December 12, 2019

Essex Zoning Commission Approves New Plains Road Business Zone

ESSEX– The zoning commission has approved a new business zone for Plains Road that was presented at a series of public hearings beginning in April. The panel approved the zone change on a unanimous vote at its July 18 meeting.

Joseph Budrow, zoning enforcement officer, said the zone change becomes effective on Sept. 1. Budrow said the commission made no significant changes to the zone change plan, which was developed by the panel over the past two years.

The zone change covers about 30 properties on both sides of a one-mile stretch of Plains Road, extending from the Valley Railroad crossing to the intersection with Bokum Road and Westbrook Road, also known as Route 153. Most of the parcels had been zoned for light industrial uses, with some commercial uses that had been created through variances approved by the zoning board of appeals. The language for the zone change would allow for a variety of commercial/business uses, including restaurants, under a special permit approved by the zoning commission.

The new business zone drew support from residents and property owners at the public hearings, with some property owners contending the new zone should also include six parcels located on the east side of Plains Road, between the railroad crossing and the entrance to southbound Route 9.

Budrow said the commission decided to allow the property owners, either individually or as a group, petition for a zone change for their parcels to be included in the new business zone. “The commission indicated it would be open to considering that,” he said.


Church Seeks Permit For Demolition of Highland Hall, Former Elementary School Turned Nursing Home

ESSEX— Our Lady of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church has applied for a permit to demolish Highland Hall, the 1920 building off Prospect Street that was the town’s first centralized elementary school.

The church, which acquired the abutting 2.5-acre parcel and 6,600-square-foot building for $750,000 in 2004, had previously proposed to demolish the building in 2006. But the parish was divided over the plan, and the proposed demolition drew objections from the Essex Historical Society led by the late Town Historian Donald Malcarne. Until now, the church had taken no steps to pursue demolition of the structure. Malcarne died in 2009.

Highland Hall was constructed in 1920, and served as the town’s first elementary school until Essex Elementary School opened in the Centerbrook section in 1952. It was converted into a nursing home that closed in the early 1990s. The building has been vacant for nearly two decades.

Building Official Keith Nolin said a newspaper legal notice published Wednesday allows 15 days, until Aug. 19, to file a written objection to the demolition. A written objection would invoke the town’s delay of demolition ordinance, approved by a 2004 town meeting at Malcarne’s urging, that would impose a 90-day delay in the demolition process. Nolin said if a written objection is not filed by Aug. 19, demolition could occur whenever the property owner is ready to proceed.

While church members had initially considered using the building for a religious school when the property was purchased in 2004, the parcel is now expected to be used for parking after the demolition.
Mary Ann Pleva, former president of the Essex Historical Society, said Wednesday she is uncertain whether the society will again submit a written objection to the proposed demolition. Pleva said she would like to see the building preserved, and noted that one or more private citizens could invoke the delay of demolition ordinance if the society does not. “It has a lot of history to it,” she said.

See related Letter to Editor:

Historic and Architectural Resource Survey Should be Made of Highland Hall


No Decision on Chester Interim First Selectman Appointment

CHESTER— The town’s two remaining selectmen, Democrat Lawrence Sypher and Republican Tom Englert, met privately for 30 minutes Tuesday on the vacant first selectman position, but made no decision on an interim appointment to serve the remainder of former First Selectman Tom Marsh’s term ending in November.

Marsh, a Republican-turned-independent first elected in 2005, resigned effective Monday to assume the job of town manager in Windsor, Vt. Under state law, Englert and Sypher now have 30 days, until on Aug. 31, to appoint an interim first selectman who would serve the remainder of Marsh’s two-year term ending on Nov. 22.

Despite objections from news reporters at the meeting, Englert and Sypher entered a closed executive session to discuss the interim appointment. Sypher maintained a closed session was appropriate because there are “variables” related to the appointment that could affect other town employees. None of the others four residents at the meeting, Democratic first selectman nominee Edmund Meehan, former Democratic First Selectman Martin Heft, Republican town chairman Mario Gioco, and Republican Region 4 Board of Education member Richard Strauss, participated in the closed session discussion.

After about 30 minutes, Sypher announced there would be no interim appointment Tuesday, with the issue to be discussed further at the board’s next meeting on Aug. 16. Sypher said he and Englert would be “working as a team,” to fill the role of interim first selectman over the next two weeks. Sypher said he and Englert would review the town’s emergency response plan, just in case there is a severe weather event over the next two weeks that led to a prolonged power outage or road closure in Chester.

If the two selectmen do not act on an interim appointment by the end of the month, the appointment goes to a committee of elected Republican officeholders that would be comprised of Englert and Marsh’s wife, Kathy, the town’s Republican registrar of voters ,who is remaining in Chester in to the fall months. Marsh was elected to his third term as a republican in 2009.

Meehan has said he could not accept the interim appointment because of commitments to his job as town planner in Newington, a position he has held for more than 20 years. Meehan is facing a challenge for the first selectman position in the Nov. 8 town election from Andrew Landsman, running on the Chester Common Ground Party ticket.


Chester Planning and Zoning to Hold Public Hearings on Route 154 Market, Industrial Park Propane Storage

CHESTER— The planning and zoning commission Thursday will continue the public hearing on the proposed market in a vacant building on Route 154, and open a public hearing on a proposed propane storage facility at the Airport Industrial Park off Route 145. The hearings convene at 7:30 p.m. at the Chester Meeting House.

The commission had opened a public hearing July 7 on local resident Peter Kehayias’s year-long effort to win zoning approval to convert the vacant commercial building at 56 Middlesex Avenue, also known as Route 154, in to an organic market.

The commission last November rejected a plan for the market that also included a 10-seat cafe area. Kehayias, who was appointed as an alternate on the commission in March, is appealing the panel’s denial in a lawsuit filed in Middlesex Superior Court. Kehayias has recused himself from considering his new application, as has another commission member, Errol Horner.

At the July 7 hearing, Madison lawyer Tom Cronan, representing Kehayias, said the new application is focused on a market offering “deli, bakery, and dairy,” with no seats or tables for onsite consumption of food. Cronan said the proposed use is consistent with past commercial uses of the building, including a service station and a bicycle repair shop. The building has been vacant for several years.

The commission will open public hearings on two special permit applications from DSDM LLC of Danielson for abutting parcels at the Airport Industrial Park located off Route 145 near Chester Airport. DSDM LLC is an affiliate of the Uncas Gas Company.

The company is seeking approval for a 50-foot-by 80-foot single-story steel building that would house office space and an area for assembly and storage of new furnaces, hot water heaters, and other propone appliances. On an abutting parcel at 25 Airport Industrial Park Road, the company is seeking approval for two 30,000 gallon propane storage tanks. The site plan calls for the storage area to be fenced and screened by landscaped shrubs and other plantings.


Smith Uncontested for 12th First Selectman Term, Democratic Caucus Nominates Angus McDonald Jr. Over Russ Marth for Selectman

DEEP RIVER— Democratic First Selectman Richard Smith will be uncontested by town Republicans for a record 12th term, but an upset vote at the July 20 Democratic caucus has set the stage for a possible Democratic primary to determine Smith’s running-mate for board of selectmen.

