Cluster development resisted
Residents unhappy with proposal
By MARGOT SANGER-KATZ
Concord Monitor staff
July 29. 2005 8:00AM
SUTTON - Anthony Scarpa, a New Jersey developer, is planning to move to town later this year, but he may have trouble borrowing a cup of sugar.
Scarpa’s plan to develop approximately 30 houses on the site of the former Maple Leaf golf course has been unpopular from the start. The plot is bordered on all sides by conservation land, and it is a half-mile away from Kezar Lake, which has only recently rebounded from serious pollution. At a zoning board meeting this week, nearly 50 people showed up to voice their dismay about the project. No one came to defend it.
This was not Scarpa’s first proposal to town officials. He spoke to the town planning board in 2004 about subdividing a portion of the 130-acre property, and the planning board told him to come back with a proposal for the whole plot. He said the board also recommended that he consider a cluster development, an option recently written into Sutton’s zoning code and master plan, in order to preserve a corridor for wildlife to travel between undeveloped properties on either side.
"We went in with the perspective of: How would you like us to do this development?" he said. The answer, he said, was cluster development.
His most recent proposal reflected that advice. It contained seven houses on large, conventional lots, and around 30 houses in a dense cluster development, leaving about 60 acres of open space. Scarpa came to this week’s meeting with a rough proposal for the design of the cluster, which left an undeveloped strip of land in the center of the property. The question before the zoning board was whether to grant a special exception to the zoning law that would allow Scarpa to move forward with his cluster plan instead of pursuing a more conventional subdivision.
After a heated discussion between zoning board members and Scarpa’s lawyer, Susan Hankin-Burke, the board decided not to rule on the cluster development. Scarpa' s is the first proposed cluster development in the town, and the two sides clashed over interpretations of the new ordinance. Hankin-Burke argued that the law said the board should decide only whether the cluster proposal was appropriate for the site, leaving the planning board to examine the nuts and bolts of their development plan. Zoning board members said that without a complete application for the plan, they could not bless or reject the cluster proposal.
"We don’t usually decide what you want to do and how you want to build it. We usually tell you what’s allowed," said zoning board Chairman William Hallihan. Derek Lick, another board member, told Hankin-Burke that the board needed to see the complete planning board application, and needed the planning board’s okay, before going forward.
Hankin-Burke said she felt like a "ping-pong ball" being bounced between the zoning and planning boards. The law didn’t allow her to submit a planning board application without a special exception, she said, and the zoning board wouldn’t approve the exception without the planning board’s sign off.
So the zoning board decided to get everyone together. In September, Scarpa will go before a joint meeting of the town’s zoning and planning boards. "We have decided absolutely nothing tonight," Hallihan said.
But after this non-decision, the board invited the sizeable crowd, many of whom came bearing notes, maps, and legal pads, to comment on the proposal.
While some residents said that they opposed the development in any form, others objected particularly to the idea of a cluster development.
Leslie Enroth, who is a co-chairwoman of the town's conservation committee, and whose property neighbors the Maple Leaf property, said she’d generally support a cluster, but not on this property. "Although I would prefer to see more open space, I think this is a really in-your-face cluster development," she said. She cited concerns that denser housing would concentrate runoff, which could pollute Kezar Lake.
Lisa Lane, who lives in Massachusetts but has a second home near the site, began weeping when it was her turn to speak. She was worried that the cluster development would lead to dangerous traffic on nearby roads. "We have a house up here so that I can let my kids go around the lake without being hit by a car," she said. "This is not why we moved up here."
Several residents shared their memories of Kezar Lake, which was contaminated in the 1960s after New London drained its raw sewage into a brook that fed the lake. "In 1960, the lake turned green," said Charles Ash, whose family has lived on the lake since 1923. "Campbell’s pea soup is the analogy."
In an interview yesterday, Scarpa sounded inclined to revise his subdivision plan to bypass the zoning board altogether. "We’ve been trying to cooperate with the town to have as much open space as possible, but that may no longer be possible. We may go forward with a conventional conforming subdivision," he said. "At this point, there’s too much opposition to the cluster development from the neighbors."
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