|Chairperson Neil Faiman; members Joanna Eckstrom, Carol Roberts, Jim Tuttle & Bob Spear; alternate member David Laponsee.
Mr. Faiman called the meeting to order at 7:33 p.m. He then introduced the Board members.
Ms. Eckstrom suggested a correction to page 1.
|Roberts/Tuttle to approve 7/12/05 minutes as amended. Unanimous.
Mr. Faiman then explained the Board procedure for hearing cases to the audience.
Household of Faith has applied for a variance to section 5.3.7 of the Wilton Zoning Ordinance, to permit the creation of seven dwelling units in the existing building on Lot J – 038, 16 Maple Street.
Peter Manha represented the applicant and handed out a packet of information which included to scale floor plan drawings of the house as it is currently configured and the proposed change to seven apartment units. He explained that the home is unique in the downtown residential area of Wilton because the house itself is 6,000 +/- sq. ft. and the pool and finished barn areas total 4,000 +/- sq. ft. The lot is also unique because it is 1 acre in size, larger than most other lots in the area.
The proposal is for 2 one bedroom apartments, 3 two bedroom apartments, and 2 three bedroom apartments. He explained that each apartment would have at least two exits and he showed board members where all entrances and exits were.
Mr. Manha also presented a site plan showing 14 parking places. He said that they would have to remove a chain link fence and one tree to add those additional spaces.
Mr. Spear asked what the current tax status of the property was. Mr. Manha answered single residence. Ms. Eckstrom asked about the unfinished 1,000 sq. ft. on the third floor. Mr. Manha said that if they were to finish that floor they would be adding bedrooms and staircases to the apartments on the second floor, they would not be adding apartment units. Mr. Spear asked if the rentals would be low income or market value. Mr. Manha said that since the rental units will be very attractive, most will rent at market value and they could potentially subsidize some of the tenants who may need some help to be there. Mr. Spear asked which units would be subsidized.
Mr. Manha said that no particular unit would be subsidized, it would depend on what was available and what the need was. Ms. Eckstrom asked about ADA requirements. Mr. Manha said that he hadn’t done that research yet, he was just at step one, which was to see if the ZBA would allow this use. Ms. Roberts asked how the building is being used now. Mr. Manha answered that currently it is not occupied with residents but it is used for church gatherings. Mr. Spear asked if there were any plans for children’s play equipment. Mr. Manha said that there aren’t any current plans but there is a large, fenced front yard so to accomplish that would not be a huge task. Mr. Spear asked about the fire escapes on the second floor. Mr. Manha said they would be wooden decks with stairs, accessed from windows. Mr. Eckstrom asked about the ability of emergency vehicles to get to the back of the house. Mr. Manha said there is plenty of room. Ms. Roberts asked if the footprint of the house was being changed. Mr. Manha said no except for the addition of staircases. He also said no other changes would be made to the outside of the house.
Mr. Manha said that The Abbot House is kind of a showpiece in the neighborhood. They have tried to keep it a nice building. He felt that changing the use to seven units wouldn’t affect the neighborhood drastically because they are not changing the exterior of the house at all and there are already 4 or 5 multi-family dwellings that surround this property. He felt that the character of the neighborhood suits their proposal and he just wanted to know if the Board agreed or not.
Ms. Eckstrom asked how many houses in the neighborhood are multi-family. Mr. Manha said that he thought J – 37, 39 and 40 were multi family but he couldn’t remember if there were others.
Sam Proctor, Jr. said that he owns J – 39, and his wife owns J – 40, both of which abut the applicant’s property. He spoke in opposition to the number of units in this proposal and felt that Wilton zoning never contemplated this amount of density in the downtown residential area. He said that although there are some multi-family homes in the area there are many single family homes as well, and he felt that their property values would be affected by essentially a seven-unit apartment building on the corner of Maple and Park Streets. He felt that the proposal violates the spirit of the ordinance, which specifically limits multi-family conversions to three. He felt that the use would be contrary to the public interest because there would be a lot more traffic with seven units than there would be with three at an intersection that is heavily used by school children and is already busy. He felt that the owners have reasonable use of the property in that they are allowed to have three dwelling units by special exception, therefore he saw no hardship.
Ms. Eckstrom asked Mr. Proctor what he thought the average rental fee was for a two-bedroom apartment. He said in the range of $900 to $1,000.
