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Report by Paula Antolini
September 23, 2015 3:24PM EDT
Photo above: P&Z Commission members seated for the crematorium “work session” are all but Sandy Foreman, second from right. Also Lou Valenti was seated for the work session but is not in the photo. Left to right are Commissoners: Don Brown, John Lennon, Bob Legnard, Chairman Pat Rist, Kitty Grant, Sandy Foreman and Earl Finch.
Plans for a Bethel Crematorium Go Up In Smoke, Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) Denies All Applications from B. Shawn McLoughlin for a Crematorium in Bethel
Bethel residents and business owners were victorious last night, in their 2-year quest to stop a crematorium from being approved for Bethel’s IP Zone.
At last night’s Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) meeting, on September 22, 2015, the P&Z denied all applications from B. Shawn McLoughlin to build a crematorium at 12 Trowbridge Drive, in Clarke Business Park in Bethel, CT. McLoughlin wanted to add the structure (actually became 2 buildings in later submissions) to the same property where he operates Mono-crete Step Co. LLC, a cement products company. The decision of the P&Z also includes prevention of any crematoriums in Bethel’s entire IP Zone too, such as Berkshire Corporate Park at 2 Parklawn Drive, Bethel CT.
The crematorium issue has been discussed for approximately two years. There were public hearings on April 14, 2015, May 12, 2015, June 16, 2015, July 15 2015, and July 16, 2015, where the applicant gave testimony, submitted building plans, submitted correspondence from business owners, and brought forth a realtor and a representative of the company from which the applicant was purchasing the crematory equipment, to give testimony and answer questions from the P&Z. The P&Z also received public comment and correspondence from residents and business owners at these hearings.
Following were three more P&Z meetings on Aug. 8, 2015, Sept. 8, 2015, and Sept. 22, 2015, where during “work sessions” the P&Z discussed matters further. The public could observe these meetings but could not offer comments.
The vote was 4 to 3 to deny the applications. Voting to DENY were Commissioners Don Brown, Earl Finch, Lou Valenti and Chairman Pat Rist. (Voting to APPROVE were Commissioners Kitty Grant, Bob Legnard, John Lennon.)
Applicant B. Shawn McLoughlin and also his attorney Peter Olsen refused to give a statement to Bethel Advocate after the meeting.
Above photo: Crematorium applicant B. Shawn McLoughlin (2nd from left) and daughter Shelby McLoughlin (far left) stand in the CJH Municipal Center hallway after the crematorium applications were denied by the P&Z. Attorneys for both sides chat after the meeting, applicant’s attorney Peter Olsen (2nd from right) and counsel for Bethel Land Use & the P&Z, (far right) Charles Andres.
Reasons given for denying the applications were numerous. See below for some of the resolution statements by the P&Z.
Regarding the “RESOLUTION OF DENIAL, BETHEL PLANNING & ZONING COMMISSION, SPECIAL PERMIT AND SITE PLAN FOR A CREMATORY FACIITY AND INDUSTRIAL BUILDING, SPECIAL PERMIT FOR EXCAVATION AND FILL ACTIVITY, 12 TROWBRIDGE DRIVE”
The P&Z resolution stated: “The applicant failed to meet Section 8.5.C.5 of the Zoning Regulations which states: ‘The applicant shall bear the burden of demonstrating that the applicable Special Permit Criteria in Subsection 8.5.E of these regulations are addressed.’ Our regulations provide that the applicant bears the burden of establishing that the special permit criteria have been satisfied, and we find that the applicant has failed to satisfy that burden for these applications.”
The P&Z also denied the application because, “The Commission finds that the Special Permit application for locating a crematory use in the subject location will not promote the public health, safety and general welfare of both commercial and residential properties as well as those that may work or reside in them.”
The P&Z felt that “the location of the proposed crematorium facility is ill-suited at the proposed location on the site” and stated reasons of “excessive excavation and fill activity needed to prepare the site for development” and that it was “in close proximity to adjacent businesses” and also referred to its “proximity to the street…proximity to Sympaug Pond…proximity to an adjacent organic farm on Turkey Plain Road…proximity to residential homes” and proximity to “Town-owned land at the end of Trowbridge Drive.”
The P&Z resolution stated, “The applicant has not demonstrated that the proposed use in the proposed location will not cause harmful health effects to neighboring properties or their occupants and has not demonstrated that the use will not cause loss in value of property or economic development potential.”
When reviewing a “Special Permit application” many topics are addressed by the P&Z including “Environmental Protection and Conservation” (as stated in Section 8.5.E.2, Criteria #2, of the Zoning Regulations). The resolution stated, “The Commission finds that the applicant has not demonstrated to the Commission that natural, scenic, historic, and unique features of the surrounding areas will not be adversely affected by emissions released into the atmosphere from the crematory facility in this location.”
