July 24, 2014

Deep River Zoning Hearing on 444 Main Street Plans Continued to August 21

DEEP RIVER— The planning and zoning commission has continued its public hearing on a special permit application for a used motor vehicle dealership at 444 Main St. to an Aug. 21 session. The public hearing, which was briefly opened at a July 17 meeting, was continued because the site plan requires review, and possible permit approval, from the inland-wetlands commission.

Local resident George Bartlett Jr. is seeking approval; for a used motor vehicle dealership at the former manufacturing site located on the west side of Main St. (Route 154) near the town’s southern border. Bartlett’s plans for the property have been the subject of zoning disputes, and two lawsuits, over the past two years. But the lawsuits involving both the commission and the zoning board of appeals could be settled as the commission moves to consider a new application for the property.

Essex lawyer John Bennet, representing Bartlett, requested continuation of the public hearing, citing both the need for an inland wetlands review and the absence of project engineer Donald Carlson. The commission continued the hearing after first reading a letter from Bennet that clarified elements of the application that call for motor vehicle repairs and service on the site.

Bennet advised that the proposed business would not be a full service vehicle repair shop, with any repair work limited to vehicles that are on the property for sale as part of the proposed used vehicle dealership.

The zoning board of appeals on July 8 approved two variances that were required for the new application, along with a location approval for the used motor vehicle dealership that is required under state law. The board approved a variance of a requirement in zoning regulations for a raised island in the paved parking area, and a 20-foot reduction in the 50-foot front yard setback rule to 30-feet. The Aug. 21 hearing on Bartlett’s new application will convene at 7 p.m. in town hall.

“Talking Transportation: Is It Safe To Ride Metro-North?

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron

It has been seven months since a drowsy engineer drove a speeding Metro-North train off the tracks at Spuyten Duyvil, killing four and injuring 59. Months earlier a derailment and collision near Bridgeport sent 70 to the hospital.

Ever since, the railroad has promised that improving safety is its top priority. So does that mean the railroad is now “safe”?

Aside from taking the word of management, how are we to know? Just because we haven’t had another accident doesn’t mean the railroad is safe. Nobody suspected it was unsafe until those two accidents last year showed us just how dangerous our daily commute had become.

In April this year The Commuter Action Group surveyed 642 commuters and asked them, “Do you feel safe riding Metro-North?” and 56% said yes, 15% said no and 29% said they “weren’t sure”.

Neither am I, but I ride those trains regularly, hoping for the best. And so far, so good. I take the railroad at its word when it says safety is its top priority, but I have no way of telling it that’s true. As Donald Rumsfeld famously said, “We don’t know what we don’t know.”

Waiting on a station platform, how can the average commuter look at the tracks, the overhead wires or signals and know that Metro-North is safe? We can’t even see the engineers because they hide in their control booth behind jerry-rigged cardboard curtains ‘lest riders should watch them at work.

Here’s what we do know. The trains are running slower (on-time performance was only 79% in May). And last week we also learned that an entire class of conductor trainees had been dismissed because they were caught cheating on a safety exam. Good for the MTA for catching and disciplining them. But the worry is whether this kind of cheating has been going on for years. Reassuring?

The only way to be sure that Metro-North is safe is better federal oversight by the FRA, the Federal Railroad Administration. That agency still hasn’t issued its final report on the May 2013 derailment… and only fined the railroad $5,000 following a Metro-North trainee’s mistake, which killed one of their own track foremen. As US Senator Richard Blumenthal put it, “The watchdogs were asleep. The FRA has been lax and sluggish.”

That’s why commuters should be reassured that Senator Blumenthal will soon introduce a bill to give the FRA some real teeth: increasing civil penalties for railroad mistakes, strengthening railroad oversight, mandating new safety gear, introduction of a fatigue management plan for personnel, requiring anonymous reporting systems for whistle-blowers, installation of cameras, alerters and redundant safety systems for track workers.

Further, the bill would also require stronger safety standards for crude oil rail-tankers, the “pipelines on wheels” carrying crude oil and petroleum products on US railroads.

The only thing missing? Mandatory transparency. I’d hope that the FRA would be required to explain its oversight and reassure all railroad riders of their safety in a simple, understandable manner. That would make me feel safe.

