July 26, 2014

Region 4 Elementary Schools Begin Breakfast Program

REGION 4— District elementary schools have begun offering breakfast to students in a grant-funded program that is expected to continue in future school years. The program began at the Chester and Deep River elementary schools on March 10, and started at Essex Elementary School this week.

Superintendent of Schools Ruth Levy said Director of Food Services Thomas Peterlik determined there was federal funding available for a school breakfast program, and later secured nearly $3,000 in grant funds even though the current school year is now entering its final months. She said the program started first at the Chester and Deep River schools because those schools have a higher number of students received free or reduced price school lunches under federal guidelines, though school officials quickly determined there would be sufficient funding to extend the program to Essex Elementary School.

Levy said the program should be a benefit for both students and working parents. She noted that numerous studies have confirmed that children learn better if they have eaten breakfast, while adding the program would offer “another option for parents.”

Peterlik said this week he decided to keep the breakfast options simple in order to begin the program as quickly as possible and utilize the funding available for the current school year. Students are offered a brown bag breakfast before the start of classes at a price of $1.25. The breakfast includes fresh fruit and milk each day, while other items vary from cereal to yogurt, pastries, or bagels with cream cheese.

Peterlik said student response over the past two weeks indicates the program would be a success. He said average daily participation since March 10 has been 39 students for Deep River and 29 students for Chester, with at least 27 students taking breakfast each day this week as the program was rolled out for Essex Elementary School. The district’s two secondary schools, John Winthrop Middle School and Valley Regional High School, had already offered breakfast for students and staff.

$7.74 Million Budget Proposed for Essex Elementary School

ESSEX— The board of finance has received a proposed $7,742,313 budget for Essex Elementary School. The spending plan, which was approved by the local board of education earlier this month, represents a $107,396, or 1.41 percent, spending increase over the current budget for the school.

The budget projects enrollment for the kindergarten-sixth grade school at 428 students when the 2014-2015 school year begins, down from a current enrollment of 451 students. The spending plan includes no new staff positions, but calls for elimination of one classroom teacher position due to the drop in enrollment. The reduction of one teacher position brings a total savings of about $87,000 for salary and benefits, with an additional $27,529 in savings anticipated from other staffing changes.

The only enhancements funded in the budget are $10,000 for painting in the gymnasium and one wing of classrooms, and $7,143 for an improved student assessment system for math and reading.

The spending plan for the elementary school will be presented, along with the proposed town government budget, at an April 24 public hearing. The elementary school budget goes to a vote with the town budget at the annual budget meeting on May 12. The Region 4 education budget, which funds the operations of Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School, goes to the voters of Chester,Deep River, and Essex for approval in a May 6 referendum.

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.

Essex Zoning Commission Continues Public Hearing on Proposed Elderly Housing Expansion to April 21

ESSEX— The zoning commission has continued until April 21 the public hearing on a site plan for a proposed 22-unit elderly and affordable housing project in the Centerbrook section after the plan received expressions of support at a public hearing Monday.

Essex Elderly and Affordable Housing Inc., a non-profit group associated with the appointed Essex Housing Authority, is pursuing development of 22 units of elderly and affordable housing, including four two bedroom units, in a three-story building to be constructed on a one-acre town owned parcel on the southeast side of the existing Essex Court elderly housing complex at 16 Main St. The development would be called Essex Place, and receive access off Main Street through the Essex Court complex.

The project is being presented for site plan review under a process defined by state statute 8-30G, a law that is intended to promote additional elderly and affordable housing in Connecticut. Under the law, the commission retains authority to approve or reject the site plan for safety and public health reasons, but must waive certain requirements of the town’s zoning regulations in reviewing the proposal. The zoning board of appeals last fall rejected a request from EEAH Inc. for several variances related to the project.

Janet Atkeson, chairwoman of the Essex Housing Authority and president of EEAH Inc., told the commission the waiting list for units at Essex Court, a 36-unit elderly housing complex that opened in 1985, contains more than two dozen names. She said there is a clear need for the additional units that would come with an expansion that has been under discussion for more than a decade. The new units would be reserved for persons age 62 or older who meet income guidelines.

Project architect Tom Arcari, with the Quisnenberry Associates firm of Farmington, presented the plan for the building that would be 30-feet high and include a first floor community room that could seat up to 70 persons, and also serve as an emergency shelter for both complexes. There would be 46 parking spaces, with most located behind the building on the west side of the property.

While the 8-30G process limits the commission’s discretion over many details of the development, the project must receive local and state Department of Public Health approval for the septic system that would serve the complex. The plans remain under review by the local and state health departments, though Arcari said he anticipates receiving a written approval by the time the public hearing resumes on April 21.

Nine residents spoke in support of the project during the public hearing, with resident Mary Ann Pleva declaring the expansion of elderly housing is “very much needed and long overdue.” No one spoke in opposition to the project at the hearing.

Essex Selectmen Present a Proposed $7.18 Million Town Government Budget for 2014-2015

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has endorsed a proposed $7,189,062 town government budget for 2014-2015. The spending plan, to be presented to the board of finance at a March 27 meeting, represents a $221,601, or 3.18 percent, spending increase over the current town government budget.

The selectmen approved the budget plan ion a unanimous vote at a March 5 meeting after holding budget review workshop meetings on Feb. 8, Feb. 19, and March 5. First Selectman Norman Needleman said he is pleased with the proposed budget. “We’re keeping up with things and we’re keeping a lid on the costs,” he said.

The proposed budget includes a general three percent wage/salary increase for most town employees. The salary for the first selectman job will not increase, remaining at the current $87,296. The salary for the town clerk position, held by newly elected Town Clerk Joel Marzi, is set at $61,179, with a salary of $58,492 for the tax collector, and $10,300 for the part-time elected position of town treasurer.

The budget increases town funding to the two public libraries by three percent, with appropriations of $275,300 for the Essex Library, and $104,000 for the Ivoryton Library The budget funds four full-time police officers at an expense of $243,179, and a full-time health director/sanitarian position with a salary set at $78,396. The budget includes $453,425 in “sinking funds” for capital expenditures and projects, including $140,000 for the volunteer fire department, $32,500 for parks and recreation, and $60,000 for municipal properties.

After review by the finance board, the budget plan will be presented at an April 24 public hearing in combination with the proposed budget for Essex Elementary School. The town’s share of the Region 4 education budget goes to the voters in a May 6 referendum, with the annual budget meeting vote on a total spending package for 2014-2015 set for Monday May 12.

Fire Destroys Clubhouse of the Pattaconk Yacht Club in Chester

Remains of burned out Pattaconk Yacht Club House after fire (Photo courtesy of Jerome Wilson).

Remains of burned out Pattaconk Yacht Club House after fire (Photo courtesy of Jerome Wilson).

CHESTER— State and local fire marshals are investigating to determine the cause of a Friday night fire that destroyed the clubhouse of the Pattaconk Yacht Club at 61 Dock Road.

The fire, reported by nearby property owners around 9:30 p.m., was full involved, with flames breaking through the roof, when volunteer firefighters from the Chester Hose company arrived on the scene. The clubhouse is located directly on the Connecticut River, with firefighters drawing water from the river to battle the blaze.

Chester firefighters were joined under mutual aid by firefighters from the Deep River, Essex, Haddam, Killingworth, Old Saybrook, and the South District of Middletown. Dozens of firefighters were on the scene for about three hours to extinguish the blaze. There were no injuries to firefighters, but the clubhouse building was completely destroyed.

Essex Zoning Commission Has Public Hearing Monday on Site Plan for Elderly Affordable Housing Expansion

ESSEX— The zoning commission will hold a public hearing Monday for review of the site plan for a proposed 22-unit expansion of the Essex Court elderly housing complex off Main Street in the Centerbrook section. The public hearing convenes at 7 p.m. in town hall.

Essex Elderly and Affordable Housing Inc., a non-profit group associated with the appointed Essex Housing Authority, has submitted plans for a 22-unit housing complex, including four two bedroom units, to be located on a one-acre parcel on west side of the existing Essex Court elderly housing complex off Main Street. An expansion of the existing 36-unit elderly housing complex that opened in 1985 has been under discussion for more than a decade, but the award last year of a $250,000 planning grant from the state Department of Housing gave new impetus to the effort.

Some of the grant funds were used to hire Quisenberry Associates, a Farmington architectural firm that has prepared plans for the elderly and affordable housing expansion that would be called Essex Place. EEAH Inc. is seeking approval for the project under state statute 8-30G, a law intended to promote additional affordable housing in Connecticut.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow said this week the 8-30G law does not provide for special permit approval of proposed elderly and affordable housing projects, but rather allows town zoning authorities to review site plans for a proposed project. The proposed 22 units would be located in a single building that required several variances of town zoning regulations. The zoning board of appeals last fall denied a request for several variances, leading EEAH Inc. to submit it’s zoning application under the 8-30G law.

Budrow said the process provided by statute 8-30G negates the need for variances, but gives the zoning commission some authority in reviewing the site plan for the project. Budrow said the commission could reject the site plan only for public health and safety reasons.

The commission will also hold a public hearing Monday on a zoning amendment proposed by the panel that would include family day care homes as a permitted use in residential districts. A family day care home could serve up to six children under the proposed regulations. Budrow said town zoning regulations currently do not provide for such family day care homes, though there are currently several in operation in Essex.

Chester Planning and Zoning to Hold Thursday Public Hearing on Stone-Cutting Business at Industrial Park

CHESTER— The planning and zoning commission will hold a public hearing Thursday on two related special permit applications for a decorative stone business on two parcels on Airport Industrial Park Road. The hearing ,which was rescheduled from the February meeting due to snow, will begin at 7:30 p.m. in the community meeting room at town hall.

A.I.S Properties LLC of Deep River is seeking permits for two parcels at 25 and 35 Airport Industrial Park Road. The industrial park is located in the western section of town, off Route 145 near the Chester Airport.

The company is seeking a permit for a 50-foot by 80-foot industrial building at 35 Airport Industrial Park Road for the cutting of decorative stone. The business would have four employees, with hours 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday-Friday, and 9 a.m. to 12 noon on Saturdays. A.I.S. Properties is seeking a second permit for outside storage of raw stone material on a lot at 25 Airport Industrial Park Road.