The P&Z also addressed “Overall neighborhood Compatibility” with regard to Section 8.5.E.3, Criteria #3, and stated, “The Commission finds that the applicant has not demonstrated that the proposed crematory use will not have a detrimental effect on neighboring properties and residences and development of the district.” Sixteen reasons were given, which included reference to testimony given by the Bethel Economic Development Commission (EDC) regarding “plans to expand the Business Park at the end of Trowbridge Drive may be halted due to the proposed crematory use at 13 Trowbridge Drive” and the EDC also referred to “the potential reduced value of adjacent Town-owned property, the loss of marketability and viability of land for development resulting from a potential crematory use in close proximity and use on the same street.” The testimony from the EDC also stated, “the addition of a crematory use in the Business Park would out it at a competitive disadvantage in recruiting businesses” and “would make a difficult job in marketing quality businesses even harder in a highly competitive marketplace.”
The testimony from abutting business owner Greg Marciano, his business Connecticut Coining, located to the north of the proposed crematory location at 10 Trowbridge Drive, was also a factor in the final decision of the P&Z. The testimony included concern that, “the proposed location at 12 Trowbridge Drive will be visible from his property….that the proposed location may affect his businesses ability to retain and recruit qualified employees to work adjacent to the proposed crematory building because it will be in full view from their property…that the adjacent business owner at 10 Trowbridge Drive may rethink investing in and expanding his business by another 10,000 square feet and add new employees in the future due to the location of the proposed crematory in proximity to his property…that his business could be located anywhere in the US an that he doesn’t have to stay in Bethel and a proposed crematory next door could influence his decision not to expand and leave the Park and Bethel.” Marciano said, last night, that he felt that the applicant would likely keep pursuing this cause for years.
There was testimony considered by the P&Z “that new owners across the street at 13 Trowbridge Drive would not have purchased that property on April 1, 2015 had they known of the new regulation allowing crematories in the IP Zone and that one was proposed directly across the street….that in all of the negotiations and contract period prior to he sale that the subject of crematory was not disclosed to them by any of the realtors involved in the transaction….that the owners of 13 Trowbridge Drive have not occupied their new building and will not invest the intended $100,000 in the property due to the proposed crematory…that the owners of 13 Trowbridge Drive has placed the property up for sale as a direct result of the potential crematory facility being location directly across the street.” Business owner Mitch Gross was instrumental in past P&Z meetings, in fighting the crematorium in Bethel, with numerous presentations to the P&Z of charts and graphs, regarding his expertise and research in showing the P&Z how the emissions flowed in Bethel using a geographic chart, how detrimental it would be to the public health and welfare, and how property values would be effected negatively. He also thoroughly researched property value studies referred to from individuals on both sides of the issue, and proved that statements made by the applicant’s attorney Peter Olsen, were incorrect.
Testimony from Johnnie Choi, owner of properties in Clarke Business Park at 14-1, 14-2, and 27 Francis Clarke Circle, in Clarke Business Park, was also considered by the P&Z. The resolution referred to Choi’s actions and said that Choi “has put all three properties in the Park and two other commercial and two other residential properties he owns in Bethel up for sale subsequent to the zoning text amendment adopted in 2014. This is due to a potential crematory in the Business Park. He now intends to move his busness out of the Park and out of Bethel as a result.” The testimony from that same owner stated that “he had purchased 27 Francis Clarke Circle with the intention of building a 25,000 s.f. warehouse facility to expand his business and was negotiating with Town officials to purchase additional land to accommodate that sized building. Those negotiations, however, ceased immediately when the regulations were amended and that property is now for sale.”
The testimony from John Holbrook, owner of the Holbrook Farm on 45 Turkey Plain Road in Bethel, designated as an organic farm, was also instrumental in the final decision of the P&Z. In the P&Z resolution it states that Holbrook testified that “his designation may be in jeopardy if a crematory is allowed in the Business Park….the prevaling wind travels east from the Park, across Sympaug Pond toward his property and the prospect of toxic particle emissions settlig on the farmland may lead the owner to losing that designation or may create the perception in his customers that the produce and vegetables from the farm are not safe. The owner indicated that he would likely be forced to close his business as a result.” Please note that Mr. Holbrook has been in business for over 40 years in Bethel.
The P&Z resolution noted that after the Special Permit was submitted and the P&Z sent the notices out to specific owners of property located within 100 feet of the subject parcel, as required by zoning regulations, “there was a substantial increase in public attendance, public comments, and involvement at each of the public hearings. The vast majority spoke against the application for reasons of health concerns due to the potential emission of dangerous toxins into the atmosphere resulting from the cremation of human remains within the proposed crematory on the subject property. There was also serious concern raised by the participating public about the effects the crematory would have on the subject property to nearby commercial and residential property values.” The P&Z resolution went on to say, “The Commission finds the public testimony as credible and compelling evidence as to the detrimental effect on the neighboring properties and residences and the development of the district.”
The P&Z voted with regard to “Section 8.5.E4, Criteria #4, Suitable Location for Use” of the zoning regulations, which states, “Whether the size of the site, the nature and intensity of operations involved in or conducted with the use, and the location of the site with respect to streets giving access to it are such that the use will be in harmony with the appropriate and orderly development in the district in which it is location and shall promote the welfare of the Town.” The P&Z found that “the applicant has not demonstrated that the proposed location is suitable for the crematory use.” They sited, in part, “excessive amounts of excavation and fill activity required to make this location developable for only a 5,000 s.f. building…the grade must be lowered upwards of 18 feet in some locations….the building will then sit ten (10) feet above the grade of the adjacent street” as some of the reasons to deny this application.