The caucus nominated Angus McDonald Jr., a member of the planning and zoning commission who was the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for first selectman of Westbrook in 1999, over former Selectman Russell Marth on an 18-15 paper ballot vote. Marth, who served on the board of selectmen from 2007-2009 after winning election on the Deep River Independent Party ticket that challenged Smith in the 2007 election, had been recommended for the selectman position by the Deep River Democratic Town Committee.

McDonald, who is on the town committee, had also been interviewed by the town committee’s nominating committee. McDonald, who was nominated at the caucus by board of finance vice-chairman and former Speaker of the House Richard Balducci, said he was urged by some town Democrats to bring his candidacy to the caucus. “Some people thought it was appropriate,” he said.

McDonald, a partner and land surveyor in the Old Saybrook-based McDonald-Sharpe Associates engineering firm that was founded by his father, Angus McDonald Sr., moved from Westbrook to Deep River in 2005.

Smith said Thursday he has no objections to McDonald as his Democratic running-mate. Smith and Arthur Thompson, the current Democratic selectman who is also Democratic town chairman, said they do not expect Marth to force a primary for the selectman nomination, while acknowledging he has the right to challenge the caucus endorsement. Marth could not be reached for comment. To force a Sept. 13 Democratic primary, Marth would have to file petitions signed by five percent of the town’s Democratic voters by an Aug. 10 deadline.

The contest at the caucus between McDonald and Marth may be one of the few contests in this year’s town election. Town Republicans, meeting in caucus Monday, did not nominate a challenger for first selectman. Republicans nominated incumbent Republican Selectman David Oliveria for a second term on the board of selectmen.

Republicans did not nominate a candidate for tax collector to challenge first term Democratic Tax Collector Lisa Bibbiani. Democratic did not nominate candidates to challenge long-time Republican Town Treasurer Thomas Lindner, or first term Republican Town Clerk Amy Winchell. Winchell won the town clerk seat in 2009, defeating Democratic candidate Nancy Talbot by two votes.

Democrats did not nominate candidates for board of finance because the party already holds four of the six seats on the board. Republicans nominated incumbent board Chairman John Bauer for a new six-year term, along with William Ballsieper.
Democrats nominated incumbent Duane Gates for a new term on the Region 4 Board of Education. Gates had been elected in 2005 as an unaffiliated voter with Republican support, but later joined the Democratic Party. Republicans nominated Lauri Wichtowski, a former member of the elementary school board of education, to contest Gates for the Region 4 seat.

Democrats nominated incumbents Christine Daniels and David Berardis and new candidate Miriam Morrissey for the Deep River Board of Education. Republicans nominated incumbent James Olson and Julia Grabowski for the local board of education.

Republicans nominated Darlene Pollock for a new term on the board of assessment appeals. Democrats nominated Patricia Risnit for library board of trustees, with Republicans nominating Louise Cowen and Rolf Peterson for full terms on the library board of trustees, and Donald Routh for a two-year vacancy term.


Developer gives up appeal of Zoning Commission’s rejection of a new Rite Aid super store in Essex

Heavy traffic, Route 153 and Bokum Road

The deep pocket developer, who wanted to build a new Rite Aid superstore on Rte. 153 and Bokum Rd., across from the Colonial Shopping Center in Essex, has given up. Initially, after the Essex Zoning Commission last year rejected permission by a vote of 4 to 1 to build a new 14,673 sq. ft. Rite Aid in Essex, developer Robert Landino had appealed the local zoning commission’s decision in state district court.

Landino, Chief Executive Officer of Centerplan Companies in Middletown, had spent thousands of dollars on attorneys, environmental and traffic consultants and architects in trying to convince the commission to approve the deal.

Now, however, Landino has withdrawn his appeal, which leaves in place the Essex Zoning Commission’s rejection of the project.  Confirming the withdrawal of the appeal, Landino said, “The only location that we are currently committed to is a relocation of the East Hartford [Rite Aid] store, which is approved and will break ground this fall.”

The proposal to build a new Rite Aid superstore in Essex across from the busy Colonial Shopping Plaza sparked much public opposition, when it was first proposed early last year. There were four widely attended public hearings, 100 people at one of them, before the zoning commission under the chairmanship of Alvin Wolfgram strongly rejected the new development. Wolfgram said that the developers did not adequately address the safety concerns of a new pedestrian crossing over Rte. 153, nor the dangers of having a new, two-way vehicular traffic entrance onto Rte. 153 from the giant new store.  Other commission members raised objections to the cookie cutter design of the proposal’s architecture and unimaginative landscaping.

Entrance to the Oliver's Taverne

The effect of the abandonment of the appeal not only leaves in place the Commission’s original decision, but also the present 12,180 sq. ft. Oliver’s Taverne. (The primary owner of the Taverne had spoken out strongly in favor of the Rite Aid proposal during the public hearings.)

In a recent interview, a Taverne spokesman said that there had been some confusion as to whether Oliver’s Taverne was still open. “We are still here,” John Sousa said emphatically, “and doing more business than ever.” He also joked, “You can’t get a prescription filled here, but you can get a great martini.”  The Taverne also offers a “Lobster Madness” special every Wednesday.

A possible question of Zoning Commission Chairman Wolfgram’s “objectivity” in considering the Rite Aid application was also put to rest by the his vote against the Rite Aid proposal. Wolfgram is by occupation a professional engineer, and in this capacity he had worked with Rite Aid developer Landino on the Preserve project in Old Saybrook, a fact acknowledged by Landino.

However, it was clear through Wolfgram’s strong opposition to the proposal at the Essex Zoning Commission that Wolfgram and Landino were not working together on creating a new Rite Aid in Essex.


Republican Candidate for Essex First Selectman Announces Web Site Launch

Bruce MacMillian the republican candidate for First Selectman of Essex is pleased to announce the launch of his campaign web site:

The site went live on Wednesday July 27, 2011 and already has generated a great deal of interest. The intent of the site is for voters to be able to learn more about Bruce; see the issues at hand, and how Bruce and the Republican platform plan to address them.  In addition voters can view an online schedule of events where Bruce will be available to meet them in person, or they can even schedule a one on one meeting time and place if that is more convenient. There is also a tab to become more involved in the campaign either financially or as a volunteer.

Bruce a 30 year resident of Essex seeks the First Selectman’s seat in order to make Essex a safe,comfortable, affordable, business friendly and educational minded town, and strive to promote an environment that embraces a free exchange of ideas. Visit:  today!


Chester Democrats Nominate Edmund Meehan for First Selectman, Common Ground Party Nominates Andrew Landsman for Challenge

CHESTER— Democrats gave an enthusiastic endorsement to Edmund Meehan for first selectman at the party nominating caucus Tuesday, with Andrew Landsman emerging as a challenger for the top job on the Chester Common Ground Party ticket. Town Republicans did not nominate a candidate for first selectman at the party caucus Monday.

Meehan, 64, is a 30-year town resident who currently works as town planner for Newington. Meehan, a married father of four, began his career in the 1970s as assistant director for the Old Saybrook-based Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency and staffer for the regional Connecticut River Gateway Commission. He began working as a planner for the City of Hartford in 1982 before taking the Newington job in 1987.

Meehan served as a member of the Chester Planning and Zoning Commission from 1984 to 1991, and as chairman of the panel from 1985-1987. He served on the Chester Board of Finance from 1993 to 2002, and as chairman from 1999 to 2002.

