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It's A 'No' Vote For Metro Realty's Plan To Develop KGS

Planning & Zoning votes 5-2 to deny application for zoning changes.

 

After more than 10 hours of testimony from residents and developers, the Berlin Planning & Zoning Commission voted 5-2 to reject the zoning change request  from Metro Realty to put senior and market rate housing on the property of the former Kensington Grammar School.

The P&Z met for the fourth time to hear public input on the development and closed the public hearing at 8:18 p.m. After a short break, the commission decided to debate and deliberate over the proposal immediately.

Chairman Bruce Moore read a long letter from town corporation counsel about the impact of 8-30G in the Connecticut General Statues, commonly known as the Affordable Housing Appeals Procedure. Section 8-30G was enacted in 1989. This section of the statutes applies to cases where a developer proposes building affordable housing in any town where less than 10 percent of existing housing can be described as affordable (meaning a household earning less than 60-80% of the state or area's median income must spend no more than 30% of its income on total housing costs). If a town zoning or planning commission rejects a developer's application to build affordable housing in a residential area, the developer can then appeal the town's decision and the burden of proof would be on the town to prove that rejecting the development was, "necessary to protect substantial public interests in health, safety, or other matters…such public interests clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing; and…such public interests cannot be protected by reasonable changes to the affordable housing development."

“Mr. Sager (Jeff Sager of Metro Realty) said he will not appeal and in all the dealings we have had with him, I do not think he would do that,” Moore said. “What I am concerned about is that this proposal has not gone lets say under the radar and there is no guarantee that someone else will come in and use 8-30G and we will have no zoning power. I think we may look back and say ‘why didn’t we take the Metro plan?’”

Moore then opened discussion to the other commissioners. Kevin Murphy agreed with Moore and thought the project should be approved because there was no guessing what could come behind this development if it was not approved.

Brad Parsons said that having a few "young professionals" living at home with him allowed him to be of the opinion that there will be more traffic than the complex could reasonably handle. Steve Wollman said he was torn because of the quality construction Metro has done in town but "I can’t predict the future. I hope we’re not back here and the neighbors are having a much more dense project pushed on them."

Moore then took the vote. He and Murphy voted in favor of the project while all five of the other commissioners voted against it.

"It was tough to sit through the deliberations because I couldn't get a feel for which way they were going to vote," said Jim Newman, an advocate for St. Paul's against the market rate apartments. "We feel good about it but were not elated. There is a lot of work to be done. Do we think the Zoning Board made the right decision? Yes we do.

"We just don't know what will happen from here but this gives us and the town additional time to see what fits there. This process felt rushed so we're pleased that we have more time. I was impressed with the uniformity of the town's opinion and the overwhelming testimony against the project. I thought everybody was very well-behaved and respectful including the developers."

Resident Tony Ryba, who spoke passionately about growing up in the neighborhood, admitted he was surprised by the vote.

"When this started I thought we only had a small shot to stop it or at least hold it up," Ryba said. "I understand what the first two commissioners were saying about you don't know what could possibly go in there and it might be worse. To me, it can't diminish how the neighborhood came together and had their voices heard. I'm not sure what the solution is and I'm not sure what's next but everybody on the commission and at Town Hall and the Mayor were very helpful. I was happy to see they listened and they really seemed to care."

Attorney Dennis Kern, another advocate for the church and school, said the next step could be the most important one.

"There is a chance that sometimes you lose when you win, I just hope this is not the case," Kern said. "The neighbors and the church were successful in showing the problems with the proposal now they need to work with the neighbors to see what can be done there. I think the town should ask the owner permission to do a detailed examination of the building for safety issues. I hope something positive can be done. It was a complex issue and the Planning & Zoning Commission carried out the will of the residents and represented them well."

Richard May 30, 2012 at 10:34 AM
Awesome. P & Z did the right thing.
Tom Campanelli May 30, 2012 at 04:21 PM
now the church and school and neighborhood should start a fund to buy the building, remove it. pave the parking lot and make a small park for the neighborhood stopping further development forever. if 200 people came out for the meetings i would hope the fundraiser could generate the money needed to develop such a project. Use local charities as helpers or after remediation of hazards use volunteers to do most of the work. It could be the first Berlin Helping Berlin event!
Neil McCarthy May 30, 2012 at 05:16 PM
I agree with Tom. If everyone with a vested interest in the property pitched in (money, time, etc) we could really make a difference and build something we can all be proud of!
Bobbie Coughlin May 30, 2012 at 11:46 PM
It's an excellent idea. The big, realistic problem is the expense. My husband and I were each on the St. Paul's parish council during the time that the church was seriously looking at the property and the town was offering it to the parish for a song. But even back then--more than 10 years ago--it would have cost a quarter of a million dollars just to tear the place down and to build a parking lot. It's the asbestos that's the issue. The church simply couldn't come up with that amount. But, perhaps with funding from (as one person suggested) foundations such as Marjorie Moore, maybe it could happen. We'd need a dedicated, dynamic leader or committee to pull it off.
Cynthia Kobus May 31, 2012 at 12:17 AM
Who owns the property right now??? and to me, 250,000 sounds like a lot less than we are going to spend to expand our parking in the future.. That would have been a great buy.. It's unfortunate that those in charge could not see the benefit of owning that land.. Especially with a school that has no grass for kids... Really is a shame.
Tom Campanelli May 31, 2012 at 11:40 AM
as far as i can tell the property is owned by NEWBERRY DEVELOPMENT GROUP LLC according to vision appraisal. I am not sure if it was sold back to the town or if metro is affiliated with Newberry. If the true cost is 250K i would think if one was to set up the park as a 501c3 to accept donations and give a tax write off we could get some large donations from local construction, and environmental organizations to help in deconstruction and remediation. It would not be an easy feat but it is manageable if the property is for sale at a low price. If anyone has details of the ownership of the property please comment.
Katrina May 31, 2012 at 12:00 PM
Let's not forget that there are grants that can be applied for to help in the costs of the remediation of the property.
Joe Smith June 05, 2012 at 04:11 PM
Just do something with it. Can't stand that crummy building taking up precious space that it does.

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