P&Z tables cottage vote, advises developers


The Middlebury Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) at its Sept. 4 meeting postponed a decision on plans for expanding a cottage on West Lake Road. It also provided guidance to developers of the slow-selling Benson Woods project and the unbuilt Hunting Ridge subdivision.

Richard Mastroianni of Phoenix Construction LLC told commissioners Michael Hartnett wanted to expand a seasonal cottage he owned at 2 West Lake Road to 3,005 square feet from 1,161 square feet so he could live in it year-round. Project engineer Scott Lukowski of Dymar Inc. said the expansion would include a two-car garage, front vestibule, additional bedroom and screened-in porch. He said a new septic tank would be placed below the current tank, and the current well would continue to be used until planned community water became available. The garage would occupy space now used for parking and require removal of a stone wall.

A letter from town engineer John Calabrese cited zoning regulations limiting the expansion to 1,510 square feet unless waived. He calculated the increase at 158 percent compared to the 30-percent increase allowed by regulations. Calabrese also noted a waiver would require approvals from all adjacent property owners as well as the homeowners’ association. His letter cautioned commissioners that allowing such a large expansion for the first cottage making such a request under regulations put in place in November 2013 would go against the intent of those regulations and set a precedent for subsequent expansions.

Calabrese also commented on driveway and drainage non-conformance. Mastroianni showed approvals from the two abutting property owners and said the association also had approved the expansion. Commissioners Erika Carrington and Matthew Robison said a representative from the association should attend a P&Z meeting to explain their basis for approval. Chairman Terry Smith agreed with Calabrese’s letter regarding setting a precedent that other cottage owners would then expect. He requested verification from the health or sanitation district that the sewage systems could handle the capacity if all cottages were allowed to expand 158 percent. The application was tabled until Oct. 2.

A discussion on possibilities to hasten sales of the age-restricted Benson Woods planned residential development was opened by a group consisting of John Pollard, real estate broker; Ryan Roth, director of the homeowners’ association; and John Yarbrough, an attorney at Carmody and Torrance who represents the builder, Timex Corporation. Pollard told commissioners only 24 out of 79 approved units had been sold in eight years. He said at that rate it would take another 16 years to complete the development.

Pollard said age-restricted homes were not appealing to buyers, even those over 55 years old, and asked whether the commission might consider lifting the restriction on children under 18 living there on a year-long basis He said this would make the homes “market rate” and appealing to families. Chairman Smith said he wasn’t interested in another 40 houses with kids, but Pollard said there was no desire to increase the number of bedrooms from three, saying most families with young children wanted four bedrooms. He said the Water Pollution Control authority had no objection to removing the age restriction and claimed the impact to the school system would not be significant since Region 15 school population declined 17 percent since 2008. Ryan added that the homeowners’ association supported the change. Smith asked the group to think outside the box for the next phases of development and consider ideas such as an assisted-living facility or extending the commercial zone.

In a similar discussion about the Hunting Ridge subdivision on Christian Road, real estate developer Michael Barbaro said he bought the 23-lot property in 2006 and installed water and sewers and public roads just before the economy plummeted, leaving little market potential for the large, high-quality houses he had planned to build to justify his investment. He said smaller homes and higher density clustering, such as duplexes, were becoming more popular. Commissioner William Stowell agreed the nearby Toll Brothers condominiums were beginning to sell. Smith also told Barbaro to think outside the box and consider the proximity to the airport, which he said was a drawback for residential use but quite suitable for commercial, industrial or retail use since the property was in the Oxford Airport Enterprise Zone. Zoning Enforcement Officer Curt Bosco said he would provide Barbaro with contact information for the airport manager.

In other matters, Smith told commissioners town planner Brian Miller did not have a draft of the long-awaited Plan of Conservation and Development promised for the September meeting.

The next regular P&Z meeting was to be Thursday, Oct. 2, at 7:30 p.m. at Shepardson Community Center.


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