Meehan said he decided to run for first selectman earlier this month, after three-term Republican-turned Independent First Selectman Tom Marsh announced in June that he would resign August 1 to become town manager in Windsor, Vt. Meehan said he is not in a position to take on the role of interim first selectman next month because of commitments to his 23-year job in Newington.

Meehan said maintaining town services and its quality of life in a difficult national economy would be the main challenge for the 2011-2013 selectmen’s term. Democrats nominated incumbent Selectman Lawrence Sypher for a second term as Meehan’s running-mate for board of selectmen in the Nov. 8 town election.

Republicans did not nominate a candidate for first selectman, with incumbent Republican Selectman Tom Englert nominated Monday for a second term on the board.

Mario Gioco, Republican town chairman, said party members are “still looking and talking to people,” while acknowledging there would probably not be a Republican nominee to succeed Marsh in the top job this year.

A Republican challenger could still petition to the GOP ballot line by submitting petitions signed by five per cent of the town’s registered Republicans, or 23 signatures, by an Aug. 10 deadline. Gioco said the town committee is planning to petition nominees on to other vacant spots on the GOP slate.

With Republicans lacking a candidate, it initially seemed that Meehan would be uncontested for first selectman this year. But the Common Ground Party, which also held a caucus Monday, nominated Andrew Landsman for first selectman, with party-co-founder Glen Reyer as his running mate for board of selectmen. The Common Ground Party formed in 2009, and currently has a 12-member town committee. The new party nominated candidates for some board and commission seats in 2009, but no challenger for first selectman, a step that secured a ballot line for the party this year.

Landsman, 49, is a former executive with CIGNA Corp. who currently works as facilities manager at the local Aaron Manor Nursing and Rehabilitation Facility. A town resident for nearly five years, Landsman currently serves on the inland-wetlands commission, and was initially included on the Democratic slate as nominee for a new term on the IWC. Reyer, 64, is an 11-year resident who served previously on the planning and zoning commission. He and Michael Sanders co-founded the Chester Common Ground Party in 2009.

The nominating sessions have set up a contest for first selectman between Meehan and Landsman, and a contest for the other two seats on the board of selectmen between Sypher, Englert, and Reyer.

Contests have emerged for other positions on the town’s lengthy municipal election ballot. Democrats nominated incumbent Virginia Carmany and  new candidate Robert Gorman for full six-year terms on the board of finance, with Lori Ann Clymas nominated for board of finance alternate. Republicans nominated Charles Park and Reyer for board of finance, creating a possible vacancy on the slate for Reyer’s spot that could be filled by petition. Common Ground nominated Susan Wright, a registered Democrat who had expressed interest in the first selectman nomination, for board of finance and Richard Nygard for board of finance alternate.

Democrats nominated incumbent Elaine Fitzgibbons for a new term on the Region 4 Board of Education, with Common Ground nominating Michael Hotkowski for the seat. Republicans, who hold the town’s other two seats on the Region 4 board, did not nominate a candidate.

Democrats nominated incumbent Laurie Rubionow and David Fitzgibbons for the Chester Board of Education, with Nicole Sypher nominated for a two-year vacancy term. Republicans nominated incumbent board chairwoman Wendy King and Lisa Tollefson for the local board of education, with King, Tollefson and James Gordon nominated for the local school board by the Common Ground Party.

Seats on the planning and zoning commission are contested. Democrats nominated incumbents Jon Mark Lavy, Sally Murray, and Peter Keheyias for full six-year terms, with longtime commission Chairman Michael Joplin nominated for a two-year vacancy term. Republicans nominated incumbent Melvin Seifert for planning and zoning commission, with Doreen Joslow nominated to contest Joplin for the two-year vacancy term. Joslow, who is also endorsed by the Common Ground Party for the vacancy term, was briefly a candidate for the Republican nomination in the 36th House District special election last winter. Common Ground endorsed Murray and Seifert for PZC.

Democrats nominated Henry Krempel for a full-term as planning and zoning commission alternate, with Sarah Jansen nominated for a four-year vacancy as PZC alternate. Common Ground nominated Patricia Visacky for the full term as PZC alternate.

Democrats nominated incumbent Mark Borton and Caryl Horner for full terms on the zoning board of appeals, with Common Ground nominating Al Visacky for a full-term on ZBA and Lisa Tollesfson for ZBA alternate.

Democrats nominated incumbents Sally Sanders and Kim Senay for inland-wetlands commission, with Republicans nominating Kris Seifert for IWC. Common Ground nominated Democratic incumbent Sanders and Al Visacky.

Republican incumbent Bruce Watrous, a former selectman, is uncontested for board of assessment appeals. Incumbent Democrat James Pease is uncontested for a new term on the water pollution control authority. Democrats nominated incumbents Edith Prisloe and Margaret Carter-Ward for library board of trustees, with Matthew Sanders nominated by Common Ground for library board of trustees.


Needleman and Libby Win Essex Democratic Town Committee Endorsement for Board of Selectmen, Challengers Say No Primary

ESSEX— Selectman Norman Needleman and newly-minted Democratic running-mate Stacia Libby Monday won the Essex Democratic Town Committee endorsement for first selectman and board of selectman, with challengers Anthony Chirico and Linda Savitsky indicating they would not challenge the nominations in a primary.

Needleman and Libby, who was a member of the Essex Republican Town Committee until earlier this month, received support from about four-fifths of the 25 town committee members present and voting on the endorsements, with Chirico and Savitsky receiving only a handful of votes.

Needleman, a 59-year-old businessman who has lived in Essex since the late 1980s, was first elected in 2003 with Democratic First Selectman Phil Miller, who is not seeking a new term this year after winning the 36th House District seat in a February special election. Needleman had been widely expected to run for the top job this year. He presented Libby, who has served on the park and recreation commission and the Essex Community Fund Board, as his favored running-mate on July 18, only days after she changed her voter registration from Republican to Democrat.

The challenge from Chirico and Savitsky emerged earlier this month. Chirico, 58, has lived in town since the late 1990s, and was the unsuccessful Republican nominee against Democratic State Senator Eileen Daily of Westbrook in the 33rd Senate District in 2000 and 2002. He became a Democrat in 2004, and later joined the Democratic Town Committee. Chirico, who ran a business related to trade with China, is a former member of the zoning commission and currently serves as the town’s representative on the regional Connecticut River Gateway Commission.

Savitsky also served on the zoning commission, and worked previously as director of municipal finance services for the state Office of Policy and Management. She is married to former Democratic Selectman Alvin Wolfgram, the current chairman of the zoning commission.

The four candidates were allowed to make a brief presentation and answer questions from committee members before the vote, which was conducted by show-of-hands despite a request from Chirico for a secret ballot vote.

Needleman said he has the management and town government experience needed to succeed Miller. Chirico said he became a candidate to offer local Democrats “options”, and pledged to improve communications with residents and develop an economic development plan for the town. Libby said her change of political parties was “not a difficult choice for me” and described herself as a “moderate” ready to support Needleman. Savitsky noted she was a “lifelong Democrat,” and cited her experience in municipal and state government.

But in response to a question from committee member Lon Seidman, all four candidates, including challengers Chirico and Savitsky, said they would not force a Sept. 13 Democratic primary if they did not receive the committee’s nomination. Chirico repeated the no primary pledge after the vote. A prospective challenger would have to file petitions signed by five percent of the town registered Democrats, about 60 signatures, by Aug. 10 to force a primary.