Essex Seeking New Advisor for Three Town Pension Plans

ESSEX— The board of selectmen will be seeking a new adviser for the town’s three pension plans for town employees, with a goal of selecting a new manager for the plans before the end of the current fiscal year on June 30.

First Selectman Norman Needleman told the board at a meeting last week that the town has received notice that Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, the town’s current pension adviser, will cease providing services for municipal pension plans as of June 30.But Needleman said Wednesday that Bank of America/Merrill Lynch had submitted a second notice advising that current services could continue through October. He said the town will publish a request for proposals for pension services, including managing investments, custodial banking, record keeping, and actuarial services.

Needleman said the town’s appointed retirement committee will review the proposals before making a recommendation to the board of selectmen for selection of a new pension plan adviser. Needleman said he is hoping some local financial services firms will offer proposals for the town’s pension management business. The town has three separate pension plans, including the municipal plan for town employees, a merit service incentive plan for volunteer firefighters, and a police pension plan.

In other business, Needleman announced the town’s emergency operations center is starting a program to register emergency volunteers. The registered volunteers would receive training and identification badges, while also being subject to a back round check. Interested residents should contact the selectmen’s office at town hall for additional information.

Region 4 School Board Approves $18 Million Education Budget for 2014-2015, Returns $221,242 Surplus to District Towns

REGION 4— The Region 4 Board of Education has approved a proposed $18,377,431 education budget for 2014-2015 that represents a $601,310, or 3.38 percent, spending increase over the current appropriation. The budget plan will be presented to residents of Chester, Deep River, and Essex at an April 7 public hearing.

The budget that funds the operations of Valley Regional High School and John Winthrop Middle School was approved on a 7-1 vote at a Feb. 26 meeting after budget review workshop sessions that were held on Jan.. 28 and Feb. 4. Board member Mairio Gioco of Chester cast the single dissenting vote, with Deep River member Lori Wichtowski absent from the Feb. 26 session.

The gross budget is reduced by $297,447 in anticipated revenue to a net education budget of $18,079,984 that will be assessed the taxpayers of Chester, Deep River, and Essex based on each town’s average daily member ship of students at the two secondary schools. The net budget represents a $579,395, or 3.31 percent, increase over the current net appropriation.

Chester, with 240 students, will pay a 24,14 percent, or $4,364,508, share of the budget. The Chester assessment is up by $106,615 from the current town share. Essex, with 446 students, will pay a 44.87 percent, or $8,112,489, share of the budget. The Essex assessment is up by only $30,717 from the current town share. The Essex share is down from the current year, when an Essex ADM of 465 students led to a sharp increase in the town’s share of the Region 4 budget.

But this year it is Deep River that faces a sharp hike in its share of the Region 4 budget. With an average daily membership of 308 students, Deep River will pay a 30.99 percent, or $5,602,924, share of the budget. The Deep River assessment is up by $442,063 from the current amount.

The spending plan includes no new certified positions, with reductions of a half-time art teacher, a reduction in hours for a Latin instructor position, and reducing two secretarial positions at the high school from full year to 10-month positions. The budget plan contains only $43,300 in new spending items, with most of this amount directed toward the purchase of new security cameras at the two schools and gates that could be used to limit access to the school properties at various times.

Board Chairman Chris Riley of Essex said the proposed spending plan is a responsible budget considers the needs of both students and district taxpayers. “It’s always a balancing act to meet the needs of students while using the resources provided by the communities appropriately, and this budget does just that,” he said.

The regional school board may have sweetened it’s spending request Thursday then the panel voted to return a $221,242 surplus from the 2012-2013 budget to the towns. The refund is divided based on the ADM split of the budget, with Essex receiving $98,696, with a return of $62,523 to Deep River, and $60,023 to Chester.

The Region 4 budget also includes a share of a $6,591,307 supervision district budget that is up by 3.14 percent from the current supervision district appropriation. Under Region 4′s complex governing rules, the supervision district budget covers personnel and services that are shared by all five district schools, including the elementary schools in each town. The supervision district budget, which was approved by the combined Region 4 and local school boards at a Feb. 27 meeting, is divided between the Region 4 and elementary school budgets based on the student average daily membership split.

The supervision district budget contains one new position, $68,361 for an instructional technology trainer who would provide assistance and support to teachers at all five district schools in integrating instructional technology in to the classroom curriculum.

Essex Town Meeting Approves Funding for Ivoryton Bridge Projects, Elementary School Natural Gas Conversion

ESSEX— Voters at a town meeting Wednesday approved funding for four special appropriations, including $325,000 for engineering design work for two bridge replacement projects in Ivoryton, and $110,000 to convert Essex Elementary School to natural gas hearting by this fall.

About a dozen residents turned out for the town meeting to approve the appropriations on unanimous show-of-hands votes. Despite the lack of opposition, show of hand votes were required because officials intend to use proceeds from a bonding authorization planned later this year to reimburse the expenditures for the bridge design work and the school natural gas conversion.

A conversion of the elementary school to natural has heating was endorsed by the local board of education last year. John Maziarz Jr., a representative of the Southern Connecticut Gas Co., told residents at the meeting the plan for an extension of the natural gas main south along Route 153 from Westbrook to Essex is on track for construction to begin this summer.

The gas main extension would end at the elementary school in the Centerbrook section, with another extension east along Bokum Road to provide service to the Lee Company and the Essex Meadows lifecare complex. Mazairz said the gas main expansion should be completed and ready to provide service by the start of the next heating season this fall.

The $110,000 appropriation for natural gas conversion at the elementary school was approved on a unanimous vote. The gas company is expected to hold a public information session at town hall later in the spring to provide information to home and business owners along the expansion route on the option, and potential cost savings, of using natural gas for heating and cooling.

Voters also approved a $325,000 appropriation to pay for engineering design for replacement of the Walnut Street and Ivoryton Street bridges in the Ivoryton section. The Walnut Street bridge that spans the Falls River was constructed in 1983 as a temporary replacement for a bridge that was breached in the June 1982 flood. Both bridges were rated in poor condition after a state Department of Transportation inspection last year, a report that led the board of selectmen to expedite plans for the bridge replacement projects.

Both the bridge and elementary school conversion appropriations were transfers from the town’s undesignated fund balance.The selectmen and finance board plan to reimburse the fund balance for the appropriations with proceeds from a bonding authorization that is expected to go to the town’s voters for approval later this year. The bonding authorization would also include funding for actual construction of the bridge replacements, replacement of sections of the elementary school roof, and other large capital improvement projects.

Voters also approved an expenditure of $25,000 from the municipal property sinking fund for renovations and improvements to the ground floor kitchen at town hall. Improvements to the outdated kitchen were needed because the town hall also serves as the town’s emergency operations center, and a possible emergency shelter for residents.

Voters also approved an expenditure of $21,700 from the elementary school capital improvements fund to pay for barrier fencing, a new walk-in cooler, and replacement of ceiling fans in the school building.

Six Member Committee to Direct Review of North Quarter Park for Potential Library Site, Other Uses

CHESTER— The board of selectmen will appoint a six-member volunteer committee to direct a review of North Quarter Park as a potential site for a new library and other possible uses.

Acting on a suggestion from First Selectman Edmund Meehan, the board Tuesday endorsed the idea of a coordinating committee, with members expected to be appointed over the next month. Meehan initially suggested a five member committee to be comprised of representatives of the board of selectmen, the planning and zoning commission, parks and recreation commission, library board of trustees, and the main street project committee, but later agreed to a suggestion for one additional at large member of the volunteer panel.

Meehan said the new committee would coordinate the process of hiring a consultant to prepare a master plan for possible future uses of the 22-acre park located on the north side of Main Street near the intersection with Route 154. The site for a new public library would be one of the potential uses for the park, which currently contains only a small children’s playground.

The selectmen and finance board last month approved a $20,000 appropriation to pay for the study of North Quarter Park, a process which would help determine whether the park is a suitable location for a new library building that would replace the existing Chester Library located in a historic 1907 building on West Main Street. Meehan said a consultant should be hired by early April, with park study reported to be completed by June.

Library trustees have been hoping to reach a final decision on a library expansion project by August, in time for a September 1 deadline to apply for available state grant funding for library construction projects. Meehan said making a final decision, and completing the preliminary schematic plans that are required for the grant application, before September 1 is an “optimistic” goal. “It’s something to work toward,” he said.

Meehan said the consultant hired with the new appropriation for the park study may not be the same the firm that prepares any preliminary site plan for a grant application. He said funding for preparation of site plans for a new library would not be available until the start of the town’s next budget year on July 1.

Chester to Receive $450,000 State Grant for Initial Phase of Main Street Project

CHESTER— Town officials received good news last week with an announcement the town will receive a $450,000 state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant for the initial phase of the long-planned Main Street reconstruction project.

The funding for Chester was one of six STEAP grants for municipalities announced last week by Gov. Dannel Malloy. First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the funding would allow the town to complete the first phase of the Main Street project this year. The initial phase calls for a full reconstruction of Main Street, including new sidewalks from the intersection with Route 154 west to the vicinity of the Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Later phases of the project, covering the commercial area in Chester Village, will be done in 2016 in conjunction with a state Department of Transportation plan to replace the Main Street bridge over Pattaconk Brook. The initial phase of the project is expected to be put out to bid in May, with construction to begin later in the year.

State Rep. Phil Miller, D-Essex, who lobbied for the funding at the capitol, praised Meehan and town public works director John Divas for “doing their homework,” with the application process to make a strong case for the grant funding.

Chester Grand List Drops by 12 Percent After Townwide Property Revaluation

CHESTER— The 2013 grand list of taxable properties is down by 12 percent after the first full townwide property revaluation since 2003, with decreases in all three real estate categories and the personal property total.

Assessor Loreta Zdanys has filed an October 2013 grand list that totals $441,523,635, representing a decrease of $60,354,708, or about 12 percent, from the 2012 grand list total. Motor vehicles was the only category that showed a small increase over the 2012 total.

The townwide property revaluation conducted last year by eQuality Valuation Services of Waterbury was the first full revaluation, with visual inspections of all properties, done in Chester since 2003. The Waterbury firm had also handled the statistical update revaluation that was done in 2008. But the latest revaluation shows the full impact on property values resulting from the national Great Recession that began in the fall of 2008.

