September 24, 2022

Chester P & Z Continues Hearing on Town Plan Change Requested by Aaron Manor

CHESTER— The planning and zoning commission has continued a public hearing on the request by Aaron Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Center for an amendment to the town plan of conservation and development that would give the facility the option of connecting to the town sewer system. The hearing that began Thursday will resume at the commission’s Oct. 10 meeting.

The 60-bed nursing facility, located at 3 Wig Hill Road off Route 148, is requesting revisions to the 2009 town plan that would give it the option of connecting to the municipal sewer system that currently serves the downtown village and areas south on Route 154 to the Deep River town line. The septic system for the 60-year old facility has been failing for several years due to seasonal high ground water, and Aaron Manor is under a consent order with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to resolve the problems.

Represented by Essex engineer Alvin Wolfgram, the facility last winter applied to the inland-wetlands commission seeking a permit for a new and expanded septic system and on-site treatment system. The IWC asked Wolfgram to also investigate the option of connecting to the municipal sewer system, leading to a withdrawal of the permit application last March. The town plan currently makes no provision for sewers west of the downtown village along Route 148, a situation that blocks any consideration of the hook-in option for Aaron Manor.

The idea of revising the town plan to accommodate Aaron Manor drew a mixed response from residents at the hearing. The hearing began with First Selectman Edmund Meehan contending the request should have been first presented to the board of selectmen, and could possibly require approval from voters at a town meeting. Commission lawyer David Royston said town meeting action was not required if changes are approve by a two-thirds vote of the nine-member commission. But Royston recommended continuing the hearing to allow for review and input from the selectmen.

Royston also urged the commission to “proceed cautiously” with any changes to the town plan, with an eye toward addressing any possible conflicts with a statewide plan of conservation and development that became effective in June. One possible conflict could be an increase in potential development density that could result from an extension of the sewer line west along Route 148.

Several residents objected to changing the plan, with some suggesting there should be another way to give Aaron Manor a connection option without amending the plan. Meehan said any decision on changing the plan should include a review of all vacant land that is available for development along Route 148 to the Route 9 Exit 6 interchange. “Part of this decision is what is the sewer service area the commission wants for the town of Chester,” Meehan said.

But a representative of one nearby property owner suggested connecting Aaron Manor to the municipal sewer system could be the most environmentally sound option for resolving septic problems at the facility. Joan Malloy, a Wallingford attorney representing the owners of nearby Chapel Farm, contended the new and larger on site system proposed last winter could lead to contamination of a stream that runs through the farm property.

Wolfgram said connecting Aaron Manor to the municipal system with a sewer line running more than 1.5 miles along Route 148 would be “physically feasible,”, but costly, while adding the new and larger on site septic system that would be required for Aaron Manor would also be “very expensive.”