the April 7 meeting, use this recurring link.