The grand list shows a real estate total of $398,423,780 for the town’s 1,858 accounts, a decrease of $60,362,060 from the 2012 real estate total. Along with residential. property, there were also declines in assessed value for the town’s 88 commercial and 14 industrial properties.

There was also a small decrease in the assessment total for the town’s 1,073 personal property accounts, with a 2013 personal property total of $14,434,390, down by $708,450 from the 2012 personal property total. The town’s 4,115 motor vehicle accounts show an assessment total of $28,665,465, up by $705,802 from the 2012 motor vehicles total.

Zdanys said more than 90 percent of the town’s real estate accounts showed a drop in assessed values, though some properties in the vicinity of the downtown village did not show a decrease. In contrast to past revaluation years where property owners were often objecting to higher assessments, Zdanys said there have been some complaints from property owners, particularly those considering selling, that their assessments were too low. Zadanys said the deadline for property owners to file applications to contest their assessments with the elected board of assessment appeals in March 20.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the decrease in the grand list was actually slightly less than he was expecting. “I was expecting closer to a 15 percent drop,” Meehan said, adding “it reflects market conditions.” Meehan said the selectmen and board of finance are prepared to support a transfer from the town’s undesignated fund balance “to ensure a smooth transition’ ‘in the tax rate for 2014.

The current tax rate is 21.95 mills, or $21,95 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. While the tax rate is likely to increase in 2014, most property owners would be paying the higher rate on a lower assessed value for their property. The town’s undesignated fund balance currently totals about $1.8 million.

In recent years, selectmen and the finance board have authorized transfers from the fund balance in the range of $150,000 to $200,000, to limit increase in the tax rate. Lower totals for education spending allowed the town to avoid any transfers from the fund balance for the current 2013 budget.

The town list of top ten taxpayers remained unchanged from 2012. The top ten taxpayers, along with their 2013 assessment totals are Chester Woods Inc. (Chester Village West)-$15,092,330, Whelen Engineering Co. Inc.-$8,400,010, Connecticut Water Co.-$5,181,300, The Eastern Company-$4,065,740, and Connecticut Light and Power Co.-$4,001,560.

Also Whelen Aviation LLC (Chester Airport)-$3,843,340, Roto Frank of America Inc.-$3,620,820, Hayes Properties LLC-$2,248,350, Margaret & Robert Sbriglio (Aaron Manor)-$2,214,990, and Chester Point Real estate LLC-$2,079,830.

Funding Approved to Study North Quarter Park as Potential Chester Library Site

A patron entering the small and historic Chester Public Library (Photo by Jerome Wilson)

A patron entering the small and historic Chester Public Library (Photo by Jerome Wilson)

CHESTER— A special appropriation of $20,000 has been approved for an engineering analysis of North Quarter Park as a potential site for a new Chester library. The board of selectmen and board of finance approved the expenditure last week.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan said the appropriation would allow the library board of trustees to hire an engineering firm to analyze the 22-acre park located on the north side of Main Street near the intersection with Route 154 as a potential library site. The study would also include preparation of a conceptual master plan for the park, which now contains only a small children’s playground.

The focus on North Quarter Park as a potential library site began earlier this month after the board of selectmen expressed reservations about a proposal for a $2.8 million renovation and expansion of the existing library building on West Main Street that would place most of the new construction underground. It was the second proposal in the last two years from library trustees seeking to upgrade and expanded the historic 1907 library building.

Meehan, in a meeting between the selectmen and library trustees on Feb. 4, had noted that building a new library could be less costly than attempting to renovate and expand the historic building, while also eliminating the expense and inconvenience of relocating the library during more than a year of construction.

Meehan said Monday the trustees would now seek proposals from engineering and architectural firms, with the plan and site analysis expected to be completed by early summer. The trustees are hoping to make a final decision on a library expansion plan, and complete schematic drawings for the building project, by August, a step that would allow the town to apply for an available $1 million state grant for library building projects. The grant application has a September deadline for submission.

Deep River Selectmen Pick Chester Firm as Engineers for Plattwood Park Project

DEEP RIVER— The board of selectmen has selected Nathan Jacobson Associates of Chester as the consulting engineers for the grant-funded improvement project at Plattwood Park. Jacobson Associates was one of three firms that submitted proposals and were interviewed by the selectmen and members of the park and recreation commission earlier this month.

The town was awarded a $400,000 state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant last year for the park located off Route 80. The grant is expected to pay for construction of a baseball field, new hiking trails, and handicapped access improvements at the park.

The engineers have been asked to prepare bid documents for the project by late June, with construction to begin in September. First Selectman Richard Smith said the board picked Jacobson Associates because the firm has performed good work for the town on previous projects, including improvements at the solid waste transfer station and the Village Street bridge replacement. The firm has also been used by the planning and zoning commission for engineering review services. Smith said the firm’s fee would be between eight to ten percent of the total cost of the project.

$100,000 for Essex Elementary School Natural Gas Conversion Goes to Town Meeting

ESSEX— Voters will be asked to approve four special appropriations at a March 5 town meeting, including $100,000 to convert the boiler and other equipment at Essex Elementary School for natural gas heating. The town meeting convenes at 4:30 p.m,. in town hall.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said approval of an appropriation for the natural gas conversion would be a final step that would lead Yankee Gas Co. to begin construction on an extension of an existing natural gas line north from Westbrook to end in the vicinity of the elementary school in the Centerbrook section. The gas line would also be extended east on Bokum Road to provide service to the Lee Company and the Essex Meadows life care complex.

The local board of education last year endorsed converting the school from oil-fired hot water to natural gas heating. Nedleman said construction of the natural gas line extension is expected to begin this summer.

Voters will also be asked to approve a $21,700 additional appropriation for the elementary school for three other capital improvements, including new fencing, new ceiling fans for the gymnasium and cafeteria, and a walk-in storage cooler for the cafeteria.

Voters will also be asked to authorize a $325,000 special appropriation to pay for engineering design services for two bridge replacement projects, including replacement of the Walnut Street and Ivory Street bridges in the Ivoryton section. The bridges were rated in poor condition last fall after a state Department of Transportation inspection, with the board of selectmen moving to speed up plans to replace the two bridges.

Needleman said both the $100,000 for natural gas conversion at the elementary school and the $325,000 for engineering services would be transferred from the town’s undesignated fund balance, and then reimbursed with the proceeds from a larger bonding authorization for major capital projects that is expected to go to the town’s voters for approval later this year. The bonding plan would also include replacement of sections of the elementary school roof.

The final item on the March 5 agenda is an appropriation of $25,000 from the municipal property sinking fund for renovations to the kitchen that is located off the auditorium on the ground floor of town hall. The town hall auditorium is the town’s polling place for elections and referendums.

Approval of Zoning Variance Allows New Ivoryton Restaurant to Apply for Liquor License

ESSEX— The approval of a zoning variance will allow the Blue Hound Cookery to apply for a state license to sell beer and wine. The zoning board of appeals unanimously approved the variance Tuesday after a brief public hearing.

The restaurant, which has a Cajun-Creole-style menu, opened late last fall in the 107 Main St. space that was occupied for years by Aggie’s Restaurant, a breakfast/lunch establishment that closed last June. A variance was required because the front entrance to the Blue Hound Cookery is 175-feet from the entrance to the Ivoryton Tavern, another full service restaurant on Summit Street. Town zoning regulations require a 200-foot separation distance between establishments selling alcoholic beverages. The zoning commission did not object to the variance request.

 

Three Engineering Firms Submit Proposals for Deep River Platwood Park Improvement Project

DEEP RIVER— The board of selectmen has interviewed three engineering firms to guide grant-funded improvements at the town’s Plattwood Park. The board is expected to select a firm at its Feb. 25 meeting, with work on the park improvements expected to begin by September.

Joining the selectmen at Tuesday’s meeting were parks and recreation commission chairwoman Tracy Woodcock and commission member Grace Petroka. Firms that submitted proposals are Nathan Jacobson Associates of Chester, which has provided engineering services for the town previously, Malone & McBroom of Cheshire, and Weston & Sampson of Rocky Hill.

The town was awarded a $400,000 state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant last summer for improvements at the 23-acre park located off Route 80. The park, which has been owned by the town since the early 1980s, includes a former sand and gravel quarry pond.

First Selectman Richard Smith said the selectmen and the parks and recreation commission have agreed that priorities for the grant funded improvements would be construction of a new baseball field, improved hiking trails, and various Americans With Disabilities Act handicapped access improvements. Smith said the firms have been asked to be prepared to complete bid documents for the project by June, with work on the improvements at the park to begin by September.

Chester Library Trustees Are Asked to Consider Building a New Library at North Quarter Park

CHESTER— The library board of trustees has agreed to investigate the option of constructing a new library at North Quarter Park in place of expanding the historic existing library building on West Main Street.

The decision comes after a Feb. 4 meeting with the board of selectmen, where the selectmen asked the trustees to more fully explore the option of building a new library at the 22-acre park located on the east end of Main Street, near the intersection with Route 154. The trustees have been focused for the past two years on a building plan that would renovate and expand the historic 1907 library building on West Main Street.

Library trustees in December presented a revised plan for a $2.8 million expansion plan that would focus most of the new construction underground as an extension of the existing lower level of the building. A more costly $3.09 million expansion plan with above-ground extensions of the existing building had received a mixed response from residents when it was presented in 2012.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan said this week he, and the other two selectmen, had numerous questions about the plan for an underground expansion. “I have some reservations about spending money on an underground library,” he said.

Meehan said the option of building a new library at North Quarter Park has never been fully explored since the library trustees began considering a building renovation and expansion project more than two years ago. Meehan said building a new library could be less costly than attempting to renovate and expand the existing historic building, while also avoiding the expense, and inconvenience, of relocating the library for more than a year during construction at the existing building.

Terry Schreiber, chairwoman of the elected library board of trustees, said the board, with reluctance among some members, had agreed at a meeting Monday to investigate the option of building a new library at North Quarter Park. Schreiber noted that residents had expressed a preference for retaining the existing library building during surveys and public forums held in 2011. She acknowledged that constructing a new building would avoid some of the problems associated with the existing site, including the need to move the library to an undetermined location for more than a year during construction.

