Planning & Zoning says no to Mountainside expansion
NORTH CANAAN — An application for a special zoning permit to allow the expansion of Mountainside Addiction Treatment Center was denied Oct. 3 amid confusion by the applicant and the public over procedure.
The decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) earned a strong reaction from many in the room.
Mountainside has been before P&Z for months with an application to build a detached addition to the facility on adjoining property it plans to buy.
Commissioners previously expressed their willingness to help Mountainside meet a tight deadline in a deal that involved bank financing and the property purchase.
In July, P&Z approved zoning amendments proposed by Mountainside to add such a facility to the allowed uses in a residential/agricultural zone. Under the zoning addition, requirements for such a facility would be municipal sewer and at least 25 contiguous acres. P&Z also approved allowing two or more adjoining lots, owned by the same entity, to satisfy that acreage minimum.
Already in place is another aspect crucial to the expansion:the recently installed public sewer extension.
On Aug. 8, a public hearing was held and closed. During the discussion at the regular meeting that followed, Zoning Enforcement Officer (ZEO) Ruth Mulcahy spoke at length about her reservations regarding a potential approval by the board without project specifics.
No application was in hand. A complete application would require a site plan design — an expense that Mountainside attorney Tony Nania said they were not willing to fund until project approvals were in place.
In his appeal to P&Z for an approval that night, Nania eventually revealed the deal deadline was Oct. 1.
P&Z members discussed how they could facilitate that deadline. They voted to table the matter so they could follow through on Mulcahy’s advice to consult the town attorney, but agreed to hold a special meeting if timing demanded it.
As it turned out, P&Z did not meet again until Oct. 3. Mountainside President and CEO Terry Dougherty and Matt Eakin, vice president of external affairs, were on hand. Their attorney, Anthony Nania, was attending to a family emergency. Karen and Peter Richard, who bought a new home in anticipation of the sale of their property, were in attendance.
Town Attorney Judith Dixon was also in attendance. Commission Chairman Steven Allyn told The Journal the goal was to ensure procedures were properly followed, after Nania threatened a lawsuit during a conversation with Zoning Enforcement Officer Ruth Mulcahy.
Dougherty attempted to submit a roll of site plans during the public comment portion of the October meeting. Allyn refused to accept them. Dougherty then went on to describe numerous unsuccessful attempts to submit the plans to Mulcahy, and to express his dismay over the situation. He was eventually stopped by Allyn, who asked him to retract his comments from the record as insubmissable.
A decision was the final item on the night’s agenda. The motion to deny was made, followed by discussion, which included a detailed explanation by Allyn. He explained the application was incomplete. As well, the proposal before them stated the project would be built on the 6.5 acres, rather than a minimum 25 acres that would allow it to comply with zoning.
A zoning amendment was made previously to allow the two lots there to be combined in consideration of that requirement.
A single vote against it
The vote was 4 to 1, with commission member Norman Tatsapaugh voting against it. After all was said and done, Tatsapaugh said a copy of the motion should have been given to commissioners in advance. When he tried to discuss the matter further, Allyn told him he should have brought his concerns up during the discussion on the motion, and called a point of order.
“This is what gives zoning a bad name,” Tatsapaugh responded.
The meeting was adjourned, but stunned members of the audience refused to leave. A clearly frustrated Dougherty tried to appeal to Allyn, who left the meeting room to attend to pending business in the zoning office.
In the meantime, Dougherty and Eakin produced video and a transcript of the August meeting to prove the matter had been tabled. They were correct, but prior to that, the transcript showed the vote to close the public hearing. Dougherty said he did not understand what had happened, and neither, apparently, did Nania. They were under the impression they could still complete an application. But once the public hearing is closed, no additional information can be submitted, because the public would not have a chance to comment on it.
No more data allowed
Allyn returned to ask everyone to leave so he could lock up Town Hall. He agreed to speak with those in the room. He said that maybe the public hearing should have been left open, but Nania had been adamant about not submitting further information.
“Our focus was on trying to get this done within Mountainside’s deadline,” he said. “Once the hearing is closed, nothing more can be submitted. The ZEO was following the town attorney’s instructions when she turned away the site plans.”
Allyn advised Dougherty to submit an application and begin the process again as quickly as possible. Not a problem, Dougherty said, as the work was already done. It remained to be seen if deadlines could be extended. The Richards said they are willing, and don’t really have a choice.
Allyn confirmed with The Journal an application that appears complete was submitted to the ZEO on Oct. 8, along with a letter requesting P&Z convene as soon as possible to accept it and set a public hearing date.
The plan as of earlier this week was to assemble at least a quorum in time to review the application and set the public hearing for the same day as the Nov. 14 regular meeting.