Prepare to attend the second of two Bethel Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) work sessions tonight, regarding the Bethel proposed crematorium in Bethel’s Clarke Business Park. The work session is September 8, 2015, at 7:00 p.m., Denis Riordan Room D, in the Clifford J. Hurgin Munuicipal Center, 1 School Street, Bethel, CT.
Report and Photography by Paula Antolini
September 8, 2015 1:49PM EDT
VIDEO: Planning and Zoning Commission Recent ‘Work Session’ Meeting About Crematorium Gives Hints of Final Decision to Come; Final Meeting Is Tonight
Prepare to attend the second of two Bethel Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) work sessions tonight, regarding the Bethel proposed crematorium in Bethel’s Clarke Business Park.
The work session is September 8, 2015, at 7:00 p.m., Denis Riordan Room D, in the Clifford J. Hurgin Munuicipal Center, 1 School Street, Bethel, CT.
The Bethel Planning and Zoning Commission has been discussing the Bethel Clarke Business Park proposed crematorium for approximately two years now and may be close to a decision. Applicant B. Shawn McLoughlin wants to add a crematorium to his property at 12 Trowbridge Drive, in Bethel’s Clarke Business Park (entrance is from Grassy Plain Street).
There has been much controversy and resident participation in the numerous Economic Development Committee (EDC) and Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) meetings over the last few years. The last hearings were finally closed and there was one P&Z “work session” that took place on August 8, 2015, and a second P&Z “work session” will take place tonight, as mentioned. A decision on the proposed crematorium will hopefully be made soon.
Note: There is also a pending civil suit in Danbury Ct Superior Court, submitted by applicant McLoughlin against the Planning & Zoning Commission and the Town of Bethel. Attorney Charles Andres is counsel for the P&Z.
During the Aug. 8th work session, Chairwoman Pat Rist seated the following Commissioners: John Lennon, Bob Legnard, Kitty Grant, Earl Finch and Lou Valenti. Rist mentioned that one Commissioner was not present, Don Brown, who will also be participating in the final decision.
Bethel Director/Town Planner Steve Palmer indicated that Attorney Charles Andres was there to help in the discussion, answer any questions, or help guide the P&Z. Palmer also said to the P&Z, “Because this is a special permit application, I just handed out to you special permit criteria that’s outlined in the Zoning Regulations. I would suggest that you pay particular attention to the criteria as you go through this process in forming a potential decision.”
Chairwoman Rist asked the Commissioners to start the comments and there were two minutes and twenty-one seconds of silence as the Commissioners looked over the paperwork and building plans that had been previously submitted by crematorium applicant B. Shawn McLoughlin, and viewed other documents relating to the applications issues, but no one seemed to want to be the first individual to start the comments. Finally, Commissioner Kitty Grant broke the silence and spoke first.
In the “work session” each commissioner gave their opinion about where they stood on the crematorium issue and why. This is not a final decision but does give a hint of what’s to come regarding whether the crematorium will be allowed in Bethel or not.
Here is a summary of the P&Z Commissioner’s comments. See video below to view the entire work session meeting.
Commissioner Kitty Grant spoke first. She said in part, “One of the things that struck me the most of the people who did speak against it [crematorium], a lot of your comments centered around hearses. They didn’t want to see hearses in the park. I thought about that very long and hard, and I thought, you know, it’s an industrial park, and we have been told by the people, and I’ve spoken to other people, that most of the time the clients [human remains] will be delivered by vans. But if the park is worried about hearses, what about restaurants on Greenwood Avenue? Now I can remember sitting on Greenwood Avenue in Jacqueline’s and watching the church hearses going down the street. This is a natural fact of life. We are born, we live hopefully a good life, and then we pass. And hearses are a natural fact of life.”
Grant had to be corrected several times by Palmer, for referring to the original text amendment* which is not part of this work session, and for talking to the audience members directly (referred to by name) about their past actions in hearings. Attorney Charles Andres also reminded Grant that she is to refer only to information in the record, when Grant was referring to a phone call she had with the DEEP the previous week, long after the final crematorium hearings had closed.