Schreiber said the trustees would request an appropriation to pay for an engineering analysis of the feasibility and potential cost of building a new library at the park. A $20,000 state grant had paid for the preliminary plans that were prepared by a South Windsor architectural firm on the two expansion options for the existing building. Schreiber said the trustees are hoping to make a final decision on a building plan by August to meet a September deadline to apply for a $1 million state grant that will be available for library building projects later this year. The town would need a confirmed site, and preliminary schematic plans for a building project, to apply for the state grant

Essex Planning Commission Begins 10-Year Update of Town Plan of Conservation and Development With Session Thursday

ESSEX— The planning commission is holding a series of public forums as it begins the process of updating the town plan of conservation and development. The first session, focusing on the Ivoryton village area, is scheduled for Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall.

Cities and towns are encouraged to update their plan of conservation and development every ten years. The Essex POCD was last revised in 2005. The plan update is expected to address several land use and development issues, with an aim of setting goals and standards for the next ten years. Issues to be addressed in the 10-year update include affordable housing, acquisition of open space land, zoning and subdivision regulations, sidewalk improvements, and possible expansion of public water and/or sewer lines.

The commission is hoping to complete most of the work on the plan update this year. The panel is planning five public information and cviscussion forums focused on five separate sections of town, begging with Ivoryton village and continuing in the coming months with Centerbrook village, Essex village, the Bokum Center area around Westbrook Road (Route 153), and the Route 9 Gateway-Plains Road area.

New Ivoryton Restaurant Needs Zoning Variance For Sale of Beer and Wine

ESSEX— The zoning board of appeals has scheduled a Feb. 18 public hearing on an appeal that would allow the Blue Hound Cookery in Ivoryton to sell beer and wine with its restaurant menu. The Feb. 18 hearings begin at 7:30 p.m. at town hall, with four other appeals on the board’s agenda that evening.

The Blue Hound Cookery opened late last fall in the 107 Main Street space that was previously occupied by Aggie’s Restaurant, an establishment that usually offered breakfast and lunch only. The restaurant is now open for both lunch and dinner, with a Cajun-Creole-style menu. Owner Matt Carroll is hoping to obtain a liquor license to sell beer and wine in an establishment that is currently BYOB.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow said Friday Carroll needs a variance because his front entrance is 175-feet from the entrance to the Ivoryton Tavern on Summit Street. Zoning regulations call for a 200-foot distance between restaurants selling alcoholic beverages. Budrow said he has no plans to oppose the variance request at the ZBA meeting.

Essex Selectmen Seek Appropriation for Bridge Projects Engineering Design Work

ESSEX— The board of selectmen will seek a $325,000 appropriation from the town’s undesignated fund balance to pay for engineering design work for two bridge replacement projects in the Ivoryton section.

The board endorsed the appropriation at its meeting Wednesday, with the board of finance expected to consider the requested expenditure at a meeting later this month. The appropriation would also need approval from voters at a town meeting.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said the current estimate for engineering design work is $225,000 for the Walnut Street bridge, and $100,000 for the smaller Ivory Street bridge. Both bridges that span the Falls River were constructed in 1983 as replacements for bridges destroyed in the June 1982 flood.

Selectmen had been planning to fund all costs related to the bridge replacement projects from a capital projects bond issue that is expected to go to the voters for approval later this year. But inspection reports from the state Department of Transportation confirmed that both bridges are in poor condition, leading the board to expedite plans for the replacement projects.

In endorsing the $325,000 appropriation Wednesday, the selectmen recommended the expenditure be reimbursed to the fund balance with proceeds from the larger capital projects bonding authorization. A committee is now working to finalize a list of projects, and cost estimates, for the proposed bonding authorization, with a plan for the projects expected to be presented to voters at a public hearing by this summer.

Needleman said the town would hire an engineering firm for the bridge projects after the requested appropriation is approved, with a goal of putting the bridge projects out to bid later this year.

In other business Wednesday, selectmen accepted the resignation of Chris Pugliuco from the honorary position of town historian. Pugliuco had assumed the position after the death in 2009 of author and longtime town historian Donald Malcarne. Anyone interested in serving as town historian for Essex is urged to contact the selectmen’s office.

Deep River Zoning Board of Appeals Overturns Zoning Condition on Grove Street Industrial Building

DEEP RIVER— The zoning board of appeals Tuesday overturned a condition on a new industrial building at 16 Grove St. that was included by Zoning enforcement Officer Cathy Jefferson as part of the required certificate of zoning compliance for the structure.

The board’s decision came after a nearly two hour public hearing that featured dueling arguments from three attorneys, with Essex lawyer John Bennet representing property owner Raymond Galeotti, Middletown lawyer William Howard representing Jefferson and the planning and zoning commission, and Old Saybrook lawyer David Royston representing the ZBA.

The 8,400 square-foot building was constructed last year after Galeotti received zoning approval in the summer of 2012. Galeotti received a special permit from the planning and zoning commission for what he described as an expansion of his existing business on the site, a jewelry engraving business called Eve’s Addiction. He also received a variance from the ZBA because the planning and zoning commission had adopted new village district regulations for the area, a move that made the existing 50-year-old industrial building on the parcel a non-conforming use.

After the building was completed last summer, Jefferson included a condition on the certificate of zoning compliance noting the structure was for use only as an expansion of the existing business. Jefferson said Tuesday the condition was based on information presented by Galeotti at the July 2012 public hearing on his permit application, and because the more recent village district regulations made the 16 Gove St. parcel non-conforming. Grove Street is a mostly residential street that extends south off Bridge Street to end at the 16 Grove Street parcel.

Bennet, presenting meeting minutes for both the PZC and ZBA, maintained the condition on future use was never included in the July 2012 approvals for the industrial building. He acknowledged that any separate uses in the building would require approval from the PZC, but maintained Jefferson had “no authority” to impose the condition now on the certificate of zoning compliance, which is tied to a required certificate of occupancy.

Bennet said Galeotti needed a “clean” certificate of occupancy from the town, and contended the condition had interfered with his efforts to sell a portion of his business, and lease a portion of the building that is not needed by the business at the present time. In sometimes angry testimony where he threatened a lawsuit against the town, Galeotti said the condition had disrupted his plans to sell a large share of his business to a company that also owns the From You Flowers business in Old Saybrook. Geleotti added that he is now planning to move Eve’s Addictiion, and its 25 employees, to space in Old Saybrook in the spring.

Jefferson and Howard said the use of the new building in December by From You Flowers had led to new complaints from nearby residents, leading Jefferson to stand by the condition during discussions with Bennet in December. Howard said the provision on use by the existing business was “more a statement of fact” based on zoning regulations than a condition.

Priscilla Lerner, of 15 Grove St,, said the pre-holiday use of the building by the flower business led to a sharp increase in traffic and parking on the dead-end street. “The street is too small for it,” Lerner said, adding that she suspects Galeotti had always planned the 8,400 square-foot building for other uses beyond the jewelry engraving business.

The board relied heavily on advice by Royston in it’s deliberations on the appeal. The attorney urged the board to overturn the condition because it had not been specifically included on the ZBA and PZC approvals in July 2012, and to avoid any effort to direct future decisions on use of the property. “I don’t think you have to decide anything more about the property to sustain the appeal,” Royston said..

Essex Grand List Drops by 7.72 Percent After Revaluation

ESSEX— Assessor Jessica Sypher has filed an October 2013 grand list of taxable property that totals $1,033,200,611, representing a revaluation-driven decrease of $86,418,685, or 7.72 percent, from the current grand list total.

In the first full revaluation with visual; inspections of all properties since 2003, a sharp decrease in real estate values was only slightly offset by small increases in the assessment totals for personal property and motor vehicles. The town’s 3,407 real estate accounts show an assessment total of $942,519,420, a decrease of $89,567,020, or 8.68 percent, from the current real estate total. The revaluation, conducted last year by Vision Appraisal Government Solutions of Northboro, Mass., captured much of the decline in both residential and commercial property values associated with the nationwide Great Recession that began in the fall of 2008.

The last townwide adjustment of property values was a revaluation update that was completed in 2007. Vision Appraisal handled both the 2003 full revaluation and the 2007 statistical update. Sypher said more than half of the real estate accounts, including most commercial properties, showed a decrease in assessed value.

But some assessments remained roughly the same, and Sypher estimated about 300 residential properties in various neighborhoods show an increase in assessed values. Most of the properties with a higher assessed value are located near the Connecticut River, or the Mill Pond of the Falls River in the Ivoryton and Centerbrook sections.

The town’s 718 personal property accounts show an assessment total of $29,585,631, an increase of $915,055 from the current personal property total. The town’s 7,627 motor vehicle accounts show an assessment total of $61,095,560, an increase of $2,233,280 from the current motor vehicles total.

Sypher estimated the decline in the grand list would represent a loss of about $1.6 million in tax revenue at the current tax rate of 18.99 mills, or $18.99 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The tax rate for 2014-2015 will be determined through the town budget approval process that concludes with a town meeting or referendum vote on a spending plan in May.

Sypher said property owners objecting to their new assessment may file an appeal with the elected board of assessment appeals, which holds hearings in March that could result in adjustments to some assessments. The deadline for applying for a hearing with the board of assessment appeals in Feb. 20.

Essex Top Ten Tax Payers

The town’s list of the top ten tax payers remained largely unchanged from recent years, but with one new addition. SKR Partners LLC, which is handling development of the high value Foxboro Point subdivision near the Connecticut River, took the number four spot on the list. All Waste Inc. slipped out of the top ten. The town’s largest taxpayer remains the Essex Meadows Properties Inc. life care facility on Bokum Road with an assessment total of $22,875,400.

Others in the top ten, with the current assessment totals, are Lee Company-$7,367,350, Connecticut Light and Power Co.-$6,480,780, SKR Partners LLC-$5,413,200, The Griswold Inn LLC-$3,369,800, Essex Savings Bank-$3,340,440, Stepher R. Cline successor trustee-$3,276,600, MacBeth Ventures LLC-$2,759,500, Herbert T. Clark III-$2,742,260, and River Properties Inc.-$2,295,3909.

Deep River Grand List Up 0.47 Percent for 2013

DEEP RIVER— Assessor Robin O’Loughlin has filed an October 2013 grand list of taxable property that totals $490,407,091, an increase of $2,307,140, or 0.47 percent, from the current grand list total.