Jim Cameron

Jim Cameron has been a Darien resident for 23 years. He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group and also serves on the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com

Essex Selectmen Hear Concerns About Ivoryton Village Parking Issues

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has received an appeal from business owners for renewed town efforts to increase the availability of free public parking in Ivoryton village. Members of the Ivoryton Village Alliance attended the board’s meeting last week to press their appeal for assistance with parking issues.

The group included Elizabeth Alvord, director of the Ivoryton Library, and owners of several businesses, including the Ivoryton Tavern, Blue Hound Restaurant, and Gather, a business located in the former Ivoryton Store building. Alford noted there is currently less than 30 designated free public parking spaces in the village.

Jim Crowell, owner of the Ivoryton Tavern, said businesses in the village have been doing well in recent months, though parking is “the one thing that is holding us back.” Deanna Pinette, owner of Gather, said visitors are confused about where to park,  particularly when there is a show at the Ivoryton Playhouse and the owner of a private lot charges a $5 fee for parking. The lot is owned by Carl Echtman of Deep River.

First Selectman Norman Neeleman said Echtman has shown no interest in selling the lot, dating back to 2006 when the town applied for a state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant to purchase it. The grant was not approved after the town planning commission declined to support the application. “There is no magic bullet when the property in question is private property,” he said. Needleman said he would work with the director of public works and business owners to “make the most out of what we have,” while continuing to explore ways to increase public parking.

Selectman Bruce Glowac said the selectmen understand the importance of the parking situation for business owners, visitors, and residents. “We all hear you loud and clear,” he said.

Deep River Resident Victorious in Vermont Equestrian Competition

Amanda Strain and Carrara 11 won the $10,000 Marimekko Open Welcome Stake, presented by Manchester Designer Outlets, on July 17 at the 2014 Vermont Summer Festival in East Dorset, Vermont (photo courtesy of David Mullinix Photography)

Amanda Strain and Carrara 11 won the $10,000 Marimekko Open Welcome Stake, presented by Manchester Designer Outlets, on July 17 at the 2014 Vermont Summer Festival in East Dorset, Vermont (photo courtesy of David Mullinix Photography)

Amanda Strain of Deep River won the $10,000 Marimekko Welcome Stake, presented by Manchester Designer Outlets, held July 17 at the Vermont Summer Festival in East Dorset, VT.

The Vermont Summer Festival hosts six weeks of equestrian competition at Harold Beebe Farm, where some of the country’s best equestrians converge each summer.  Show jumping competitors go head-to-head in the weekly $10,000 Welcome Stake, presented by Manchester Designer Outlets, over a course of obstacles measuring nearly five feet in height.

The lion’s share of the $10,000 in prize money is awarded to the rider and horse combination that clears both rounds of competition in the fastest time while leaving all the jumps in place.  For her efforts, Strain took home her share of the $10,000 in prize money, in addition to a $1,000 gift card to Marimekko.

Marimekko store manager Elisabeth Hazelton presents Amanda Strain and Carrara 11 as the winners of the $10,000 Marimekko Open Welcome Stake, presented by Manchester Designer Outlets (photo courtesy of David Mullinix Photography).

Marimekko store manager Elisabeth Hazelton presents Amanda Strain and Carrara 11 as the winners of the $10,000 Marimekko Open Welcome Stake, presented by Manchester Designer Outlets (photo courtesy of David Mullinix Photography).

Strain, who operates Lone Wolf Stables in Deep River, won the $10,000 Marimekko Welcome Stake on her horse, Carrara 11, after beating out 23 other challengers.  Eight horse and rider pairs advanced to the second round jump-off, but Strain’s daring inside turn to the second-to-last fence gave her an advantage, and she stopped the timers in 40.44 seconds for the win.

Strain has ridden Carrara 11 for the past two years, and described the mare as one of her favorite horses to ride thanks to her exceptional talent.  “She’s super fun to ride,” said Strain of the eight-year-old Oldenburg mare owned by Helen Krieble.  “She doesn’t spook at anything, and she can turn incredibly well.  She’s such a wonderful mare.  She can do anything!”