Democrats did not nominate candidates for board of finance because the party currently holds four of the six seats on the board. Acting on a motion from Finance Board Chairman Jim Francis, the committee cross-endorsed incumbent Republicans Keith Crehan and Jeff Woods for new six-year terms on the board.

Democrats renominated incumbent Chris Riley for a new six-year term on the Region 4 Board of Education. Riley has also been cross-endorsed by town Republicans, meaning there will be no contest for the regional school board seat this year. Democrats nominated Loretta McClusky for the Essex Board of Education, and incumbent Richard Helmecki for a new term on the board of assessment appeals.

Barring a challenge that now appears unlikely, the Needleman-Libby ticket will face off with Republican first selectman nominee Bruce MacMillian and his running-mate, Republican Selectman Joel Marzi, in the Nov. 8 town election.



Dick Smith, on his way to a 12th term as Deep River’s First Selectman

Dick Smith by 1905 water fountain in front of Town Hall

Deep River’s Democratic Town Committee made it unanimous the other evening (July 20), when it nominated Dick Smith to serve a 12th term as the town’s First Selectman. Also, rumor has it, that the Deep River Republican Town Committee, when it meets next Tuesday evening, will not even nominate a candidate to run against him.

In simplest terms Richard H. Smith, who has served for 22 years as Deep River’s First Selectman, will add two more years in office, if he is elected again in November.

At the Democrat’s town committee meeting the other evening, as if to demonstrate that there was still a modicum of competition for public office, two candidates vied for the Democratic Party’s nomination for the job of Selectman. After a painfully polite debate by the two candidates, the party nominated Angus McDonald over Russell Marth by a vote of 19 to 15.

After this mini contest, the Democrats got down to a roll call of unanimous nominations for the offices of Tax Collector, members of the Boards of Education of the Deep River Elementary School and of the Region 4 High School and a member of the Board of Directors of the Deep River Library. Leading this list of unanimities was of course the First Selectman nominee, Dick Smith.

New expanded Adams supermarket in Deep River

What makes Deep River so different from other river towns, where the changing of First Selectman is done with regularity? Why does Deep River want the same First Selectman that it has had for the past two decades to serve another two more years?

One hint might be that Smith knows what the first priority of every voter is. It is “keeping taxes stable.” With this singular precept firmly in place, Smith has then gone about encouraging a commercial building spree that has structurally changed the town of Deep River. It has also increased tax revenues.

Although Smith is still tinkering with the town’s appearance by installing new sidewalks and street lamps on Main Street, most of the major developments in this effort have been completed. They include an enormous expansion and modernization of the Adams supermarket across Main Street from Town Hall, as well as a new Walgreens pharmacy superstore that shares its parking lot with neighboring Town Hall.

New Walgreens pharmacy superstore in Deep River

Attempting a visual similarity of Walgreens and Town Hall, the exterior bricks of the new Walgreens “sort of” match the old bricks of Town Hall. Also, both structures, symbolically, share a single bright red sign, which features “Town Hall” and “Walgreens” in equal sized lettering.

A third major downtown commercial development is a rearward facing complex (to permit parking in front of tenant businesses), which has as tenants Dunkin’ Donuts, Deep River Cleaners and a consignment business. From the street the building has been given a New England look.

Next on the roster of Dick Smith’s commercial improvements is Deep River’s Plattwood Industrial Park, which Smith proudly states is “100% occupied.”  In fact, Smith claims that “people are calling all the time,” wanting to move into the town’s industrial park.” “I wish we had more space,” he says, and he is working on ways to expand the facility.

The businesses in the Industrial Park are the kind of small business that fit into small towns, Smith says. Also, tenants at the facility contribute helpfully to the Deep River town revenues. Present tenants in the park include: Interpro, Withrop Tool and a German based company called Colanar, which offers “innovative solutions to the Pharma and Biotech industries, “to quote its mission statement.

New complex with Dunkin' Donuts and other tenants

Then, there is a privately owned group of properties which also bring revenue to the town. These are the impressive string of “McMansions” along the west bank of the Connecticut River within the boundaries of Deep River.

“There are sometimes only two people living in some of these homes,” Smith says. Also, he points out that the residents in these huge houses generally make very little use of the town’s public services, such as sending their children to the town’s elementary school, which saves money for the town.

In addition, Smith takes pride in the fact that his administration has upgraded virtually all of the Town’s public buildings, including the town library and the elementary school. More improvements are underway for Town Hall as well.

“We are doing good,” Smith says with satisfaction, and, “We have no outstanding bond issues that the town has to pay off.”  Also, he feels that the new businesses at the Town Hall core attract foot traffic for the rest of the shops along Main Street, even including the town’s iconic tattoo parlor.

“I am always concerned about the tax base,” says Smith, repeating his mantra. “We keep taxes stable … and try to save money.”

Looking ahead to his next term, Smith says, “There is still plenty to do, but I have built a network of people, and that helps me.”  Also, he has had a lot of on-the-job training as First Selectman over the years.


Essex Republicans Nominate Candidates for Selectmen

Essex Republicans at their July 20 Caucus, endorsed  local businessmen Bruce MacMillian as the republican party’s candidate for First Selectman, and incumbent Joel Marzi for Selectman.

MacMillian, an Essex resident since 1986, has over 40 years of local and international business experience in both large as well as small company settings. MacMillan’s large company and international experience came as the President of Travelers International Operations then following his retirement from the Travelers; he ran a small locally based company as its President and CEO. MacMillian is active in the community and has served on the Middlesex Hospital’s Board of Directors since 2005.In addition; MacMillian has served the town as the Vice Chairman of The Essex Housing Authority Board as well as serving as a member of Essex’s Park and Recreation Commission.

Marzi, a small business owner, is a 34 year resident of Essex. Currently he is serving his first term on the Board of Selectman,   previously serving Essex on the Board of Finance, the Inland Wetlands Commission, and as the Chairman of the Zoning Commission as well as the Expansion and Renovations Committee at the Elementary School.

MacMillian and Marzi’s will work to make Essex a safe, comfortable, affordable, business friendly and educational minded town, and strive to promote an environment that embraces a free exchange of ideas.


Essex Republicans Expected to Nominate Bruce Macmillian for First Selectman with Joel Marzi as Running-Mate

ESSEX— The Essex Republican Town Committee is recommending Bruce MacMillian, a former business executive and member of the Essex Housing Authority, as the party’s candidate for first selectman. Incumbent Selectman Joel Marzi is seeking a second term as his running-mate for board of selectmen in the Nov. 8 town election.

The MacMillian-Marzi ticket will be presented to town Republicans for approval at the party’s 2011 nominating caucus set for Wednesday July 20 at 7:30 p.m. in the auditorium at the town hall.

MacMillian was presented to the town committee Wednesday as the party’s prospective nominee for the open first selectman seat. MacMillian and one other prospective candidate, former U.S. Coast Guard officer Leigh Rankin, were interviewed in recent weeks by the panel’s nominating committee that was chaired by Terry Stewart, a former chairman of the Region 4 Board of Education. Marzi, who lost to departing Democratic First Selectman Phil Miller by about 400 votes in 2009, had declined a second run for the top spot, choosing instead to seek another term as selectman.