The list shows small increases for real estate and motor vehicles, and a small decrease in personal property assessments. The town’s 2,182 real estate accounts show an assessment total of $440,646,940, an increase of $2,480,110 from the current real estate total. The town’s 4,874 motor vehicle accounts show an assessment total of $33,015,550, an increase of $839,280 from the current motor vehicles total.

The town’s 441 personal property accounts show an assessment total of $15,905,321, representing a decrease of $1,012,250 from the current personal property total. O’Loughlin said much of the decrease is a result of manufacturing equipment becoming eligible for expanded statewide tax exemptions.

First Selectman Richard Smith said the small increase, which will generate about $60,000 in new tax revenue at the current tax rate of 25.08 mills, is better than a loss. “It’s not as much as I would like, but it’s still going up,” he said. The grand list was up by 1.21 percent in 2012.

The town’s top ten taxpayers was unchanged from recent years. The top ten taxpayers, with the current assessments, are Connecticut Light and Power Co.-$5,279,976, BDRM Inc.-$4,171,936, Mislick Family Limited Partners-$3,175,245, Silgan Plastics Corp.-$2,968,020, Deep River Associates LLC-$2,605,680, Thomas Boyd & K. Dernocoeur-$2,430,610, 180 Main Street Partners LLC-$2,277,450, Goodspeed Leasing Co LLC-$2,145,010, Jerome and Marlene Scharr-$1,923,180, and Virginia B. Linburg-$1,881,950. The Linburg, Scharr and Boyd-Dernocoeur properties are high value residential properties located on or near the Connecticut Rver.

March Zoning Hearing Expected for Essex Elderly Housing Expansion

ESSEX— The zoning commission is expected to schedule a March 17 public hearing on a special permit application for a proposed 22-unit elderly and affordable housing complex that would be an expansion of the existing Essex Court elderly housing complex in the Centerbrook section. The Essex Place development proposed by Essex Elderly and Affordable Housing Inc., a non-profit organization established by the Essex Housing Authority, would locate the 22 units, including four two-bedroom units, on a one-acre parcel on the west side of the Essex Court property.

The housing authority established the non-profit group last year after receiving a $250,000 planning grant from the state Department of Housing to pursue a long-discussed expansion of elderly and affordable housing in town. The existing 36-unit Essex Court complex opened in 1985, and has been upgraded in recent years, but never expanded with additional units.

The expansion plan received a setback last October, when the zoning board of appeals denied several variances that would be required under current town zoning regulations for the 22-unit complex designed by Quisenberry Architects of Farmington. But the EEAH group has filed its zoning permit application under state statute 8-30G, a law and process that is intended to promote additional affordable housing in Connecticut. Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow said this week the 8-30G provision would allow the zoning commission to consider a permit application for the project without prior approval of variances from the ZBA.

Budrow said the commission lacked a quorum at Monday’s meeting, but is expected to schedule a March 17 public hearing on the Essex Place application at its next meeting on Feb. 24.

Interim Principal Serving at Deep River Elementary School

DEEP RIVER— Nancy Haslam, an East Haddam resident and former principal at Cohanzie Elementary School in Waterford, has been appointed as interim principal at Deep River Elementary School through the end of June. Haslam began working at the school on Jan. 2, replacing Jennifer Byars in the leadership position.

Byars, a Deep River resident, announced in late November that she had accepted a position as assistant superintendent for the Ledyard school district. Byars, who had worked previously in Ledyard, was hired in June 2012, and served as principal in Deep River for about 18 months. She had replaced Jack Pietrick, who retired in 2012 after serving as principal at the Deep River school for 13 years.

Haslam was interviewed by the Deep River Board of Education and appointed as interim principal at a Nov. 26 meeting. Haslam has a 40-year career in public education, serving most recently as principal at the Cohanzie Elementary School in Waterford. She is an elected member of the East Haddam Board of Education, and has served as board chairwoman. The school board will advertise the principal position in the spring, with a goal of hiring a new permanent principal for the school by the end of June.

Deep River Zoning Board of Appeals Hearing Rescheduled to Feb 4

DEEP RIVER— The zoning board of appeals meeting that had been set for Tuesday evening has been rescheduled to Feb. 4 due to the Tuesday snow storm. The board’s public hearing is scheduled to begin at 7:30 p.m. in town hall.

The board will hold a public hearing on an appeal from Raymond Galeotti of the conditions included in a zoning compliance certificate for a new 8,400 square-foot industrial building located at 16 Grove St. The planning and zoning commission in July 2012 approved a special permit for the building that was presented as part of an expansion of Galeotti’s existing business, Centerbrook Sales/Eve’s Addiction. The company that makes engraved jewelry for internet sales is located in an existing 6,600 square-foot building located on the 2.5-acre parcel at the end of Grove Street, a dead-end street extending south off Bridge Street.

Zoning enforcement Officer Cathy Jefferson included a condition that the building was for an expansion of the existing business as part of the zoning compliance certificate that was issued for the completed building late last fall. But Jefferson learned in late November that Galleotti had advertised the new space for lease, and has not been using it for an expansion of the existing business. In the appeal, Galeotti is asking the ZBA to change the conditions of the zoning compliance certificate.

Chester Democrats and Republicans Select Town Committees for 2014-2016

CHESTER— Town democrats and republicans selected town committees for the 2014-2016 term at party caucuses held earlier this month. The new two-year terms for town committees begin in March.

Democrats have selected a 25-member town committee that includes four new or returning members. New members include Karen Badger, Marta Daniels, and former Old Saybrook First Selectman Roger Goodnow, who moved to Chester in 2012 after serving previously as the elected judge of probate in Old Saybrook. Returning to the committee is former school board member Lynn Pease. Six members of the current town committee stepped aside, including Robert Bibbiani, Lawrence DeBernardo, Pastelis Kehayias, John Yrchik, Issac Ruiz, and Margaret Meehan.

Incumbents returning to the Democratic town committee include Samuel Chorches,, Lori Ann Clymas, Joe Cohen, David Fitzgibbons, Robert Gorman, Errol Horner, Arthur Heneck, Charlene Jenecek, Henry Krempel, Justin Kronholm, Suzane Levine, First Selectman Edmund Meehan, James Miller, James Ready, Sandra Senior-Dauer, Lynne Stiles, Selectman Lawrence Sypher, Jane Zanardi, former selectman and current committee chairman Peter Zanardi, and Kurt Zeimann.

Republicans have selected a 26-member town committee that includes two new members, Alex Strekel and Virgil Lloyd. Stepping aside from the current committee is Alexa Jamieson.

Incumbents returning to the Republican town committee are current committee chairman Mario Gioco, Laura Gioco, Ashley Marsh, former Selectman Bruce Watrous, Beverly Watrous Joyce Aley, Joel Severance, Selectman Tom Englert, Terri Englert, Karl Ohaus, Tracey Ohaus, joni Malcynsky, David Clark, john Hutson, Kristan Seifert, Melvin Seifert, Carolina Marguez-Sterling, Maria Ruberto, Victor Hoehnebart, Jill Sakidovitch, Brian Sakidovitch, Jamie Grzybowski, Doreen Joslow and Jon Joslow.

Town is Included in Lawsuit Involving Essex Veterans Memorial Hall

ESSEX— The town has been included in a recent lawsuit involving the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall because of its status as a fall back owner of the building and property located off Route 154 in the Centerbrook section.

The lawsuit, filed last month in Middlesex superior Court by local attorney Michael Peck, springs from a dispute that developed among EVMH members last year. Peck, a Chester resident who is a veteran, contends local resident Michael Bergeron, a Gulf War veteran, was permanently, and improperly, banned from the club area that serves alcoholic beverages, and also from participating in townwide veterans events held at the property.

The building, a former school that includes a bar area and a meeting room, was town property in 1946 when, at the request of returning World War II veterans, it was conveyed by a town meeting vote to an entity listed as Essex Veterans Memorial Hall Inc. for use as a meeting hall for area veterans. It has been used in subsequent years as a meeting hall for the local Veterans of Foreign Wars post, and also occasionally by other veterans groups. The surrounding, triangle-shaped property is the terminus of the town’s annual Memorial Day Parade and site of the November 11 Veterans Day ceremony. The property also contains a granite war memorial, listing the names of all local veterans dating back to World War I, that was erected in 2001.

Peck contends in the lawsuit that his research indicates that Essex Veterans Memorial Hall Inc. forfeited its non-profit status in 1971 after failing to file required annual reports with the Secretary of the State’s Office. The suit also contends a newer Essex Veterans Memorial Hall Inc. established in 1993 has also not filed required reports for recent years. EVMH is governed by a board of directors that is comprised of area veterans. The lawsuit also claims the bar operation at the hall is under investigation by the state Liquor Control Division for alleged violations of liquor control laws.

Peck, in a recent statement on the case, said Bergeron is asking the court to clarify the status of the property and the Essex Veterans Memorial Hall Inc. organization that is charged with supervising it. He said Begeron wants the property to be maintained as a meeting hall for area veterans.

Jerry Lamark, a Chester resident who is the current president of EVMH, this week declined to comment on details of the lawsuit. Lamark said the hall remains open seven days each week, and continues to offer the meeting room for use by the VFW or any other veterans organizations. Lamark said the hall’s board of directors has retained an attorney, and are working to resolve any outstanding issues related to operation of the bar. “We’re trying to save the hall,” he said.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said last week the town views lawsuit as “an internal issue” for the veterans groups, and would like to limit its involvement in the case. “I want them to resolve their issues and function to the benefit of local veterans,” he said. The board of selectmen has discussed the lawsuit in closed sessions at two recent meetings.

Deep River Zoning Board of Appeals Sets Jan. 21 Public Hearing on Status of New Industrial Building

DEEP RIVER— The zoning board of appeals has scheduled a Jan. 21 public hearing on an appeal of the zoning status for a new 8,400-square-foot industrial building at 16 Grove St. The meeting begins Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. in town hall.

Raymond Galeotti, owner of Centerbrook Sales/Eve’s Addiction, a jewelry engraving business focused on internet sales, is appealing the conditions on a certificate of zoning compliance issued by late last fall by zoning enforcement Officer Cathy Jefferson. The planning and zoning commission in July 2012 approved a special permit for the new industrial building as an expansion of the existing 6,600 square-foot industrial building located on a 2.5-acre parcel, at 16 Grove St., a dead-end street extending south off Bridge Street. Galeotti had said during the commission’s public hearing on his permit application the expansion would add about five new jobs to the company’s workforce.

