July 17, 2018

Suffield PZC rejects zone change to allow housing along the CT River, putting proposed winery in doubt


The Suffield Planning and Zoning Commission on Monday night unanimously rejected a developer's request for a zone change to allow a housing development along the Connecticut River, putting in doubt a proposal for an accompanying winery and vineyard.

Developer Mark O'Neill of Hamlet Homes LLC had proposed the winery and vineyard at the same location on East Street South along the river. But he said after the vote that he feels the PZC doesn't want the winery there either, and so he isn't sure if he'll move forward to develop plans for it.

The winery, which would have been the town's first, does not require a zone change.

O'Neill went before the PZC at its meeting at the senior center Monday night seeking to change a 13.7-acre portion of his 40.1-acre property at 414 East Street South from single-family residential to a Planned Development Apartment zone.

The request was based on a proposal to build a "cluster development of single detached and conjoined single-family homes," according to O'Neill. Under the building codes, those structures would be considered duplexes, not apartments or condominiums, he said.

O'Neill said the vision for the development was to combine livable-sized homes on smaller lots where maintenance is taken care of and where recreational amenities would be offered. The amenities could include pickleball courts, trails, and access to the river for kayaking.

But O'Neill said that he heard "loud and clear" from the PZC and residents in attendance that neither wants that type of project in that location.

As for the proposed winery, it would have been operated by Mark and Karen Murdoch, of Somers. They planned to "produce high quality, flavorful wines for western New England customers to enjoy, while offering an opportunity to relax and enjoy the scenic and recreational offerings that the Connecticut River Valley provides," according to a business plan.

Prior to voting, PZC members expressed their thoughts on the matter and unanimously opposed.

Chairman Mark Winne said that he had many concerns about the zone change, primarily that he didn't think it was right for that area of town.

Other commission members echoed that sentiment. PZC member Erin Golembiewski said she was concerned about what would happen after the zone change, because once it was approved, O'Neill could change his plans and build something different or sell it to someone else.

According to Town Planner Bill Hawkins, the area could accommodate up to 88 units of age-restricted housing

When Winne opened the meeting to the approximately 30 people in attendance and asked for any comments in favor for the project, the room fell silent. However, a number of citizens stood up to speak in opposition.

Suffield resident Dan Rollet told the PZC that he lives immediately south of the property and would be negatively affected by project. He said no one would buy his land afterward because its view of the Connecticut River would be blocked.

Another man who lives immediately next door to the project on the north side questioned what effect the buildings would have on well-water quality. He also said that the proposed winery, which would host parties and gatherings, would disrupt his quality of life.

Anne York said that approving the zone change would mean making a fundamental change to the neighborhood. She compared the proposed housing development to a project that would be built near the Buckland Hills mall in Manchester.

Multiple residents also expressed concern about increased traffic the project would bring to East Street South. Already people speed when driving down the street, which has dangerous curves and people pulling into the roadway after consuming alcohol wouldn't help the situation, some residents said.

During the meeting, First Selectwoman Melissa Mack explained that she was there because she wanted to hear how residents felt about the proposal. Having heard their negative comments, she said that she's committed to increasing the town's tax base but only in ways that are appropriate.

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