Rankin, who lives in the town’s Centerbrook section, indicated in remarks to the committee that she would accept the nominating committee decision, and not contest MacMillian for the first selectman nomination. Rankin a graduate of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in New London, said she would focus on gaining additional experience in town government by serving as an appointed member of the park and recreation commission and water pollution control authority/sanitary waste commission.

MacMillian, 64, is a former executive with the Traveler’s Insurance Company who later founded two smaller companies. He has lived in Essex since 1986. MacMillian was appointed to the Essex Housing Authority by Miller in 2004, serving as vice-chairman and implementing the decision to hire a private management company to run the 36-unit elderly housing complex in the Centerbrook section. MacMillian said he would devote full time to the job of first selectman if elected, and “be at town hall every day.”

Stewart said MacMillian stepped forward as a prospective candidate for first selectman soon after the May 9 annual budget meeting, where a proposed town government budget was defeated by voters for the first time in decades. A reduced budget was later approved in a June 7 referendum.

Other candidates recommended to the July 20 caucus include Keith Crehan and Jeff Wood, both incumbents, for new terms on the board of finance, Judy McCann, a children’s librarian, for a full six-year term on the local board of education, and Adam Conrad for a two-year term on the local board of education. Stewart said the nominating committee is recommending a cross-endorsement of incumbent Democrat Christopher Riley for the Region 4 Board of Education.


No Announcements Yet For Chester First Selectman Vacancy or Fall Municipal Election

CHESTER— While the dates for this month’s party nominating caucuses have been set, there have been no announcements yet of candidates for first selectman or a possible interim replacement for departing First Selectman Tom Marsh.

The board of selectmen discussed Marsh’s pending August 1 resignation briefly at a regular meeting Tuesday, but there has been no announcement from town Republicans on an interim first selectman who would serve through the end of the current two-year term on November 22. Marsh, who has held the town’s top job since 2005, announced last month that he would resign effective August 1 to assume the position of town manager inWindsor,Vermont.

Marsh was elected as a Republican, and changed his voter registration to unaffiliated last year to pursue a long-shot campaign for governor on the Connecticut Independent Party line. But because he was re-elected to a third term as a Republican in 2009, town Republicans hold the advantage on naming an interim replacement.

Under state law, the other two members of the board of selectmen, Republican Tom Englert and Democrat Lawrence Sypher have 30 days from the Aug. 1 resignation date to appoint an interim first selectman for the remainder of the term. Englert and Sypher, each first elected in 2009, have indicated plans to seek re-election to the board of selectmen, but have declined to serve as interim first selectman or run for the top office in the Nov. 8 town election.

Englert and Sypher have said they hope to reach agreement on the appointment of an interim first selectman. But if the two selectmen fail to agree on an appointment by the end of August, the appointment would fall to a committee of Republican town elected officials. The member’s of the committee would be Englert, and Marsh’s wife, Kathy, who serves as Republican registrar of voters.

Mario Gioco, chairman of the Chester Republican Town Committee, said Tuesday he and other committee members have interviewed two potential candidates for the interim appointment, and the Republican first selectman nomination for the fall election. Gioco said neither potential candidate is ready to formally announce, though an announcement could be made before the Republican nominating caucus that is set for July 25, at 7:30 p.m. at the Chester Meeting House.

Sypher said at Tuesday’s meeting he was advised that four individuals have “expressed some interest’’ in the Democratic nomination for first selectman. Democrats will nominate a 2011 election slate at a caucus set for July 26 at the Chester Meeting House.

One of the prospective candidates, who was present for Tuesday’s meeting, is Susan Wright . A Democrat, Wright is a 33-year town resident who currently serves on the appointed economic development commission. She works in town as a massage therapist.


Proposed Route 154 Organic Market Back Before Chester Planning and Zoning Commission

CHESTER— A proposed organic market on Route 154 that over the past year has been the subject of a lawsuit and variance requests to the zoning board of appeals goes back to the planning and zoning commission next week.

The commission will hold a public hearing Thursday on a special permit application by 56 Middlesex Avenue LLC of Cromwell and local resident Peter Kehayias for a first floor retail market and second floor office in the vacant building at 56 Middlesex Avenue, also known as Route 154. The hearing convenes at 7:30 p.m. in the Chester Meeting House on Liberty Street.

Kehayias, a former owner of the Pattaconk Restaurant who still owns the Main Street building, has been seeking approval for the proposed market for nearly a year. The 56 Middlesex Avenue building, a former service station that most recently was a bicycle repair shop, has been vacant for several years.

The commission last November denied a special permit application for the property that included the market and a 10-seat cafe area for customers. Kehayias appealed the denial in a lawsuit filed in Middlesex Superior Court, and earlier this year also asked the zoning board of appeals to approve variances that would serve to reverse the planning and zoning commission decision. The ZBA in March denied the variance requests that would have authorized the market use, but approved a variance that allows an expansion of the structure to house a walk-in cooler.

The new application set for public hearing next week makes no reference to a cafe seating area, but calls for a retail market that would sell “a range of prepared foods, dry goods, groceries and locally grown fruits and vegetables,” along with some meats, poultry, fish and seafood. The Organic Market would be open seven days a week, with hours from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. and shorter hours on weekends.

Another thing that has changed since the original permit denial last November is that Kehayias is now serving on the commission he has been appearing before over the past year. Kehayias was appointed by the board of selectmen in late March to fill a vacant alternate seat on the panel.

Kehayias has recused himself from participating in commission discussions involving his property or proposed business activities, most recently earlier this month when the panel approved construction of a three-foot deep utility trench crossing the Chester War Memorial site to allow for an upgrade of electrical service to the 56 Middlesex Avenue property. The Chester War Memorial parcel, which has a granite monument listing the names of town veterans, abuts the 56 Middlesex Avenue site. Local veterans did not object to the underground utility connection.

In a second special permit application set for public hearing on July 7, the United Church of Chester and Dawn Miles of Old Saybrook are seeking approval for a day care center/school on church-owned property at 29 West Avenue, also known as Route 148. The center/school would offer a Montessori education program for children ages 3-9, along with before and after school child care services.


Essex Selectmen Back Town Hall Window Replacement

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has approved a plan to install new energy-efficient windows on the north side of town hall. The board acted last week after receiving an update from Frank Hall, a member of the local energy advisory committee.

Hall said the town has $27,832 remaining from a $44,000 state grant awarded previously for energy efficiency improvements at the town hall. Hall said the lowest bid submitted for the window replacement was $30,099.

Hall said reducing the number of windows designated for replacement from 14 to 13 could reduce the cost of the project to the amount of the available grant funds. The selectmen agreed to seek input from the board of finance on how to complete the window replacement using only the grant funds, or whether to consider spending town funds to cover the small difference between the grant amount and the bid price.

Selectmen also discussed the option of converting the former judge of probate office in to an improved emergency operations center for the town. The office with a separate entrance on the west side of town hall has been vacant since the opening of the new regional probate court in Old Saybrook last January.

William Buckridge, the town’s emergency management coordinator, said the town has applied for a $50,342 grant that would cover the most of the expense of converting the office after a $12,585 town match. The board agreed to await word on the grant award before discussing the next step for the office conversion.