The permit was approved for an expansion of Galeotti’s existing business, with Jefferson including that condition as part of the certificate of zoning compliance for the recently completed structure. Jefferson said earlier this week that she learned in late November that Galeotti had advertised the new space for lease, and has not been using it for an expansion of his existing business.

In other business, the board’s Jan. 21 agenda also includes consideration of a “settlement proposal’ from resident George Bartlett for a lawsuit against the ZBA involving his property at 444 Main St., on the south end of town. Bartlett filed suit against the board in the fall of 2012 amid a dispute over whether the board had approved a variance allowing a used car dealership in the industrial building on the west side of Main St., also known as Route 154.

The planning and zoning commission objected to what it contended was an improper use variance for the car dealership, and the ZBA later determined it had granted only a dimensional variance of the road frontage requirement for the property. In subsequent months Bartlettt has leased most, but not all, of the building to a small manufacturing business, and most recently, for a dog dare care business that received a special permit approval from the planning and zoning commission last month.

Essex Democrats and Republicans Select Town Committees for 2014-2016

ESSEX— Town Democrats and Republicans selected town committees for the 2014-2016 term at party caucuses and nominating sessions held over the past week. The new two-year term for town committee members begins in March.

Democrats, who have held the elected majority on the three-member board of selectmen since 2003, selected a 27 member town committee, leaving three seats open on a total authorized membership of 30. Members were asked to confirm their interest and intent to serve before Tuesday’s endorsement session, with three current members stepping down from the committee, including Matthew Cooper, Earl Fowler, and Lee Rowley, who served as town chairman in the early 2000s.

The 27 member committee is comprised entirely of incumbents, including Cathy Bishop, Mark Bombaci, Brian Cournoyer, William Doane, former First Selectman Carl Ellison, Lois Ely, and Geraldine Ficarra,. Also newly elected Town Treasurer James Francis, Frank Hall, Tax Collector Megan Haskins, Campbell Hudson, Jonathan James, Louisa Ketron, Loretta McClusky, and State Rep. Phil Miller. Also First Selectman Norman Needleman, Mary Ann Pleva, Selectwoman Stacia Libby, Lon Seidman, Stanley Sheppard, Lawrence Shipman, Deputy Secretary of the State James Spallone, John Stannard, Claire Tiernan, Kathleen Tucker, committee Chairman Fred Vollono, and Alvin Wolfgram.

Republicans selected a 26-member town committee at a party caucus last week. Three members stepped down from the panel, including Lynn Faulstick, Leigh Rankion, and Elizabeth Schellens. Committee member and former Republican State Central Committee member Neil Nichols died last July. The committee includes five new or returning members, including Selectman Bruce Glowac, who served as first selectman from 1991-1995 and was elected to the board again last year, Robert Fisher, Peter Decker, James Palagonia, and Melanie Phoenix. Decker and Palegonia were the party’s unsuccessful candidates for board of finance in the only contested races of last year’s town election.

Incumbents returning to the GOP panel are John Ackerman, Susie Beckman, Herb Clark, committee Chairman Edward Cook, Alexander Daddona, Ann Dixon, D.G. Fitton, Adrienne Forrest, John Heiser, James Hill, Donna Hyde, Jerri Macmillian, 2011 first selectman nominee Bruce Macmillian, newly installed Town Clerk Joel Marzi, Barbara Ryan, David Sousa, Terry Stewart, Alice Van Deursen, Gary Van Deursen, and June Wilson.

Deep River Democrats and Republicans Select Town Committees for 2014-2016 Term

DEEP RIVER— Town Democrats and Republicans have selected town committees for the 2014-2016 term after party caucuses held over the past week. The new town committee terms begin in March.

Democrats have selected a 26 member town committee that has three new members, Janet Edgarton, Stephen Bibbiani, and Karol Tulp Magee. Two members of the current committee stepped aside, John Bairos and Stella Beaudoin. Democrats have controlled the majority on the three-member board of selectmen since First Selectman’s Richard Smith’s election to a second term in 1991.

Incumbents returning to the Democratic panel include Carmela Balducci, Leigh Balducci, former Speaker of the House Richard Balducci, current committee Chairwoman and Tax Collector Lisa Bibbiani, Cindy Cosme, former Selectman Richard Daniels Jr., Dorothy DeMichael, Bruce Edgarton, Nancy Fishbach, Joanne Grabek. George Howard and Carol Jones. Also Ann Joy, Jonathan Kastner, Russell Marth, Mary Maraschiello, Selectman Angus McDionald Jr., Alan Miezejeski, Roy Monte, Valerie Nucci, Mark Reyher, Carol Smith, and Richard Smith.

Republicans have picked a 16 member town committee that includes two new members, Michelle Grow and Doug Nagan. Three members of the current committee stepped aside, Mary Brownlee, Robert Edgeworth, and Margot Gamerdinger.

Incumbents returning to the Republican panel include committee Chairman Gargory Alexander, Louise Cowan, Douglas Dopp, William Harris, Alice Johnson, Town Treasurer Thomas Lindner, Joyce Winterstein, Selectman David Oliveria, Rolf Peterson, Donald Routh, Grace Stalsburg, Cynthia Stannard, Rosemary Unan, and Town Clerk Amy Winchell.

Essex Selectmen Delay Changes to Delay of Demolition Ordinance – Seek Input from Historical Society

ESSEX— The board of selectmen will delay action on any possible changes to the town’s delay of demolition ordinance, seeking input from the Essex Historical Society and the planning commission before considering any changes that would be brought to the voters for approval at a town meeting.

The board discussed possible changes to the 2004 town ordinance, which includes a 90 days delay of demolition rule for structures older than 75 years, at a Dec. 18 meeting, First Selectman Norman Needleman suggested several possible changes, including setting a fixed date of 1900 for houses and other structures to qualify for the delay of demolition rule, and requiring the town historian and Essex Historical Society to request a delay of demolition for a structure. The current ordinance allows any resident to petition the building official for a 90 days delay of demolition on a structure older than 75 years, for a current trigger date of structures built before 1939.

It was these possible changes, particularly the 1900 trigger date, that brought several members of the historical society to Wednesday’s meeting to raise objections. The group included appointed town historian Chris Pugliuco, Eve Potts, and Shirley Malcarne, window of the late long-time town historian and author Donald Malcarne. It was Malcarne, who had written several books about the town’s historic structures, that pushed for adoption of the ordinance, and the current wording, in 2004.

Potts said she “strongly objects” to any changes that would weaken the ordinance She said the ordinance is doing what it was intended to do, providing a 90 days review period for structures that may have historic value. Pugliuco noted that many structures built in the 1920s, including factory houses and Sears Roebuck kit houses, have now become historically and architecturally significant.

Needleman said the board’s review of the ordinance is just beginning, with no immediate plans to present any proposed revisions to a town meeting. He said the board would seek input from the historical society and the planning commission, and then hold a public hearing on any possible changes.

Needleman added that he is “not close minded” about a 1900 trigger date for the ordinance, while adding that he was “never happy” with the current “rolling date” set at 75 years. Selectman Bruce Glowac said the board should be cautious in setting any fixed trigger date for the ordinance.

Chester Planning and Zoning Rejects Town Plan Changes for Aaron Manor But Opens Option for Sewer Connection

CHESTER— The planning and zoning commission has rejected changes to the town plan of conservation and development that were requested by the Aaron Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility, but in a carefully worded decision, gave the facility the option of pursuing a connection to the municipal sewer system.

The commission unanimously approved a motion on the Aaron Manor application after the close of a public hearing on Dec. 12. The nursing facility located off Route 148 is under an order from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to upgrade its septic system, and opening the option of connecting to the municipal sewer system that serves the downtown village was the major reason the request for the changes to the town plan

Aaron Manor representatives, along with many town officials and commission members, believed a revision to the 2009 town plan was necessary for the planning and zoning commission, and other town commissions, to consider any proposal to connect to the municipal system. This led to three months of discussion on the merits of revising the town plan, including a Sept. 12 informal public hearing, a November town meeting, and the formal public hearing with the PZC on Dec. 12.

But after lengthy discussion, the commission determined that changes to the language of the town plan are not required for the town to consider any sewer connection plan put forward by Aaron Manor. Commission Secretary Sally Murray noted during discussion that the plan includes a phrase “where appropriate” that would allow alternatives to on-site septic systems under certain conditions. The motion approved by the panel specifies that changes to the town plan would be “redundant” because the plan already allows consideration of “numerous possible septage alternatives and designs.”

First Selectman Edmund Meehan, who had supported revising the town plan to provide an option for Aaron Manor, said the commission’s decision would give town agencies the option of considering any sewer connection proposal from Aaron Manor. “They left the door open,” he said.

Engineers for Aaron Manor have said both options, constructing a new and larger on-site sewage disposal system that meets state approval, or constructing a new sewer line more than 1.5 miles east along Route 148 to connect to the municipal system, are very costly. Meehan has said any sewer connection would have to be funded by Aaron Manor, and would require approval from the town’s water pollution control authority and voters at a town meeting.

Essex Zoning Approves One Year Moritorium on Medical Marijuana Applications

ESSEX-– The zoning commission has approved a one-year moratorium on any permit applications related to the new state law allowing medical marijuana. The unanimous approval at a Dec. 16 meeting puts Essex on a growing list of more than a dozen Connecticut towns that in recent weeks have adopted temporary limits on medical marijuana related applications.

The moratorium, which was proposed by the commission and runs through the end of 2014, was approved after a public hearing where the temporary limit drew no objections. The commission will use the coming year to develop possible regulations for medical marijuana related growing facilities and dispensaries, and determine which, if any, zones in town such uses could be allowed under a special permit approval.

The panel also continued a public hearing on the prohibition of certain commercial uses in the downtown Essex Village District. The prohibitions proposed by the commission include check cashing establishments, tattoo and massage parlors, adult-themed stores, and head shops. The public hearing will resume at the commission’s next meeting on Jan. 27.

Public Information Forum on New Chester Library Expansion Plan

CHESTER—Trustees for the Chester Library have scheduled a Jan. 11 public information forum on a new expansion plan for the library building that would focus most of the new space on an underground lower level. The “community conversation” on the new expansion plan begins at 10 a.m. at the Chester Meeting House, with a snow date set for Saturday Jan. 25.

