OLD LYME — At a public hearing of the town’s Zoning Board of Appeals on Thursday night, about 10 residents of the Noyes Road neighborhood voiced opposition to allowing a variance for additional height for a proposed house, citing concerns of flooding, drainage, water quality and aesthetics.
“This lot has been historically under water. It was trees and held excessive amounts of water, it was a natural catch basin,” Clare Cain, a 7-year resident of 1 Noyes Road, told the Zoning Board of Appeals.
She held up pictures showing water ponding on the property at 5 Noyes Road where property owner Greg Landers has requested a height variance to build a 3-bedroom, 1,226-square-foot modified raised ranch with a 2-car garage and an unfinished basement at 5 Noyes Road, a low-lying .22 acre parcel.
The property is in a flood hazard zone — as is the entire Noyes Road neighborhood — which means that the house must meet standards set by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA.
Engineer Robert Pfanner, who represented Landers at the hearing, said the application was asking for 5.5-foot variance above the town standard height of 24-feet, bringing the total height to 29.5 feet. He said the extra height was needed to allow for the two-car garage on the ground level.
Cain showed pictures of 5 Noyes Road when it was a wooded lot, which had been clear cut during the summer.
According to Cain, after the lot was cleared, between 20 and 25 tri-axles trucks of fill were applied to the site, which, she estimated, was about 380 yards, adding up to about 30 inches of fill on about ⅕ of the property.
“You can see the extent of the fill that was brought in, a significant amount. If the property is going to be raised like that, what is the base elevation going to be? Will it be higher than my property and abutting neighbors? Is it going to shed water onto our property?”
After Hurricane Ida dropped eight inches of rain in August, the neighborhood flooded and some neighbors had water in their basements for the first time in years because, Cain said, the topography had changed.
Cain said she and the neighbors had many concerns about the application process and the specification for the variance.
“This variance should not negatively impact the neighbors and the only way to build this house is to bring in all this fill. You’re bringing in a big impervious surface into a natural sink. It’s not like a rain barrel can take care of this — this is volumes and volumes of water,” said Cain. “We’re opposed to this application.”
She said she and the neighbors wanted to see more information about the impacts on their wells and septic systems, as well as plans for the septic and well for the new house. She said that the property had not passed soil tests in the seven years she had lived there and questioned when and under what conditions a recent perc test that passed had been done.
Cain also said she was not convinced that a hardship had been established for the applicant that required a height variance.
“We have 750 square feet and no garage. It sounds like the house could be on piers and could be a single story. This is maximum enrichment for the owner — the variance benefits him.” Cain said.
Dan Bourret, land use coordinator for Old Lyme, said that the application originally would have been approved administratively, but after residents in the neighborhood contacted him with concerns about the amount of fill being trucked to the property, he said he made the decision to send the application to the town engineer, Tom Metcalf, for an analysis of water sheeting.
Bourret said that if an administrative permit is issued for the site’s drainage, the Noyes Road residents will have 15 days to appeal the permit.
Lori Gruen, who lives at 6 Noyes Road and owns 20 Noyes Road, asked whether her group could request that the administrative decision be a public hearing.
She said it had been a shock to the neighborhood when a 27-foot tall, FEMA-compliant, house had been built at 10 Noyes Road, replacing a much smaller cottage — and was a kind of wake up call.
“These height variances, they come into play one at a time,” said Gruen.
Gruen said she was also concerned about the sustainability of the aquifer given five new wells proposed for houses in the neighborhood.
“What if my shallow well fails — will the town take over the property loss? Who is looking out for the sustainability of the neighborhood? I’m concerned about intense development — the water table, the aquifer and surface water problem,” she said.
Dan Montano, secretary of the board, said that the owner had the right to build on the lot and that the town had an obligation to allow FEMA compliance.
“You can’t prevent him from building there, that’s a taking … If we don’t allow people to build in compliance with FEMA, then the town is in trouble,” he said.
Chair Nancy Hutchinson reminded the board and the public that the subject of the hearing was a height variance. She said the owner could raise the height 1.7 feet to meet FEMA regulations, rather than 5.7 feet.
Amber Stoltz, the current owner of 1 Noyes Road, said she was opposed to allowing the extra four feet for a garage and storage basement, which she deemed living space.
Kip Kotzan, vice chair of the board, pointed out that the applicant could lower the roof height to the standard 24 feet, put the house on stilts and then build a garage.
“He could expand the footprint twice as much and he’d have the right to do without a variance,” he said.
The board then decided to allow time to consult with the town attorney and town engineer before making a decision.
The board closed the public hearing and voted to continue deliberations at its Nov. 21 meeting. Board members have 65 days to make a decision on the application.