Essex Finance Board Sets Tax Rate at 17.98 Mills

ESSEX— The board of finance has set the property tax rate for 2011-2012 at 17.98 mills, up a 0.35 mills from the current tax rate. The board set the new rate on a unanimous vote at a special meeting Thursday.

The approval of the new tax rate, which represents $17.98 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value, follows Tuesday’s referendum approval of the $21,441,753 budget plan. The referendum was held after an initial budget plan was rejected by voters at the annual budget meeting on May 9.

The board discussed mill rate options for nearly an hour, including whether to transfer funds from the undesignated fund balance to defray a portion of any possible tax increase. The fund balance currently contains about $2.4 million, representing about 12 percent of the town’s total annual operating expenses. The current tax rate is 17.63 mills.

Board member Campbell Hudson called for a significant transfer from the fund balance to reduce a tax hike that could have been as much as 0.52 mills with no transfers of surplus funds. Hudson noted the fund balance was well over the ten percent of total operating expenses that is recommended by auditors and bond rating agencies, while residents had shown their concern about a possible tax increase with the initial budget defeat and the 532-438 vote that approved the budget Tuesday. “People did not want any tax increase this year and I think we should do everything we can to keep the increase as low as possible,” he said.

Board chairman Jim Francis cautioned that diverting too much from the fund balance would help “make the spending level structural,” and lead to a much larger tax hike in 2012-2013.

After discussion, the board adopted the 17.98 mill rate that includes a $100,000 transfer from the fund balance, and use of $82,000 in anticipated unexpended surplus funds from the current fiscal year that ends June 30. Town Treasurer Bob Dixon said the transfer would put the fund balance at about 11 percent of total annual operating expenses.


Essex Referendum Approves $21.44 Million Town Budget Plan

ESSEX— Voters approved a $21.44 million town budget plan for 2011-2012 on a 532-438 vote in the eight-hour referendum held Tuesday.  A total of 960 of the town’s 4,540 registered voters, along with ten property owners who are not registered voters in Essex, cast ballots Tuesday.

The turnout, while less than 20 percent of the town’s electorate, was much higher than the turnout in the Region 4 education budget referendum on May 3, when 335 voters cast ballots in Essex.

The board of selectmen called the referendum after the initial budget plan was rejected on a 114-81 ballot vote at the annual budget meeting on May 9. The board of finance approved cuts totaling $155,139 after the budget defeat. The $21,441,753 budget approved Tuesday includes $6,632,019 for town government, a $7,402,790 appropriation for Essex Elementary School, and the town’s $7,406,944 share of the Region 4 education budget.

Board of finance chairman Jim Francis said the board would set the tax rate for 2011-2012 at a special meeting Wednesday. The current tax rate is 17.63 mills, or $17.63 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. In setting the tax rate, the finance board is expected to discuss whether to use a transfer from the town’s undesignated fund balance to defray a portion of any possible increase in the tax rate. The fund balance currently contains about $2.3 million.


Planning Subcommittee To Assess Essex Residents’ Views on Architectural Heritage

On June 8 & 9, the  Architectural Design Subcommittee of the Essex Planning Commission will hold focus groups for residents from the three villages to assess the Architectural Heritage of the Town of Essex.

In June 2009, the Essex Planning Commission created a subcommittee to study the need for architectural regulations for new construction and significant renovations in order to preserve Essex’s architectural character.  The Architectural Design Review Subcommittee is composed of representatives from the Planning Commission, the Zoning Commission, the Economic Development Commission, the Essex Historical Society, and other interested volunteers and is charged with the following mission:

  1. Determine the architectural heritage of the Town of Essex, including Essex village, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton;
  2. Determine if there has been a significant loss and/or potential for loss of this architectural heritage;
  3. Review what methods and resources have been successfully implemented in other similar communities to protect their architectural heritage; and
  4. Explore ideas and make recommendations and suggestions to the Planning Commission as to what methods and/or resources would be most appropriate and viable to protect the Town’s architectural heritage for existing and new construction in all zones in consultation with the general populace if it is found that there is significant loss and/or potential for loss.

The first three components of their mission statement has been completed. Through state grants, two studies (both available at Town Hall) were conducted, one by an architectural historian to survey architecturally significant areas in the three villages.  The other consulting firm catalogued options for preserving distinctive characteristics in our town.  As our next step, there will be three resident focus groups, one for each village, that will allow the committee to do two things:  share what information we have gathered and get input from members of the focus groups to bring to the public.

Residents have been randomly selected from official Town lists, and those who choose to participate will be part of a small focus group.  The group will be shown a brief power point presentation about the architectural heritage of the three villages and asked their opinion about possible planning options utilized by similar towns.  These meetings are scheduled for June 8 and 9. Time and place are available on the Essex town website: Members of the public may attend but will not be part of group comment.  In the fall, there will be a public meeting to show the presentation and to share the focus groups responses.

For any questions, please contact Neil Nichols, Chair, Architectural Design Subcommittee, 860-767-0249 or


Deep River Referendum Approves $13.89 Million Town Budget

DEEP RIVER- Voters approved the $13,896,944 town budget plan for 2011-2012 on a 244-120 vote in a referendum Tuesday.  The board of finance, acting after the result was announced, set the property tax rate for 2011-2012 at 24.28 mills, an increase of 2.55 mills from the current tax rate of 21.73 mills. The new rate represents $24.28 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value.

A total of 361 of the town’s 3,110 registered voters cast ballots Tuesday, along with three property owners who were not registered voters. The turnout, while extremely low, was actually higher than the turnout in Deep River for the Region 4 education budget referendum on May 3, when only 207 town voters cast ballots.

The spending plan includes the town government budget, an appropriation for Deep River Elementary School, and the town’s share of the Region 4 education budget. First Selectman Richard Smith said 1.8 mills of the 2.55 mill increase is attributed to the nearly eight percent drop in the grand list of taxable property as a result of the town wide property revaluation that was completed last year. The remaining .75 mills is attributed to increased spending for education.


Budget Votes Pending in Deep River and Essex

DEEP RIVER/ESSEX— Referendum votes are pending over the next week in Deep River and Essex on the town budget plans for 2011-2012.

Deep River votes Tuesday on a proposed $13,896,944 town budget that includes funding for town government, Deep River Elementary School, and the town’s share of the Region 4 education budget. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the regular election polling place, the Deep River Public Library Community Room.

Essex votes June 7 on a revised $21,441,753 spending plan that was approved by the board of finance last week. The board approved a total budget reduction of $155,139 after a higher spending total was rejected on a 114-81 paper ballot vote at the annual budget meeting on May 9.

Essex voters will have a final opportunity to discuss the budget at a town meeting scheduled for May 31 at 8 p.m. in the auditorium at the town hall. Polls will be open at the town hall on June 7 from 12 noon to 8 p.m. for the budget vote.


Essex Finance Board Approves $155,139 in Budget Cuts, June 7 Referendum Set on Revised Spending Plan

ESSEX— The board of finance Thursday approved $155,139 in reductions to the town budget plan for 2011-2012 as the board of selectmen set an eight-hour referendum vote on the revised spending plan for Tuesday June 7.

The finance board held a joint meeting Thursday with the board of selectmen and local board of education to develop a revised budget in the wake of May 9 town meeting rejection of a $21.59 million spending package on a 114-81 paper ballot vote. It was the first rejection of a town budget for Essex in decades.