Abutter Cynthia McConney, of 21 Maple St., said that she is restoring the home directly across the street from the Abbot House and plans to build luxury condominiums there. She said that her concern was with the number of units being proposed and that it would hurt her project. She said she was not opposed to the Abbot House becoming a multi family, but the idea of seven units seems like you’re chopping it up into as many pieces as possible to get as much out of it as you can.
Ms. Eckstrom asked Ms. McConney how many condominiums she planned to have in her building. Ms. McConney said three.
Mr. Manha said that he spoke to his abutting neighbor, Richard Griffith, who lives in a single family home, and said that he spoke encouragingly about the project, realizing that something needs to happen with the property, although Mr. Manha said he wasn’t quoting Mr. Griffith.
Mr. Faiman read parts of the Harrington v. Town of Warner Supreme Court decision where the differences between use and area variances are discussed. He then said that this case is similar in that the applicant is asking for a use, a 7 unit apartment building, in the residential district that would be allowed in the commercial district. Therefore he thought that this is a use variance.
|Spear/Eckstrom that the proposed request requires a use variance and that the analysis of the hardship be in terms of the test for use variances. All were in favor.
Ms. Eckstrom said that this proposal more than doubles the multi family use allowed by the ordinance. She asked if there were any grandfathered four dwelling-unit homes in the neighborhood. Mr. Faiman said that he felt that 7 dwelling units was an awful lot. Ms. Roberts asked about the transitional housing that was previously granted to the applicant. Mr. Spear felt that since the footprint of the building will not change and since the designs of the apartments appear to be well thought out, he is leaning toward favoring the project.
Mr. Faiman read the special exception for transitional housing, granted in 2004, which allowed for four bedrooms to be rented out for a six month period. It also called for a caretaker to live on site.
Mr. Faiman said that on the face of it he agrees with Mr. Spear. The Abbot House is a very large house on a large lot, and the 7 apartments are not crammed into the house. But, he continued, when you look at the neighborhood and think about the effect 14 cars coming out of that driveway in the morning might have half a block from the elementary school, it does have the feeling of something qualitatively different. Mr. Spear reiterated his feeling that because this is a very large, unique house, this request is a reasonable use.
Ms. Eckstrom wanted to know who would maintain the grounds, where equipment would be stored, and what laundry facilities would be available. Mr. Manha said that currently yard maintenance, trash removal and snow plowing is contracted out. Laundry facilities will probably be centralized but could also be in each unit.
Mr. Manha said that they didn’t apply for the special exception to convert the house to 3 dwelling units because each unit would have needed to be 3,000 sq. ft. and they didn’t think many people would want to pay to rent something that large. Ms. Eckstrom asked how large the house was if you excluded the pool and barn. Mr. Manha said 6,000 sq. ft. Ms. Eckstrom said so it would be possible to have 3 units in the house that would be 2,000 sq. ft. each, and then share the pool and barn facilities? Mr. Manha said it would be possible but the barn is two floors of finished, heated and air conditioned space, it’s not just an old rustic barn.
Sam Proctor said, as far as four unit houses, he could only think of the one on Island Street and possibly one or two on Forest Road. He said that when the ordinance was written in 1989, his recollection was that the limit of 3 units was chosen in order to keep the character of the village intact. He also said that although the Abbot House may not change on the outside whether it be 3 units or 7, but the use, the parking lot and the activity level would certainly look different and look more like a commercial use.
Board members discussed the need for evidence:
|Spear/Eckstrom moved to continue the hearing to Monday, September 12, 2005, so that the parties to the case can bring additional evidence concerning the financial hardship to the owners of the property and concerning the potential diminution of neighboring property values and affect on the neighborhood as a result of the proposal. All were in favor.
|Tuttle/Spear to vote on language in Proposal 1 (Burden of Proof) as written at September 12 meeting. All in favor.
Proposal 2 – Options 1 – 3 were discussed by the Board with wide varieties of opinions. It was decided that Mr. Faiman would consult with Town counsel and ask if it is acceptable for the
Zoning Board Chair to consult with and advise applicants with regard to the application process. He will ask the same question with reference to the clerk consulting and advising applicants.
|Eckstrom/Spear to change the date of the September meeting from Tuesday, September 13, to Monday, September 12. All in favor.
Fall Planning and Zoning Conference is November 5th. Neil will send email with information.
|Spear/Roberts to adjourn. All in favor.
The meeting adjourned at 10 p.m.
Minutes submitted by Diane Nilsson
Posted August 16, 2005