The resolution stated, “The nature of the Clarke Business Park has changed since its inception in the 1980’s. This is an intentional effort by the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Economic Development Commission to provide an increased pool of potential occupants to reduce vacancies and strengthen the park’s viability. It is now more of a commercial park more than an industrial park as it began. Even the name has changed from ‘Francis Clarke Industrial Park’ to ‘Clarke Business Park.’ The type of uses has been expanded by the Planning & Zoning Commission to allow fitness, restaurant, exercise and recreation centers to fill once vacant spaces. These uses are more open to a larger segment of the population including children and the Commission finds that the proposed use in that location may not only affect those businesses ability to attract or retain customers leading to a loss in revenue.”
With regard to “Section 8.5.E.5, Criteria #5, Appropriate Improvements” that states in part, “a. Whether the design elements of the proposed development will be attractive and suitabke in relation to the site characteristics, the style of the buildings in the immediate area, and the existing and probable future character of the development of the neighborhood in which the use is located”; and “b. Whether the location, nature an height of the buikdings, walls, and fences, planned activities and the nature and extent of landscaping on the site will be such that the use shall not hinder or discourage the appropriate development and use of adjacent land and buildings or impair the value thereof.” The P&Z found that, “the location of the building, the location height and depth of retaining walls, change in grade, and planned activities will hinder and discourage the appropriate development and use of adjacent land and buildings and impair the value thereof.” The P&Z resolution stated, “The height of the two proposed emission stacks will be 33 feet in height. That means from the street, which is ten (10) feet lower than the grade at the building, the stacks and the resulting emissions will be 43 feet above the street grade and be fully visible from adjoining and neighboring commercial properties as well as residential properties to the east due to topography. This is not only an unattractive prospect for neighboring property owners because it cannot be screened from view to neighboring properties and occupants, but there is also testimony in the record from those who have expressed objection to viewing or being exposed to the operation of a crematory facility based on cultural and religious beliefs. We express no opinion on the validity of such perceptions, but whether justified or not, could adversely impact surrounding properties.”
The P&Z resolution referred to the opinion of the real estate agent that was presented by the applicant, that “there would be negligible effects on the value of property in the IP Zone and nearby residential properties” but the P&Z resolution stated that “The applicant did not submit any studies from an appraiser on this issue.” A study had been introduced into the record that showed a direct correlation between a location of a crematory use and a decrease in property values, the decrease was shown to extend for half a mile radius around a crematory facility. The P&Z resolution stated, “The Commission does not credit the applicant’s real estate agent, and finds that the applicant has not demonstrated that there will not be a negative impact from the proposed development on property values.”
Regarding the “RESOLUTION OF THE TOWN OF BETHEL PLANNING & ZONING COMMISSION, REGARDING APPLICATION FOR APPROVAL OF A PLOT OF LAND AS LOCATION OF CREMATORY FILED BY B. SHAWN McLOUGHLIN AND MONO-CRETE STEO CO. OF CT, LLC FOR 12 TROWBRIDGE DRIVE, BETHEL CT”
The P&Z resolution states, “The Commission, on September 22, 2015, adopted a resolution denying the special permit application for the reasons set forth therein;” and listed, “the Commission believes that the reasons set forth in the denial of the special permit application are also pertinent and relevant to the instant application under Gen. Sat. Section 19a-320;” and “the Commission also finds that the location is inappropriate for the proposed use;” and “the Commission hereby votes to DENY this application.” Reasons given were that the Commission incorporated the resolution of denial of the special permit application and adopts the reasons for denial to the present application. “The Commission further finds that the location for the proposed crematory at 12 Trowbridge Drive is not a suitable location for a crematory, given the objections of the surrounding property owners and the failure of the applicant to present credible evidence to demonstrate that surrounding property owners would not be adversely affected by a crematorium to be located at this premises.”
A third issue was addressed by the P&Z during the September 22, 2015 work session, a text amendment request by CT Coining Inc., eliminate section 4.3.C .10A crematorium, was approved, but we are still waiting for the official resolution wording on that. This is to take effect by approximately October 1, 2015, after the legal notice is published in newspaper media sometime before Oct. 1, 2015. This approval removes the crematorium text entirely from the zoning regulations, and means that no crematoriums will be allowed at all in ALL IP Zones of Bethel, CT.
Bethel Advocate will update you when the legal notices are published, and also will post updates about any future information regarding the crematorium. There is still a pending court case from applicant B. Shawn McLoughlin, MCLOUGHLIN, B. SHAWN v. PLANNING & ZONING COMMISSION OF THE TOWN OF BETHEL Et Al, number DBD-CV15-6017506-S. As of September 22, 2015, there is a scheduled date of October 5, 2015, at 9:30a.m. for a conference proceeding.
To read a history of Bethel Advocate stories about the crematorium in the past two years, CLICK HERE.
To view the petition and read residents’ comments, CLICK HERE.
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