The revised budget totals $21,441,753, including funding for town government, Essex Elementary School, and the town’s share of the Region 4 education budget that was already approved by voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex in a May 3 referendum. The revised budget will be presented for discussion at a town meeting set for Tuesday May 31 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at the town hall. The referendum vote on the revised spending plan will be held from 12 noon to 8 p.m. on June 7.

Some of the cuts approved by the finance board are items that drew questions or objections from voters at the May 9 town meeting. The hiring of a new full-time employee for the town highway department was cancelled for a savings of $47,441 including pay and benefits. The contingency fund was reduced by $50,000, from $125,000 to $75,000. The board cut $5,000 from legal services, $3,000 in funding for a consulting planner, $10,000 from a fire department sinking fund that is set aside for future equipment purchases and $13,000 by cancelling the purchase or a printer/plotter for use by town offices.

The finance board did not accept two cuts that had been suggested by the board of selectmen after a meeting Wednesday; a $5,000 reduction for the libraries, $4,000 from Essex Library and $1,000 from the Ivoryton Library, and cancellation of a two percent pay raise for all elected officials. The original budget provided election officials, including the selectmen, town clerk, tax collector, town treasurer, and the two registrars of voters, with the same two percent pay raise that was provided to non-union town employees. The pay raise will be cancelled for the first selectman and two members of the board of selectmen, but provided to the other elected positions.

The appropriation for Essex Elementary School was reduced by $5,000, a cut in the account for electricity that was recommended by the local board of education for anticipated savings from greater energy efficiency in the renovated school building.

Despite some calls from residents at the meeting Thursday for a budget that requires no increase in the tax rate, the revised $21.41 million spending plan is still expected to require an increase of about a half-mill in the current property tax rate of 17.63 mills.

But the board of finance could approve a transfer from the town’s undesignated fund balance to defray or reduce the need for an increase in the tax rate. The undesignated fund balance currently contains about $2.3 million. Finance Board Chairman Jim Francis said the board would not consider any possible transfers from the fund balance until it convenes to set a tax rate for 2011-2012, a meeting that would occur after a budget is approved by the voters.


Chester Voters Approve $12.55 Million Town Budget at 12-Minute Town Meeting

 CHESTER— It took all of 12 minutes at the annual budget meeting Tuesday for voters to approve a $12.55 million town budget plan for 2011-2012 and a dozen other agenda items.

About 25 residents turned out on a rainy night for the town meeting, approving the budget without discussion on a unanimous voice vote. The $12,555,853 spending plan includes a $3,668,718 town government budget and capital expenditure plan, a $4,164,069 appropriation for Chester Elementary School and the town’s $4,723,066 share of the Region 4 education budget.

The board of finance had endorsed a $145,766 transfer from the town’s undesignated fund balance to avoid the need for any increase in the tax rate, which will remain at  22.11 mills, or $22.11 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. After the transfer, the fund balance is expected to contain about $1.3 million in June 2012.

Voters also gave unanimous approval to several other items on the town meeting agenda, including a required ten-year update of the harbor management plan, and transfers from the town’s capital expenditure reserve fund for road repairs, a storage shed at the town garage, and a new 4-wheel drive pickup truck for the town’s highway department.

Voters also approved acceptance of two separate $250,000 state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grants, that will be used to fund an extension of the public water line on Route 154 to encompass several parcels on Denlar Drive where testing has detected unacceptable levels of arsenic in  the groundwater. The water main extension is expected to be completed by next year at no direct cost to the town.


Essex Finance Board Puts Off Decisions on Budget Reductions

ESSEX— The board of Finance has deferred decisions on reductions to the town budget plan for 2011-2012 to a May 19 meeting with members of the board of selectmen and local board of education.

The finance board held a special meeting Thursday in the wake of Monday’s 114-81 town meeting defeat of a proposed $21.59 million budget. It was the first voter rejection of a proposed town budget for Essex in decades.

Jim Francis, board of finance chairman, said about 70 residents turned out for the meeting, and were given a chance to comment on possible changes and reductions to the budget. But at Thursday’s meeting, Francis said there was also input from residents objecting to any drastic reductions in the budget plan that includes a $$6.78 million town government budget and a $7.4 million appropriation for Essex Elementary School.

Francis said the board’s regular meeting on May 19 would become a joint meeting with members of the board of selectmen and local school board. Francis said the finance board would “ask the selectmen and board of education to find what they can find,” in possible budget reductions, and present recommendations at the joint meeting.”Hopefully we come up with a budget that we all agree we can live with,” he said.

Francis had said after the result was announced at Monday’s meeting, the vote on a revised budget would likely be held by referendum. The board of selectmen must make the final decision on whether to call a referendum, and set the hours of voting. There could be a full day of voting, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., or an eight-hour 12 noon to 8 p.m. referendum like the May 3 vote in Chester, Deep River, and Essex that resulted in approval of the Region 4 education budget.

Francis said the second vote on a revised budget would likely be held in early June. “There’s no real tension to the whole thing until we get to the middle of June,” he said. Town officials need a budget approval in June in time to mail the July tax bills to property owners.


Essex Town Budget Defeated on 114-81 Vote

ESSEX— Voters at the annual budget meeting Monday rejected a proposed $21.59 million town budget plan on a 114-81 paper ballot vote, marking the first defeat of a town government budget for Essex in decades.

Residents packed the auditorium at town hall to discuss and vote on a 2011-2012 spending plan that included a $6,782,158 town government budget and a $7,407,790 appropriation for Essex Elementary School. A third component of the spending package, the town’s $7,406,944 share of the Region 4 education budget, had already been approved in a May 3 referendum.

The total $21,596,892 spending plan was expected to require a small increase in the current tax rate of 17.63 mills, though Selectman Norman Needleman told the crowd the board of finance could endorse a transfer from the town’s undesignated fund balance to further limit the size of any possible tax increase. The fund balance currently contains about $2.2 million.

The town government budget, which represents a 4.37 increase over current spending, generated the most discussion. Strickland Hyde objected to a proposed new full-time position with the town highway department, which currently has five full-time employees. Hyde said 2011 was not the year to establish a new position at a cost of $35,000 plus the expense for medical benefits.

Paul Forrest questioned a $120,000 contingency fund that was included with the appropriation for the board of finance. Board Chairman Jim Francis said the amount was a total contingency fund for all town departments, boards and commissions, with special appropriations from the fund requiring approval from the finance board and voters at a town meeting. Forrest contended contingency funds should be available from past fiscal years if appropriations from the fund totaled between $30,000 to $40,000 in most years.

After about an hour of discussion, voters formed to lines two show proof of identification to the two registrars of voters and receive a paper ballot. After the result was announced, Francis said the finance board would meet later this week to consider targets for reductions in both the town government and elementary school budgets. Francis said a revised budget would be presented for approval in a referendum expected later this month.


Essex Selectmen Seek to Resolve Novelty Lane Issues to Complete Public Access Improvements

ESSEX— The board of selectmen will move to resolve issues involving the public access to the Connecticut River from Novelty Lane in an effort to utilize state funding that was provided to improve the access walkway.