The trustees and library supporters have been working for nearly two years to develop a plan to expand the historic 1907 library building and make the structure fully accessible for handicapped persons. Using a $20,000 state grant, the trustees hired a South Windsor architectural firm to prepare preliminary expansion plans. A plan for a 2,000 square-foot expansion, with a $3.09 million estimated price, that would double the size of the existing building drew a mixed response from residents at two information forums held early this year.

Architect Ken Best has prepared a new plan for a slightly smaller expansion that would extend the lower level on the west side of the building. The cost of the new, lower level expansion has been estimated at about $2.8 million. In a statement announcing the Jan. 11 session, the trustees noted the new plan would “preserve the fa├žade of the building and its historic main floor while creating a fully accessible facility at a lower level.”

Library representatives presented the new plan to the board of selectmen at a Dec. 3 meeting, and were urged by the selectmen to hold another public forum to test community reaction to the new plan. Based on the public response, there could be a request for town funding for red test borings that would confirm feasibility of the new plan. The goal is to bring an expansion plan to the town’s voters in a bonding referendum sometime in 2014.

Deep River Homicide Victim Identified, Margaret Rohner, 45

DEEP RIVER– State police have identified the woman who was stabbed to death Thursday in a rented house at 131 Rattling Valley Road as 45-year old Margaret Rohner. Police have arrested and charged her son, 22-year-old Robert O. Rankin, with murder in the slaying.

Rohner’s body was found Thursday afternoon after her former husband, local resident Robert Rankin Jr., 54, called police around 1 p.m. to report that he believed his son had stabbed his ex-wife. After questioning and investigation at the scene, detectives arrested Robert O. Ranking for murder.

Rankin was presented Friday at Middlesex Superior Court in Middletown, where a judged ordered him held on $1milliion bond and placed on a suicide watch while in custody. Rankin’s next court appearance is set for Feb. 4. According to information released after the courant appearance, state troopers reported that Rankin had admitted to stabbing his mother to death sometime Thursday morning.

Local Man Arrested for Murder of His Mother at Rattling Valley Road Home

DEEP RIVER— State police have arrested a local man for murder in the stabbing death of his mother in a house at 131 Rattling Valley Road. Robert Rankin, 22, was arrested late Thursday and presented Friday at Middlesex Superior Court in Middletown. He was ordered held in custody on a $1 million bond.

State police were called to the home, located off a common driveway on the eastern end of Rattling Valley Road, around 1 p.m. Thursday by Rankin’s father, Robert Rankin Jr.

According to information released at the court appearance, Rankin Jr. told troopers that he believed his son had stabbed his ex-wife. Her body was found inside the house after police arrived on the scene. Police had not released the deceased woman’s name as of late Friday afternoon. Detectives with the state police Central District Major Crime Squad were at the home into the night Thursday, and later arrested the younger Rankin on a murder charge.

Essex Property Values Drop With 2013 Revaluation

ESSEX— The assessed value of most properties in town has declined in the recently completed townwide revaluation, the first comprehensive update of values since the onset of the national recession in 2008.

Assessor Jessice Sypher said earlier this week most, but not all, of the town’s 2,918 residential property accounts, including undeveloped land, show a decline in assessed value .”It depends a lot on the location,” Sypher said, noting that property values in many neighborhoods held steady, or actually show an increase in assessed value based on recent sales. New assessments were mailed to most property owners in late November.

Sypher said values in and around the downtown Essex village held steady, while some properties in the northern sections of Essex off River Road showed higher assessed values. She said many properties around the Mill Pond of the Falls River in Ivoryton showed higher assessed values. Sypher said the town’s 307 commercial and industrial properties showed an average six percent drop in assessed value from the 2008 assessments.

The revaluation was done by Vision Appraisal Government Solutions of Northboro, Mass., the same firm that handled the last full townwide revaluation with on site inspections in 2003, and the statistical revaluation update that was done in 2008.

Sypher, who has served as Essex assessor for more than a decade, said she is anticipating a seven to ten percent drop in the town’s grand list of taxable property. A drop in that range would be comparable to what occurred in Deep River, when the town’s grand list decreased by eight percent after a revaluation that was completed in 2010.

Sypher said the 2013 grand list would be filed on schedule on Jan. 31, without the need for a 30 days extension that is sometimes requested after a revaluation.

Sypher said some residents have requested informal hearings with Vision Appraisal representatives on their new assessments, though there has been no influx of complaints to her office since the new assessments were mailed. “lt has been more questions than complaints,” she said.

Property owners who believe their new assessments are incorrect can request formal hearings with the town’s elected board of assessment appeals. The 2013 grand list will be used to set a tax rate for 2014-2015 after town and school budgets are adopted next year.

Essex Selectmen Consider Scaling Back Town Delay of Demolition Ordinance

ESSEX— The board of selectmen is considering amendments that would scale back the requirements of the town’s delay of demolition ordinance for historic structures. The board discussed the ordinance at a meeting Wednesday, and is expected to discuss specific changes o the ordinance at the next meeting on Jan. 8.

The ordinance was approved at a October 2004 town meeting at the urging of longtime town historian and author Donald Malcarne, who died in 2009. It requires public notice of intent to demolish any structure in Essex that more than 75 years old, and allows the Essex Historical Society, or any other resident, to petition for a 90 days delay of demolition.

Malcarne, responding to the demolition of a handful of older homes in town in the early 2000s, had contended the ordinance would give preservationists time to explore alternatives to demolition, or at least document the structure for the town’s historic record. The fine for a property owner ignoring the ordinance was only $100.

First Selectman Norman Needleman said he favors pushing back the historic date when the ordinance and related public notice requirements would be triggered to 1900. Under the existing ordinance, the date when the ordinance requirements are effective would be 1936. The year was 1927 when the ordinance was adopted in 2004.

“1900 is better than a rolling 75 years, Needleman said, adding the requirements of the ordinance have become “onerous” for some property owners in recent years. “It’s the law of unintended consequences,” he said.

Needleman also suggested revising the ordinance to specify that both the Essex Historical Society and the appointed town historian would be required to file an objection to trigger the 90 days delay of demolition, rather than simply any town resident. Selectman Bruce Glowac said he is open to revising the ordinance, while adding that Malcarne’s intentions were good when he pushed for adoption of the ordinance nearly a decade ago. “Historic houses were being torn down and nobody knew it was going to happen,” he said. Any amendments to the delay of demolition ordinance would require approve from voters at a town meeting.

In other business, the selectmen appointed Jae Wolf, a Deep River resident, as animal control officer. Wolf replace Belden Libby, who resigned from the part-time position last month.

Libby, husband of Selectwoman Stacia Libby, had been hired in June after the retirement of longtime animal control officer Joseph Heller. Needleman said Wolf is an animal lover who applied for the position, which includes an annual stipend and use of a town vehicle for calls.

Deep River Planning and Zoning Approves Relocation of Dunkin Donuts to 246 Main Street

DEEP RIVER— The planning and zoning commission has approved a special permit for the relocation of Dunkin Donuts to a vacant commercial building at 246 Main St. The panel approved the permit on a unanimous vote at a Dec. 12 meeting after plans were presented at a lengthy public hearing on Nov. 21.

In a separate decision, the commission last week approved a special permit to allow a dog day care business in a portion of the industrial building at 444 Main St. that had been the subject of a zoning dispute last year.

The permit will allow Great American Donut of Plainville to relocate the Dunkin Donuts that has operated for about 4 years in commercial space at 190 Main St. to move south to the 246 Main St. property that is located at the intersection of Main and Union streets. The Dunkin Donuts would occupy 1,600 square-feet, or about half, of the vacant commercial building on the parcel. The west section of the building, on the Union St. side, would be reserved for another unspecified commercial use.

The commission imposed nine conditions on the permit approval. Four of the conditions will require the applicant to return to the commission for permit modifications on lighting, the main sign for the business, the design and color scheme of a planned outdoor seating area, and the location and enclosure for the dumpster uses by the donut shop.

The location of the dumpster was a major topic of discussion at the public hearing, with some residents objecting to placing the dumpster at the front southern most section of the parcel, which is at the apex of the Main Street-Union Street intersection. But the commission decided to allow the dumpster in the front section of the parcel under conditions. The dumpster would have to be fully enclosed in a 10-foot by 12-foot structure with a roof.. Final plans for the dumpster location and enclosure would be reviewed by the commission before work begins on the site improvements.

Other conditions include extending the improved front facade of the building to the back of the building to obscure mechanical equipment on the roof, extending granite curbing to the parking area, and elimination of a window the west side of the building that is reserved for the future commercial use. There would be a prohibition on signage on the west side of the building facing Union Street.

The dog day care business at 444 Main St. was approved after a brief public hearing where the proposed use drew no objections from any nearby property owners. The permit will allow local resident Jerilyn Nucci to provide daytime care for up to 24 dogs. The dog day care would occupy about 1,500 square-feet of the building.

The industrial building on the west side of Main St., also known as Route 154, had been the subject of a zoning dispute in 2012 after town commissions blocked a proposal by the property owner, local resident George Bartlett Jr., to use most of the building for a used car dealership.

Region 4 School Board Approve 2014-2015 School Calendar, Second Year with Short February Break

REGION 4— Region 4 school boards have approved a school calendar for 2014-2015, the second year where district students will have a shortened two day February break.

The calendar that was unanimously approved by district school boards on Dec. 5 closely follows the current school calendar that was approved after much discussion by the boards in December 2012. For the second year, district schools will close for the Monday Presidents Day holiday, Feb,. 16 ,2015, and remained closed the following day for students while staff have an in service professional development day.

The next school year will open on Thursday, Aug. 28. The calendar adheres to the district policy for the autumn Jewish holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, with schools closed if the holiday falls on a week day. For 2014, there will be no school on Rosh Hashanah, Thursday Sept. 25, while Yom Kippur falls on a weekend and does not require a closing.

As was the case this year, there will be no school for students on Columbus Day, while school staff will be in session for a professional development day. This follows a year, 2012, where schools were in full session on the Columbus Day holiday. As was the case this year, school will be in session on Veterans day, Nov. 11.

