September 16, 2014

Zoning Board of Appeals Denial of Variances Puts Essex Property Purchase on Hold

ESSEX— A zoning board of appeals denial of variances to allow a property split has put on hold the $200,000 purchase of a back section of the Perry property at 27 West Avenue that was approved by voters at a November town meeting. The property abuts the town hall property.

The ZBA, acting after a public hearing that began in February, Tuesday rejected variances requested by the town on a 4-1 vote. Member Michael Noto supported approval of the variances, with members Paul Greenberg, Al Daddona, W.T. Ferguson, and William Veilette opposed. Minutes released Thursday show the board majority determined the town had not proven a hardship from its zoning regulations, and that any claimed hardship was ‘self-created and financial.”

First Selectman Norman Needleman negotiated the purchase of the back, .65-acre, section of the 27 West Avenue property with the heirs of longtime resident Eileen Perry, who died last June. Needleman, with support from other members of the board of selectmen, contended the town could have future use of the back section of the parcel, but had no interest in owning the historic house that fronts on West Avenue. The back section of the property also abuts the Pratt House property that is owned by the Essex Historical Society.

The $200,000 land purchase was approved on a 34-30 show of hands vote at a Nov. 20 town meeting, with the purchase contingent on approval of any zoning variances required for a split of the property.

The variances requested by the town would increase the non-conformity of the 27 West Avenue property by raise the building coverage on the lot while reducing setbacks and the required minimum lot area. Lawyers for the town with the Hartford firm of Robinson & Cole had contended during the two-part public hearing that the town’s desire to acquire the property for preservation and possible future municipal uses represented a legitimate hardship from zoning regulations. Two West Avenue residents spoke in opposition to the variances at the Feb. 18 public hearing, one in person and one by letter, but there were more residents speaking in opposition at Tuesday’s hearing.

Needleman said Wednesday he is disappointed by the ZBA decision, and is currently reviewing options to determine whether there is any way the purchase could proceed. He noted the Perry family is hoping to sell the 27 West Avenue property, including the house, is town is unable to complete the purchase of the back section under the terms of the agreement negotiated last fall. “For now this may go down on the list of missed opportunities for the town,” Needleman said.