The Vermont Summer Festival offers a full schedule of equestrian competition through August 10 at Harold Beebe Farm in East Dorset, VT.  Competition runs weekly from Wednesday through Sunday, beginning at 8 a.m.  The $10,000 Open Welcome Stake Series, presented by Manchester Designer Outlets, is held each Thursday.  The week’s featured event, the Grand Prix, takes place on Saturdays at 1 p.m.

Admission prices are $5 for adults, $3 for children from Wednesday through Friday.  On Saturday and Sunday, admission is $7 for adults, $5 for children.  100% of the gate proceeds benefit area libraries, including Manchester Community Library.

 

Old Lyme’s Midsummer Festival is This Weekend

Old Lyme’s Midsummer Festival is a town-wide celebration of the arts, which this year will be held Friday and Saturday, July 25 and 26. Since the early 20th century Old Lyme has been known to artists and art lovers alike as a haven for the arts.

The Festival takes place in the heart of Old Lyme’s historic district, with activities spanning locations along Lyme Street. Festival sites include the Florence Griswold Museum, Lyme Art Association, Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, the Old Lyme Inn, the Bee & Thistle Inn, Studio 80 + Sculpture Park, Center School, the Old Lyme – Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library, and a variety of Lyme Street merchants.

Visitors to the Festival enjoy art, food, performances, hands-on activities for children, a dog show, a French-styled market, artisan vendors, book signings, and so much more! For more information visit www.OldLymeMidsummerFestival.com

A Great Egret photographer by Diana Atwood Johnson in Orlando, Fla.

This photograph of a Great Egret by Diana Atwood Johnson taken in Orlando, Fla., is the signature work of the ‘Bird’s Eye View’ exhibition on view during the Festival at Lyme Academy College.

On Friday, July 25, the evening begins with three receptions from 5 to 7 p.m., all with free admission. At the Lyme Art Association, enjoy a great selection of affordable art by Association members. At Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, visitors can view the exhibition Bird’s Eye View, Photographs of the Natural World by Diana Atwood Johnson in the Sill House Gallery. A selection of student work is on view in the Chauncey Stillman Gallery. Most works in both exhibitions is for sale with funds benefiting the College and the students. Atwood Johnson is generously donating all proceeds from the sale of her photographs to the College. New York Times best-selling author Luanne Rice will also be visiting the exhibitions during the evening. Refreshments will be available at both galleries.

At the Florence Griswold Museum, visitors can view the special exhibitions Art of the Everyman: American Folk Art from the Fenimore Art Museum and Thistles and Crowns: The Painted Chests of the Connecticut Shore.

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The annual free concert from 7 to 9 pm at the Florence Griswold Museum is always a favorite and makes for a perfect summer evening. This year’s band is The Mighty Soul Drivers. Find your spot along the Lieutenant River and enjoy classic Southern Soul (think Percy Sledge, Otis Redding). Folksinger Al Denty performs from 6-8pm. Concertgoers are encouraged to bring a picnic dinner or let Gourmet Galley prepare a delicious meal. Reservations can be made at www.Gourmet-Galley.com.

Walk from one free concert to another. From 9 to 11pm, the Bee & Thistle Inn hosts ***New to the Festival Down by the River Rhythm N’ Blues DJ Dance Party. Dance under the stars on the banks of the Lieutenant River. Specialty cocktails and late night nosh are available for purchase.

The festival continues on Saturday, July 26, with activities at many locations along Lyme Street. Festivalgoers may park at Old Lyme Marketplace, Florence Griswold Museum, Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, Lyme-Old Lyme High School, Lyme-Old Lyme Center and Middle Schools, and Old Lyme Library. A shuttle bus runs between these locations from 9am to 3pm.

At the Florence Griswold Museum, the day begins with breakfast at 8:30am. Gourmet Galley serves breakfast in the morning and lunch in the afternoon until 3pm. One of the highlights of the day is Market En Plein Air. This outdoor market features Connecticut-grown flowers, fruits, vegetables, breads, fine cheeses, herbs and specialty foods in a setting modeled after outdoor markets in French villages. Crafted-by-Hand: An Artisan Fair features noted jewelry designers and other craftsmen. These events open at 9am and close at 3pm.

