After four hours of testimony, the Planning and Zoning Commission continued the public hearing regarding the proposed housing development at Kensington Grammar School across from St. Paul's Church and School.
The Commission will re-convene with another special meeting at Berlin High School's auditorium Wednesday, May 23. At that time, anyone who did not have the opportunity to speak or who wants to speak will have the chance. The P&Z's next schedule meeting is May 24.
Geoff Sager of Metro Realty began the testimony by sharing his visions of the development.
"Having senior housing in the KGS building alone is just not feasible," Sager said. "We need to have fare market housing around to support the senior housing. The property has sat vacant long enough. It may not be perfect but we have come up with a credible strategy at no cost to the town and an increase to the tax base."
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Attorney Richard Pentore, representing Metro Realty, cited the town's Plan of Conversation and Development for several positives to the complex.
"The Plan encourages ownership options for diverse ages and means," Pentore said. "It also urges the town to improve pedestrian circulation and this fits neatly into some of those parameters."
A team of engineers talked about the condition of the building. It is in terrible shape after having sat vacant for so long. One engineer said you could use your hands and take bricks right off the building and take it home. They also talked about people have lit fires inside the building and it is littered with graffiti. Water damage has also rendered some of the floors to horrendous condition.
A traffic expert working for Metro said that the traffic patterns from the proposed complex would not have a severe impact on the neighborhood, the church or the school. He observed traffic counts on two occasions from 7 to 9 a.m. and 2 to 6 p.m. He also observed during a 10:30 Sunday mass.
Resident Dave Cyr asked why the expert never looked at traffic counts after 6 p.m., which is when the religious education classes drop off. Cyr said that on weeknights, there are between 104 and 152 drop-offs and that doesn't count the pick-ups.
Father Robert Schlageter, OFM Conv. of St. Paul's Church said the concerns of the church and church family have not changed.
"We are not opposed to the development because of parking," he said. "We have met with the Mayor and the town to secure at least one parking lot. We are working hard on our parking issue. We are concerned about the traffic and congestion and its impact on our children. We believe there is not enough parking for young professionals. They have lots of friends and like to get together most of the time at night. We are excited about subsidized senior housing and the fact the school might be renovated but we are concerned with the density. We think this is a radical change."
Father Robert said the church has a great relationship with its neighbors and that in two years he has only gotten one phone call to complain. He also said the lady across the street won't cut her lawn when there is a funeral out of respect.
Tony Ryba, a neighbor, gave heartfelt testimony and said that if a scale map were done it would show the sheer absurdity of how the development does not fit in.
Barbara Coughlin, who is originally from New York City said she was not against affordable housing and she is a huge proponent for social justice. She then compared the development to the Broadview development off the Berlin Turnpike that was voted down. She also compared the rents of the housing, priced at $1,250 and $1,500 to her own mortgage. "My house, all 1,000 square feet of it, costs much less per month than the proposed apartments," she said.
Richard Landry laughed off some of the expert testimony about speed limits. I know the signs say 25 miles per hour but you won't see anyone drive that slow on Alling Street, Grove Hill, you won't even see people driving that slow in the church parking lot."