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Enfield Planning, Zoning Commission approves abutting development

Date: 8/22/2013

By Chris Maza

LONGMEADOW – After considering the plans and hours of testimony from public meetings, the Enfield, Conn., Planning and Zoning Commission approved the special permit for a large apartment complex on Mayfield Drive that would abut residents on Maple Road in Longmeadow to the south.

The approved 340 unit multi-family housing development would consist of 34 apartment buildings with units rented at a rate of approximately $1,000 per month. In addition to the units, it would also have a clubhouse and fitness center with a pool, a maintenance building and a central mail pick-up building.

Plans also include approximately 23.7 acres of preserved open space to the south as well as a 50-foot buffer with trees and a berm that would separate the complex from properties on Maple Road in Longmeadow.

José Giner, director of Planning for Enfield, told Reminder Publications the commission approved the project with conditions at its regular meeting on July 25.

Among those conditions was a requirement that in addition to the berm a large privacy fence must be added to the plans for the northern perimeter of the development.

While Longmeadow residents and town officials, including Town Manager Stephen Crane, Planning Board Chair Walter Gunn and Selectman Alex Grant had voiced serious concerns regarding the impact on such a development in Enfield on its neighbors to the north, the only condition that addressed those issues was the fence.

Crane said while some Longmeadow residents didn’t see the result they had hoped for the addition of the fence would be a benefit and credited the Planning and Zoning Commission for making an effort to accommodate Longmeadow when it wasn’t required to.

“As best I can assess, the privacy fence was the big bone they threw to us. All of the other conditions looked like fairly standard development conditions,” Crane said. “The privacy fence, to me, is something that, while it does not address many of our concerns with the project, I think it’s certainly a good first step in addressing some of the concerns, especially for residents along Maple Road in Longmeadow.”

He later added, “I honestly believe we did the best we could to help mitigate what we believe to be the impacts of the development on Longmeadow.”

Not everyone saw the fencing condition as a victory for the town, however.

“Are we satisfied with the result? No,” Gunn said, later stating that the developer offered to build the fence before public concerns at the public hearing were heard.

The Longmeadow Planning Board, Gunn said, encouraged limiting the scope of the project and based on the density of the surrounding zones, the size of the development should have been cut back 10 to 12 percent. He added the buffers for the northern property boundary were less than they were in any other direction.

He also said he had suggested the developer begin building at a point closer to the road and away from the border, but that was ignored as well.

Elayne Ayan, a resident of Maple Road who was vocal at meetings regarding the development, said the commission ignored the concerns of abutters in favor of increased tax revenues.

“I’m very unhappy that even though the Enfield Planning and Zoning Commission had ample reasons not to approve the required special permit for the project, or to approve it with limitations – greater buffer areas to the abutters, fewer buildings, mitigation of light and noise pollution – they completely ignored the concerns of every one of the dozens of abutters from both Longmeadow and Enfield and approved it as if it was the greatest thing they’d seen in years,” she said.

“The abutters made it clear we would have overwhelmingly supported a smaller development with fewer units and I am especially frustrated that the Board apparently never intended to really hear from the public at the required public hearings. They ignored the multitude of facts that did not suit them and looked only at the bottom line, which apparently is the potential property tax income,” she continued.

No specific conditions were made regarding traffic, which was a major discussion point during the public hearing.

“I didn’t see anything in there about additional traffic studies down the line,” Crane said.

However, he added, the traffic study performed by Bubaris Traffic Associates that asserted that traffic on Connecticut Route 192, which becomes Shaker Road in Massachusetts, would not be adversely impacted by the development was vetted by independent traffic engineers.

“At our request and their expense, Enfield asked their on-call traffic engineer to peer review the developer’s traffic study and they agreed with the conclusions of the study,” he said. “Separately, our Planning Board Chair Walter Gunn had the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission’s traffic people also look at the study. They also agreed with the conclusions.”

Gunn confirmed that the findings were upheld, but said concerns regarding traffic persisted.

“For that area that people use to go from Maple Road to Route 5 to I-91, we already had a service level of ‘F,’” he said. “I stressed to [Giner] that the study was not big enough.”

Crane said that while he still thinks the assumptions regarding traffic made in the study could be too low, there would be no way of knowing for sure until the project is completed.

“It seems like less of an impact is projected than you would think for a development that size, but at this point we just have to assume the peer-reviewed traffic study is accurate,” he said.

Crane said he would continue monitoring the situation as the development is built and after it is completed to ensure any negative impacts on Longmeadow are addressed.

“They have no obligation to stop or change the plan based on comments received from Longmeadow residents, however, the willingness of the developer to address problems that arise once it’s built out is really what I asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to assess,” he said. “I also spoke to the developer directly and said, ‘If we have problems in the future, we will be contacting you directly.’”

Despite existing concerns, Gunn stuck by his initial reaction to the development, stating that it could be a positive for Longmeadow, specifically in terms of commercial business. He also said some of the development’s residents, who would be renters, could eventually buy homes in Longmeadow, strengthening the real estate market in the area.