As was the case this year, there will be no school on Wednesday Nov. 26, the day before Thanksgiving. The winter holiday break will run from Dec. 23 to Jan. 2, with a spring vacation week from April 6-10. There will be five early dismissal days for students, while staff are in service during the afternoons for professional development.

Essex Zoning Commission Sets Date for Public Hearing on Medical Maijuana Moritorium, Village District Uses

ESSEX— The zoning commission will hold a public hearing Monday on a proposed one year moratorium on medical marijuana-related applications on proposed prohibitions on various commercial uses in the downtown village district. The hearing convenes at 7 p.m. in town hall.

The amendments to town zoning regulations are proposed by the commission. One proposed amendment would impose a one year moratorium on applications for uses developing from the new state law allowing prescription of medical marijuana for certain health conditions. The moratorium would apply to both growing businesses and dispensaries for medical marijuana.

Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow said the panel is hoping to take a year to monitor how potential zoning uses related to medical marijuana are handled in other municipalities. “The commission wants to get more of a grasp on the new laws and determine whether those uses are appropriate for Essex,” he said.

A separate public hearing will focus on the commissions proposal to prohibit certain commercial uses in the downtown Essex village district. The proposed new regulation would allow arts and crafts-related uses in the district, while prohibiting check cashing establishments, tattoo and massage parlors, adult-themed stores, and head shops. Budrow said none of the proposed changes were prompted by any potential local applications for the uses, including medical marijuana uses.

Aaron Manor Town Plan Revisions Draw Mixed Comments at Chester P & Z

CHESTER— Revisions to the town plan of conservation and development that would give the Aaron Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center the option of connecting to the town sewer system drew a mixed response from residents and officials Thursday at a public hearing before the planning and zoning commission.

The nursing facility located off Route 148 at the Route 9/Exit 6 interchange has requested amendments to the 2009 plan that would give the facility the option of connecting to the sewer system that serves the downtown village and a section of Route 154. Aaron Manor is under order from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to upgrade the on site septic system serving the facility. Earlier this year, the town inland-wetlands commission asked representatives of the facility to investigate the option of connecting to the town sewer system before pursuing an application for a new and larger on-site sewage disposal system.

Changes to the town plan are needed for the facility to begin a detailed analysis of the option of a connection to the municipal system, a costly project that would require installing an underground sewer line along about 1.5 miles of Route 148 east from Aaron Manor to the downtown village area.

About 20 residents, including members of the conservation and economic development commissions, turned out for the public hearing. Several residents, including First Selectman Edmund Meehan, spoke in support of the requested revisions. Meehan, a former municipal planner for Newington, presented a written statement from the board of selectmen endorsing the changes, and also spoke at the hearing. Meehan contended giving the 10-year plan the option of expanding the municipal sewer system would be a “good thing for Chester.”

“If you have it in the plan you can guide it and direct it,” Meehan said, adding that planning and zoning commission oversight and current zoning for minimum one or two acre building lot sizes would limit development and population density along any Route 148 sewer extension. “I don’t think this is going to upset the town’s land use patterns,” he said.

Steve Flett, chairman of the economic development commission, said the revisions represent a request for help from an existing business, not a plan to promote wider economic development. “If Aaron Manor is prepared to pay the bill, you should just let them do it,” he said.

But Michael Prisloe, chairman of the conservation commission, contended the changes to the plan could have “unintended consequences” for future development that would change the environment and character of. the town’s western gateway. The commission presented a statement urging further study before approval of any changes to the town plan. Prisloe also noted the changes to the plan could become effective early next year, long before completion of any sewer line from Aaron Manor.

The commission was expected to close the public hearing Thursday and begin deliberations of the Aaron Manor application at it’s Jan. 9 meeting.

Deep River P&Z Holds Public Hearing on Proposed Dog Care Business for 444 Main Street

DEEP RIVER— The planning and zoning commission will hold a public hearing Thursday on a special permit application for a dog day care business in a portion of a former industrial building at 444 Main St. that was the subject of a zoning dispute last year. The hearing convenes at 7 p.m. in town hall.

Local resident Jerilyn Nucci is seeking to use 1,500-square feet of the building owned by resident George Bartlett Jr. to provide day care for up to 24 dogs. The dogs would be walked outside during the day in a monitored play area.

Bartlett had purchased the 13,340 square-foot building, former home of the Champion Tool & Dye Co., in 2011. In 2012, he proposed using most of the building for a used car dealership, an application that led to a dispute between the planning and zoning commission and zoning board of appeals. The ZBA approved variances for the proposed use in June 2012, drawing objections from the planning and zoning commission over whether one of the variances was a use-related variance that exceeded the authority of the ZBA.

The ZBA later determined that it had granted only a dimensional variance related to road frontage requirements, a move that led to a lawsuit filed by Bartlett against the board that is still pending in Middlesex Superior Court. Last May, the planning and zoning commission denied a special permit application from Bartlett to use a portion of the property to store and maintain construction equipment amid a dispute with the applicant over conditions related to a permit approval.

Bartlett is currently renting about 8,000 square-feet of the building to a small manufacturing business, and another section to a boat repair business that was formerly located in Chester.

Chester Selectmen Endorse Requested Aaron Manor Plan of Development Change

CHESTER— The board of selectmen last week endorsed changes to the plan of conservation and development that were requested by the Aaron Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center to give the facility an option of connecting to the town sewer system. First Selectman Edmund Meehan will present a statement from the board when the planning and zoning commission considers the request at a public hearing that begins Thursday at 7;30 p.m. at town hall.

The nursing facility off Route 148 is under order from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to upgrade the septic system serving the facility. The inland-wetlands commission last year asked representatives of Aaron Manor to explore the option of connecting to the town sewer system before presenting an application for a new and larger on site sewage disposal system. The requested changes to the 2009 town plan would allow town boards and commissions to consider a request to tie in to the municipal sewer system.

First Selectman Edmund Meehan, a former town planner, said last week it would be “shortsighted” to hold to a plan that does not provide options for expanding the system that currently serves the downtown village and properties on Route 154. Meehan presented a written statement outlining several reasons to revise language in the plan.

The statement notes that “public sanitary sewers are a major infrastructure asset that benefits a community’s public health, water quality, and economic base.” It also suggests that a future sewer expansion could help the town’s “long range economic development and business retention options for existing non-residential land uses when on-site systems are not feasible.”

The selectmen unanimously endorsed the statement prepared by Meehan. Selectman Tom Englert said any future economic development along Route 148 west to the Aaron Manor property would be controlled by the planning and zoning commission and other town land use commissions, while the changes would simply give the nursing facility the option of investigating the feasibility of a connection. “It doesn’t say we are going to do it,” he noted.

Region 4 School Boards Approve New Three-Year Contract for Administrators

REGION 4 — District school boards Thursday approved a new three-year contract for school administrators that provides a total 9.48 percent salary increase at the expiration of the agreement in June 2017.

The contract with the Region 4 Administrators Association was approved with little discussion by the 24 board members present at the meeting from the district towns of Chester, Essex, and Deep River. Arthur Hennick, a newly elected member of the local Chester Board of Education, cast the single dissenting vote. The contract covers ten administrators, including principals and assistant principals at the five district schools and some central office staff.

The agreement, which is effective in July, provides a 3.82 percent salary increase for 2014-2015, 3.16 percent for 2015-2016, and a 2.5 percent pay increase for the final year, 2016-2017. The totals include any step increases for several of the most recently hired administrators who are now at lower steps on the three step salary schedule for administrators.

Kevin Roy, a lawyer who represented the school district in the negotiations, said the talks with administrators, who did not use an attorney, were a “cooperative process” that quickly produced the three-year agreement. Roy said the cumulative 9.48 percent salary increase was “slightly above” the current statewide average pay increase of 7.28 percent for a three-year contract.

But Roy noted district administrators were at or below statewide pay averages for their contracts extending back to 2008. He noted that an agreement concluded in 2008, at the start of the financial crisis that led to the national Great Recession, provided no salary increase for 2008-2009, and only a two-year 2.5 percent pay increase for 2009-2011. Roy said the new contract would help the district attract and retain qualified administrators.

The actual salaries vary among administrators based on experience and years of service in the district. For the principal at Valley Regional High School, who assumed the position in 2010, the salary would rise from the current $139,000 per year to a salary of about $146,000 in 2017.,

The contract also provides for some savings on health insurance costs for the administrators, with the employee share of total premium costs rising from the current 18.5 percent share to a 21 percent share paid by the employees in 2017. The employee share of a separate higher deductible plan would rise from the current 14.5 percent to a 17 percent employee share in 2017.

Essex Selectmen Will Delay New Solid Waste Transfer Station Fees Until April

ESSEX— Planned new and higher disposal fees for the town’s solid waste transfer station drew no major objections from residents at a public hearing Wednesday, though First Selectman Norman Needleman announced that implementation of the new fees would be delayed until April 1 rather than a planned January start date.

About 20 residents turned out for the public hearing on a new fee schedule for the transfer station that was unanimously approved by the board of selectmen in August. The plan recommended by the town’s appointed sanitary waste commission would replace the current $3 per bag disposal fee for household trash with an annual resident user sticker that would cost $125, with a $75 annual fee for senior citizens. There would also be higher fees for disposal fees of tires, demolition materials, junk furniture and mattresses.

Needleman said the purpose of the plan is to remove cash transactions from the transfer site, and to recover some of the costs for disposal of the various bulky waste items. “We don’t want to make any money, but we would prefer not to lose money,” on the site, Needleman said, adding the current cash per-bag system “lends itself to potential problems and extra work.” He said there would be no charge for recyclables, including glass bottles, cans, and newspapers, or for residents depositing small loads of brush.

The new fees would apply to residents who carry trash and other items to the site off Route 154, not effecting the majority of households in Essex paying a private hauler for curbside trash pickup.

The new fee schedule brought no objections from residents during the 40-minute hearing, though one elderly woman said the $75 annual sticker fee for senior citizens would still be more than she is now paying for disposal by the bag.

Despite the lack of strong objections, Needleman said the board of selectmen would review the fee schedule a final time at a future meeting before holding a second vote for final approval. He said the new system would become effective on April 1, rather than the January start date envisioned by the board with the initial vote last August. Needleman said the additional time would be needed to set up a payment by check or credit card system to collect fees for disposal of items not covered by the annual sticker fee.