Grant referred to material that she said was received from DEEP and the CT Health Department, and believes the smoke/emissions will not go past the fence line of the property. Grant said, “They told us that the emissions were minor, went to the fence line, by and large most of the time, and that they didn’t think there would be any significant repercussion outside of the fence.” Grant said her understanding was, “Most of what fell would end at the fence line.”
Near the end of the work session (mark 24:31 in video) Grant said, “This thing where eight people might be leaving the park, I’m sorry, I cannot consider that. I really can’t, because we should be going by rules and regulations, and the public input, on their level, is very important. But to tell us, you know, if you do this, then we’re going to leave…” (she shakes her head no).
Speaking to the P&Z Commissioners, Palmer again explained the difference between a “site plan” and a “special permit” application. Palmer said “This is not a site plan…let me just explain a little bit because it’s really important. A site plan is really not discretionary. A special permit is discretionary. And a special permit does have criteria that you guys can look to in determining whether or not that is appropriate for the location that you’re considering.” Palmer continued, “So there is discretion in this. It has to do with physical location, economics, it has to do with health and welfare, safety of the public.” Palmer said the burden is on the applicant to satisfy the regulations, and Palmer cited Section 8.5.c.5 of the regulations. “The burden is, technically, in our regulations,” Palmer said. He then added, “It’s a requirement.”
Commissioner Lou Valenti felt that his decision would be based on the location of the crematorium on the property. Valenti said, “My concern about the specific site plan is its location. In order for it to work within our zoning regulations, the retort vents, the crematorium, if you will, have been put WAY up, into the front corner of the property, very, very close to the road, making it highly visible. And at the time when there was an EDC with jurisdiction over this, we did receive testimony from people discussing its possible adverse impacts on property values, of the adjacent and nearby property owners, as well as the impact of something like this, particularly if its going to be highly visible, this close to the road, on further development of the business park. And remember, they are trying to market this park as more than just an industrial park. They’re also trying to appeal to businesses that would like to put offices in there and things like that. It’s not simply an industrial park. So I have an issue with the location.”
Valenti asked Grant to clarify what she meant about her “fence line” statement. Valenti said to Grant, “Do you see how close the vents are now, to the property line?” Grant replied, “Yes.” Valenti said, “I mean they are extremely close.”
Valenti said, “Just to address the hearse issue, I think the difference is, as the vice president of the company, not the applicant, but the company that will be selling and maintaining these retorts, indicated, the number of cremations that can be performed in a day are far, far higher than we were lead to believe by the applicant.” Valenti continued, referring to the applicant, “He gave us a very high number and that number would be many multiples of what a funeral home could expect to do in a week or frankly, in four or five months, with operating at full capacity.”
Valenti continued, “We have to look at not only whether an applicant should be able to develop their property in accordance with our rules and regulations, but what this specific development, what kind of impact will it have on, if we go to our special permit criteria, and you look at number three and look at number four.” Valenti then read from the regulations: “Overall neighborhood compatibility and suitable location for use. Whether the proposed use will have a detrimental effect on neighboring properties, residences, or the development of the district.” Valenti then commented further, “Now I would say that I’m convinced that it will. And if we want to just talk about the health impacts….” (Note: To explain the break in conversation, there was then a slight interruption by Beth Cavagna, assistant to Land Use Director Palmer, who said, “This is not working,” regarding the audio recorder she had set up. Our Bethel Advocate video recording had captured the missing section, which ended at mark 13:40 in the video. The Cavagna audio recorder then resumed at that point.)
Valenti went on to read more of the regulations, and his decision was based on much of what he read from there (all of which you can hear on the video). Valenti said, “In looking at the site plan and looking at its location I do think that it will not be in harmony of the development of the district. And the way I look at it is, I simply put, like, a cost-benefit analysis to this whole thing, and I look at the benefit, and by the way, only from the town’s perspective, not from the applicant’s perspective, and I look at all of these things and I can’t help but come to the conclusion that the risk of harm to the town in terms of developing these properties, these additional properties, increasing taxes, increasing employees that could be shopping in Bethel, and the tax revenues, and the possibility of scaring away taxpayers who are currently there, who are paying a significant amount of money in property taxes to our town, verses the benefit to the town of allowing this, which I find de minimous…..I’m basing this all on the location.”
