SOUTHBURY — With a majority of the public in attendance arguing against a proposal to make the dirt section of Jeremy Swamp Road a scenic road, the Planning Commission voted to deny the application following a lengthy Public Hearing on Tuesday, October 20.
Joan Von Hardenberg presented the petition to designate the portion of Jeremy Swamp Road from Hulls Hill Road to the Oxford town line as a Scenic Road under Chapter 15, Article III, Scenic and Rural Roads, in the Code of Ordinances.
She provided a brief history of the road, which dates back to the early settlers, with the first mention of the road in 1675.
Mrs. Von Hardenberg read from the ordinance that governs scenic road designations. That ordinance states, “In order to qualify for designation as a scenic road, a road must be free of intensive commercial development and intensive vehicular traffic. It also must meet at least one of the following six (6) criteria: It is unpaved; It is bordered by mature trees or stone walls; The traveled portion is no more than twenty (20) feet in width; It offers scenic views; It blends naturally into the surrounding terrain; and it parallels or crosses over brooks, streams, lakes or ponds.
“Additional criteria may be considered including whether: It has local historic significance; It fronts areas designated as parks, forests, or conservation areas; or It fronts farmland.”
Mrs. Von Hardenberg said the portion of the road in question meets all six criteria plus it has local historic significance, and it fronts open space owned by the town. In addition, there are two 18th-century houses on Jeremy Swamp Road.
The first issue raised by nearby residents in attendance at the Public Hearing was a concern that the dirt portion is currently closed to traffic and might need to be opened to vehicle traffic. Several spoke out against reopening the road, saying it was used by many for bicycling, walking and even horseback-riding or horse carriage traffic.
Trying to preserve the road as a scenic road might have the opposite effect, some argued. While upgrading it does not require it to be paved, bringing the road up to passable and “safe” standards might include the installation of guard rails, regrading and drainage.
Opening the road to vehicle traffic might also result in illegal dumping or vehicles racing up and down the road, some neighbors contended.
Town “improvements” on Plaster House Road were cited as one example of less-than-desirable results. The intersection would flood, so the town raised the roadway by 8 inches and then added aluminum guard rails in front of the historic Plaster House.
Land Use Administrator Kathy Castagnetta confirmed the road would have to be upgraded to passable and opened to vehicle traffic.
Section 15-95 of the ordinances states in part: “Any road or portion of any road designated as a scenic road shall be maintained by the town in good and sufficient repair and in passable condition so as to reasonably preserve the scenic characteristics of the road.”
Planning Commission Chairman Richard Teardo said a road safety study committee agreed earlier this year that the town should take steps to turn the road into a linear park as the estimated cost to bring the road up to standards, including guard rails, was $750,000.
A linear park would be similar to the Larkin State Bridle Trail, with a narrow width but a long length.
As discussion on the topic was beginning to wind down, Mr. Teardo asked for confirmation of whether or not the petition represented a majority of owners, as required by the ordinance.
Although the petitioner felt it did, Ms. Castagnetta calculated it at less than 50%. The difference may have been the result of one side counting the town’s open space as an “owner” and the other side not doing so.
After considering whether or not a site walk should be conducted, commissioners closed the Public Hearing. Following a failed motion to table the decision to next meeting so that some members could walk the road, commissioners voted to deny the petition.
In other action, commissioners approved a special exception and site plan application for Luna Holdings LLC for a planned development of a 14-unit multi-family dwelling as a set-aside development on 336 Old Waterbury Rd.
As an affordable housing proposal under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing statutes, commissioners faced appeals if they denied the application.
The “Gardens North” plan calls for 14 units in a 14,100-square-foot building consisting of two floors, each 7,050 square feet, on a 3.147-acre lot in an R-60 zone. The building will be similar to the one designed by Bennett Sullivan Associates and recently constructed on Roxbury Road.
The building will offer 30% of its units as “affordable” with three units offered for those with 60% median income and two units at 80%.
In all, the building will include six, one-bedroom apartments, with two of those units eligible for 60% income and one at 80%, and six, two-bedroom units, with one each at the 60% and 80% level.
The commission also approved a special exception and site plan application for a take-out food service restaurant at 220 Main St. South, Unit 7, Bright Side Nutrition, which offers a health and wellness menu of take-out food items.
Proposed amendments to the subdivision regulations, specifically on guard rails, were also approved quickly. The commission will likely lift a moratorium on guard rails currently in place at its next meeting.
The commission accepted for consideration a nine-lot subdivision for Lum Lot Woods, located on Lum Lot Road.