WATERTOWN — The Planning and Zoning Commission began its Wednesday, September 1, meeting with an executive session to address two possible legal actions against it.
Commissioners returned from executive session about 45 minutes later to take a vote related to the first item, but chose not to officially address the second, except to briefly discuss a related “letter” later under correspondence.
The first item was listed on the agenda as “Emily Slattery V. Planning and Zoning Commission of the Town of Watertown.” Last month, the commission voted 3 to 3 on a text amendment to its regulations that would have included senior homes in the same regulations as group day care and child day care.
Emily Slattery, who was petitioning to amend that section 37 of the zoning regulations, said she was planning to purchase a home at 211 Woodbury Rd. and operate it as a senior home and adult day care center.
A special exception permit application for this use was also unanimously denied following the failure of the enabling text amendment. Neighbors of the home appeared at the hearing to argue against this use of the property in a residential zone.
A copy of the legal action filed by the law firm of Pilicy and Ryan on behalf of Ms. Slattery stated, “In denying said Applications, the Commission abused its discretion and acted contrary to established Connecticut law. The Commission improperly failed to consider that the Federal Fair Housing Act and the Connecticut Fair Housing Act (Fair Housing Acts) contain provisions to require accommodations for protected classes including senior citizens to be served by said housing opportunities. The Commission failed to take into account that said Fair Housing Acts superseded local zoning regulations.” The appeal/complaint went on to say the commission “failed to cite any pertinent evidence to support its failure to take into account” the acts.
Following the executive session, commissioners voted to add to the agenda discussion on a “stipulation” on the Slattery issue, which was then approved without further discussion or explanation as to what the stipulation entailed.
A copy of the motions filed later in the week indicate the Text of Motion was to “Approve the proposed Stipulation To Settle Zoning Appeal – Approval of Application.”
The second topic of discussion for the executive session was listed as “Katherine Camara Et Al V. Watertown Planning and Zoning Commission.” Coming out of executive session, the commission noted it would not be taking any action on the matter at this meeting.
A copy of the notice of intent stated that “beginning at March 1, 2021, Town Council meeting and at various other meeting thereafter” the town, its agents and/or employees “violated Katherine Camara’s First Amendment rights during public comment on the Zoom Platform.”
A copy of the citation, writ of summons, complaint and appeal, filed on behalf of Katherine Camara, Brian Damelio, Carmin Russolillo and Janine Russolillo, states that the individuals all have property within 500 feet of the proposed development at the Sealy property and that the commission acted erroneously in approving an amendment to its regulations and in amending the zoning map.
Reasons given were that the application was incomplete in that it did not include an environmental impact study, that the text regulation was impermissibly vague and ambiguous, and was based “upon other errors of fact and law.”
During public participation, Ms. Camara approached the microphone to ask if it was okay to address the commission regarding the way her communication to the commission was listed in the “Communications and Bills” section of the agenda.
It was listed as a letter but was actually a notice of intent that was addressed to the town and not the commission, she said. The commission agreed to change the wording when they got to that item on the agenda.
Following the executive session and public participation, the commission continued a Public Hearing on a site plan/special permit for the construction of a 8,100-square-foot convenience store with fuel sales at the intersection of Echo Lake Road and Buckingham Street, to be known as a Watertown Farms Service Center.
Commissioners heard from traffic consultant Scott Hesketh, who presented the case that vehicles using the site would primarily be passing by and not new and additional trips and thus not adding substantially to the traffic in the area. He estimated the site might draw an additional 1,600 trips in and out that traveled specifically to the site.
After reviewing the information, the commission voted to approve a draft resolution that included 20% less parking spaces than originally proposed and with the condition that a vehicle charging station be included.