Valenti believes there are many health issues, a shown by many discussions on both sides of the crematorium issue, he said. “We’re not talking about it being in the center of the property, we’re talking about it being right up, practically, against a neighboring piece of property and pretty darn close to the road. So for those reasons, I don’t feel that this application has met the criteria for a special permit in this particular location.”
Commisioner Earl Finch said he didn’t think it fit the third reason, of overall compatibility, from the initial attempt to do the text amendment. He said, “I’ve stated my reasons before and they’re fairly much the same, and I’m more or less in accordance with Lou’s reasons. I do believe that had the public become more involved earlier on that there might have been a lot more reaction and interaction with the Commission and that is what it is.” Finch continued, “But we are here now considering what we’re considering with miles and miles of testimony and hours and hours of volunteer sitting, listening, and my feeling is still that same that it does not satisfy, first of all number three, number four is a reasonable argument as well.
Commissioner John Lennon said, “I don’t have any comments tonight, thanks Pat.”
Commissioner Bob Legnard said, “I voted to put a text amendment in to allow crematoriums in Clark Park. I think the plans before us for a crematorium in that location meet our soecial criteria, overall neighborhood compatibility, and suitable location for use. It’s mere conjecture by certain people that it’s going to effect economically, we have no proof. I’ve gone over the material, this is it right here (lifts stack of paper). I’ve read several of those several times. I make this decision based on the site plan and the location and the compatibility of this. I think it’s a good plan. I think we have no guarantees. Many times someone locates in the park one way or another, if they’re gonna stay. We thought we had a gem in Cannondale, they picked up and left. So you can’t, you can’t make the determination on the conjecture of certain people that this isn’t gonna work there. I think it meets our regulations. They’ve created a site plan of things that came before us that during the public hearing changed the plan several times to meet any and all things that were even conceived to be wring with the plan. So at this point that’s all I have to say.”
P&Z Chairman Pat Rist said, “My comments pretty much follow what Lou said. He covered a lot, which is, overall neighborhood compatibility, and that became a concern to me, especially talking about the economic impact to Bethel and to the business park. That was a big concern. And when you have eight businesses come forward and indicate they may leave the park, I have to really listen to that, whether it’s in letters, whether it’s in comments sitting right here in the room. That’s not a risk I’m willing to take, because we are trying to develop the end or Trowbridge, open that up, and I’m concerned that we’re not going to get people coming into the park. And then when you look at a brand new business coming in, and immediately putting his business back on the market, it’s a huge concern to me. Now that’s a major impact to the town and as Lou said, if, say, these businesses began to leave the park, that’s a concern to me, how that impacts our grand list, our taxes, our mill rate, and it’s not a risk that I’m willing to take. And when you look at where this is now located on the site, Lou’s right, it’s highly visible, and the vents are too close to the property line, and again, that is a problem for me.”
Rist then noted they were missing one of the Commissioners (Don Brown) and that they will table the work session until September 8th. It was stated that they “do not vote at the next meeting” but that they “take consensus.”
“This is one where I think you need a written resolution to make sure it is all tied up,” said Attorney Andres.
A final comment from Valenti was, “I think sometimes, you know, the one thing I would say is, sometimes when you look at these things, we have to ask ourselves, to whom should the burden, who should bear the burden, on something like this, particularly something new or controversial?” He continued, “And I think then it does, I mean I’m looking to the applicant and I’m looking at the information he can bring to us, so that the applicant can meet my concerns. I was not overly impressed with the real estate testimony in any way, shape or form. I thought that was a real weakness. But I think the most important thing is, throughout this awful, drawn-out process, is that we have heard from so many different people and the public. And something like this, I think, demands public input, so we know. When we work here we’re representing the public so we have to know how they feel. And I mean, I’ve certainly heard them loud and clear. But even so, when I apply our criteria for a special permit to this application and this particular site plan, I can’t vote for it.”
The meeting was adjourned at 9:28p.m..
VIEW FULL LENGTH AUGUST 8, 2015 HEARING BELOW:
You can attend the second work session tonight, September 8, 2015, at 7:00 p.m., Denis Riordan Room D, in the Clifford J. Hurgin Municipal Center, 1 School Street, Bethel, CT.
Public comment will NOT be taken but you can hear the P&Z discuss their final consensus about the crematorium, to approve or deny the McLoughlin application.