At 10am, local cultural organizations provide creative projects for children of all ages at the Hands-On, Minds-On area. Included are activities by the Old Lyme -PGN Library, Lymes’ Youth Service Bureau, and High Hopes Therapeutic Riding. This event closes at 3pm.

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Four-legged friends can participate in the Parading Paws Dog Show hosted by Vista Vocational & Life Skills Center of Westbrook. Does your dog have the best smile, longest tail, biggest paws? Registration is from 9- 10am. Judging begins at 10:30am. Special categories include Best Trick and Best Costume. The event is sponsored by Vista Vittles ~ 100% Natural Treats for Dogs.

Visitors enjoy a reduced admission of $5 to the Museum from 10am to 5pm, including the historic Florence Griswold House and the special exhibitions Art of the Everyman: American Folk Art from the Fenimore Art Museum and Thistles and Crowns: The Painted Chests of the Connecticut Shore.

At 11am and 1pm enjoy an interactive, energetic concert by Dave Fry, guaranteed to make all ages smile.

Next door to the Museum, at the Lyme Art Association, activities begin at 8am with the Lyme Garden Club’s exhibition of flowers and design. Many items are for sale. This event closes at 4pm. From 9am to 5pm visitors can enjoy a great selection of affordable art by Association members.

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Once again this year, the Lyme Art Association presents a festival favorite, the Oxen of Cranberry Meadow Farm, from 10am to 2pm. Learn more about these gentle giants, whose ancestors appeared in many original Lyme Art Colony paintings! ***New to the Festival, Tea at the Gallery from 10am to 4pm. Enjoy a respite from the heat of midsummer with tea or lemonade and light fare in our air-conditioned galleries.

At Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts, visitors can enjoy two gallery exhibitions, the best current work by students in all the College’s major programs and Bird’s Eye View, Photographs of the Natural World by Diana Atwood Johnson. For lunch, there is LobsterCraft’s fresh, hot-buttered lobster rolls, lobster kielbasa, macaroni and cheese, and lobster bisque and the College Café will provide a variety of delicious summer salads, along with orange iced tea, ginger lemonade and coffee. Specialty vendors entice visitors with jewelry, art, linens, and more. These events take place from 10am to 3pm.

NYT best-selling author Luanne Rice will discuss her 31st novel, "The Lemon Orchard," and sign copies at Lyme Academy College starting at 11 am.

NYT best-selling author Luanne Rice will discuss her 31st novel, “The Lemon Orchard,” and then sign copies at Lyme Academy College of Fine Arts starting at 11 am.

At 11am, New York Times bestselling author of 31 novels, Luanne Rice shares her latest book The Lemon Orchard, an unexpected love story of two people from different worlds. People Magazine calls the book “Entrancing” while Kirkus Reviews calls it “Lovely and compelling, with quiet yet brave social commentary.” Books will be sold by R.J. Julia Booksellers and Rice will be signing copies.

From 11am to 3pm, the Midsummer Festival Music Stage offers continuous music on the lawn. Don’t miss the music stage with a variety of bands provided by Bring Our Music Back, Inc. At 11am, A Moment of Fearless (Soulful Blues duo), at noon, St. Albans (Youth Folk/Rock), and from 1 to 3pm, School of Rock (Youth All-Star House Band, all genres).

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New this year, live music by Musicnow Foundation, Inc. from 11am to 3pm at Nightingale’s Cafe and the Bee & Thistle Inn.

Located next to Lyme Academy College, visitors can explore Studio 80 + Sculpture Grounds from 9am to 5pm. Stop in to meet the sculptors and learn about their work. The outdoor sculpture collection is exhibited on beautifully landscaped grounds adjacent to the Lieutenant River. Enjoy lectures, music, dance, and refreshments.

From 11am to dark, visit the Old Lyme Inn for Light Bites and Live Music. Cool your heels and tap your toes to the sounds of funk band, Mass-Conn-Fusion under the big tent on the Old Lyme Inn front lawn. Light bites and refreshing drinks available for purchase.

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From 9am to 4pm on the Center School lawn, meet the Plein Air Fence Show Artists. Thirty-six of some of the area’s most accomplished local artists display their works for sale. All mediums, styles, and prices are available.

From 10am to 5pm, the Lyme Street Merchants feature a sidewalk sale. Follow the yellow balloons down Lyme Street to discover unique shops and galleries. A musical cafe, designer linens on sale, homemade ice cream, exotic gems and designer jewelry, eclectic mix of galleries and an art studio, topped off with decadent chocolates and confections.

***New this year, offerings at the Old Lyme – Phoebe Griffin Noyes Library. From 10am to 2pm, half price children’s and adult’s books in the Bookceller. From 10am to 3pm, all ages are welcome to make a paper bag puppet! Materials provided. From 11:30 to 2pm, indulge in some delectable mini-cupcakes by Cupcakes and Flying Hearts.

From 1 to 2pm, meet Tony Award winner, trainer, actor and author, Bill Berloni. Bill will sign his book Broadway Tails and share heartfelt stories of rescue dogs that became showbiz superstars. Bill was a 20-year-old apprentice at the Goodspeed Opera House when a producer offered him his big break: a chance to act professionally and gain his Equity Card. In return, all Bill had to do was find and train a dog to play Sandy in the original production of Annie.

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The Old Lyme Town Band will strike up at 7:30 pm on the Middle School lawn and then to round off the evening, there will be the usual fabulous fireworks display visible from the same lawn.

Essex Zoning Board of Appeals Continues Hearing on 33 Plains Road Cease and Desist Order

ESSEX— The zoning board of appeals has continued its public hearing on an appeal of a town cease and desist order for a disputed structure at 33 Plains Road to an August 19 session. The board agreed to continue the hearing after a meeting Tuesday where it received new evidence about a structure that Zoning Enforcement Officer Joseph Budrow maintains was constructed without permits and is being improperly used as a residential dwelling in the town’s limited industrial zone.

Budrow issued a cease and desist order in January to property owner John Finkeldey after an investigation that began following receipt of a complaint in the summer of 2013. Finkeldey is appealing the order, represented by local lawyer Terrance Lomme, who also serves as the elected judge of probate for the nine-town region.

The hearing began in May, and resumed at a June 17 session where Lomme requested a continuance because a current survey map of the two acre parcel was not completed. Lomme presented the survey map Tuesday, along with letters from a current and former “tenant” in the structure.  The survey map shows three buildings on the parcel, including the house where Finkeldey lives, another structure that is also used as a dwelling, and a third structure on the northwest corner of the property that is the subject of the zoning dispute.

Budrow, in the cease and desist order, maintains this structure was constructed without zoning, building, or health department permits from the town, and is being improperly used as a dwelling because it is located on the limited industrial zone where town zoning regulations prohibit residential dwellings.

Lomme said the letters from tenants support Finkeldey’s claim the structure has been in place for more than three years without enforcement action from the town, making it a legal structure under state law. David Burke reported in his letter that he lived in the structure from 2000-2004, and that it contained running water and plumbing facilities.  Jane Graham reported in a letter that she has lived in the structure since October 2009. Lomme also presented a letter from Finkeldey’s father, Robert Finkeldey of Old Saybrook, maintaining the structure was built in the 1950s, and has had people residing there in subsequent years.

Peter Sipples, attorney for the zoning commission, said the panel maintains the structure can not be used as a dwelling in the limited industrial zone, even if has been in place for more than three years. He said the structure would have to have been used continuously as a dwelling since before 1973, when the town adopted the regulations defining the limited industrial zone, to have legal non-conforming status. Sipples added the town has no records of permits being issued for the structure or any improvements to it.

In continuing the hearing from the June 17 session, the board asked Budrow to provide information on what town tax assessment records show for structures and improvements on the property. Budrow presented a letter from Assessor Jessica Sypher advising that personnel working on the townwide  property revaluation that was completed last year did not fully inspect the property because there were no trespassing signs and no one was home at the time of the inspection visit. The 2013 revaluation was to have included visual inspections of all properties, a process that is required every ten years under state law.

When board members asked to review records of previous revaluations that included inspections of all properties, Lomme agreed to request a continuation of the hearing for the additional research.