The board Wednesday heard an appeal from Jeff Going, chairman of the harbor management commission, to resolve two outstanding issues related to the small street that extends south near the lower end of Main Street in downtown Essex village. The paved portion of the street ends at a public access walkway that extends to the bulkhead on Middle Cove of the Connecticut River. The town was awarded a $198,000 state Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP) grant last year, with a portion of the funds intended to upgrade the public access walkway at Novelty Lane.

Most of the grant funds were directed toward construction of a new boat launch on the river at the end of Main Street. But with the boat launch project completed, about $35,000 remains to pay for the improvements to the Novelty Lane walkway. The town must use the remaining grant funds this year, or return the money to the state.

Going said the unresolved issues involve a determination of clear title to the paved portion of the road that serves several homes and businesses, and a stone retaining wall that was constructed several years ago by an adjoining property owner without permits that extends over about a third of the public access right-of-way. The property owner at 15 Novelty Lane is Terrance Lomme, a local lawyer who now serves as the elected judge of probate for the nine-town region.

Going, by letter and in person at the meeting, advised the selectmen that the commission has already directed a small portion of the grant funds to retain a landscape architect to begin design of the improvements to the public access walkway. He also told the board the retaining wall, and a drainage pipe that was installed with it, “has caused harm to the remaining public access area around it” by eroding soil from the narrow walkway. Going said the public access has been marked by signage and promoted in brochures since 1990.

Going said the “illegal wall” must be removed, whether the town is able to utilize the state grant funds or not. In his letter, Going contended the harbor management commission has the authority to pursue removal of the wall and remediate the drainage and soil erosion problem “regardless of what the board of selectmen does or does not do,” regarding the issues related to Novelty Lane.

Town funds would have to be used for any title research related to Novelty Lane. The grant funds must be directed only for design and construction of the public access improvements.


Tom Marsh, Dick Smith and Noel Bishop Support Mayors for Meals

Mayors for Meals is part of the Meals On Wheels Association of America’s national campaign to bring attention to the need for senior nutrition.  The Estuary Council of Seniors, Inc. would like to thank First Selectmen Tom Marsh from Chester, Dick Smith from Deep River, and Noel Bishop of Westbrook for participating in the Mayors for Meals program by personally delivering Meals On Wheels to seniors in their towns. 

The Estuary Council of Seniors is the sole provider of Meals On Wheels for the nine town Estuary Region and the Town of Madison.  Nearly 66,000 meals were delivered to homebound seniors last year by dedicated volunteers. Meals on Wheels is a vital service that allows seniors to continue to live independently in their own homes. For more information on this service please contact Diane at 860-388-1611.


Deep River Public Hearing Tuesday on $13.89 Million Budget Plan for 2011-2012

DEEP RIVER—05/02–CORRECTION:  Deep River Elementary School population is predicted to show an increase rather than decrease, as previously reported in this article. The public hearing is Tuesday on a proposed $3.61 million town government budget for 2011-2012 and a proposed $5.19 million appropriation for Deep River Elementary School. The hearing convenes at 7:30 p.m. in the gymnasium at the elementary school.

The total $13,896,944 spending package includes $3,617,748 for town government, $5,192,900 for the elementary school, the town’s $4,387,300 share of the Region 4 education budget, and $699,000 in town and school related debt service costs.

First Selectman Richard Smith said the spending plan is expected to require an increase in the tax rate of 2.55 mills, despite decreases in the town government budget and the local share of the Region 4 budget. The current tax rate of 21.73 mills, or $21.73 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value, has not increased for the past two years. Smith said the prospective tax rate of 24.28 mills is a “worst case” projection that could be slightly reduced by the board of finance after the budgets are approved by voters.

More than two-thirds of the potential tax hike, specifically 1.8 mills, is a direct result of an eight percent decrease in the October 2010 grand list of taxable property. The sharp drop in the grand list is a result of a required townwide property revaluation that was completed last year amid the slow national economy and a related decline in real estate values. But Smith said a report prepared by Tax Assessor Robin O’Loughlin shows that 808 residential properties will have a varying decrease in the actual tax bill, despite the higher mill rate, while 1,265 residential properties will have a higher tax bill.

The proposed town government budget decreases by about $372,000, with savings resulting from the disbanding last year of the former Deep River Public Health Nurses and changing a full-time building office clerk/park and recreation director position to two separate part time positions. The $3.61 million town government appropriation includes a $235,260 capital expenditure plan.

The proposed $5,192,900 budget for Deep River Elementary School represents a 5.5 percent spending increase over the current appropriation for the school. The proposed budget retains all current teacher positions at the school, despite discussion of the possible elimination of two teacher positions.

Smith said the board of finance would consider any possible adjustments to the town government and elementary school budgets based on input received from residents at the public hearing. He said the town government and elementary school budgets would then go to the voters for approval at a referendum expected in the fourth week of May. The Region 4 education budget goes to the voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex for approval in an eight-hour referendum Tuesday.


Little Public Comment on No-Tax-Increase Chester Budget

CHESTER— A total $12.55 million town spending plan for 2011-2012 drew a mild reaction Tuesday from a handful of residents at the annual budget hearing. About 20 residents, most currently serving on town boards and commissions, turned out for the hearing at the Chester Meeting House.

The total $12,555,853 spending package includes a $3,668,718 town government budget, a $4,164,069 appropriation for Chester Elementary School, and the town’s $4,723,066 share of the Region 4 education budget.
The town government budget is down by $26,767, or 0.72 percent, from the current appropriation. The town government budget includes a $345,000 capital expenditure fund for 2011-2012, with $270,000 of the amount directed toward road repairs, and $25,000 for roof repairs at the Chester Hose Company Firehouse.

First Selectman Tom Marsh said the town budget maintains all current services, despite the small decrease in total spending. He said the capital expenditure plan, which also includes $50,000 towards the future purchase of a new fire truck later in the decade, “takes care of what we need to take care of” in a year where growth in the grand list of taxable property generated only $33,500 in new tax revenue. “If we had fatter days we could certainly put more money in this account,” he said.

The $4,164,069 budget for Chester Elementary School represents a small $2,824 decrease from current spending for the school. A drop in student enrollment at the K-sixth grade school, from the current 275 students to 266 expected in September, allowed for a reduction of one teacher position, one teacher assistant position, and a part-time para-educator position for a savings of about $110.000.

The budget plan calls for no increase in the current tax rate of 22.11 mills, or $22.11 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. Helping for avoid a hike in the tax rate is a transfer of $145,000 from the town’s undesignated fund balance. The transfer would leave about $1.31 million in the fund balance in June 2012.

There were no calls for changes in the budget plan at the public hearing. The annual budget meeting vote on a spending package for 2011-2012 is expected to be held on Tuesday May 17 at the Meeting House. The Region 4 education budget goes to the voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex Tuesday in a 12-noon to 8 p.m. referendum.


Proposed Business Zone Gets Favorable Response at Essex Zoning Hearing

ESSEX— A proposed new business zone on Plains Road received a generally favorable response Monday evening at a public hearing of the zoning commission.

About 30 residents, many of them property owners on Plains Road, turned out for the public hearing on proposed zoning changes the commission has been discussing for more than two years. The proposed change would create a new business zone on both sides of Plains Road from the Valley Railroad crossing south to the intersection with Bokum Road and Westbrook Road (Route 153). The approximate one-mile stretch that includes about 30 properties is currently zoned for limited industrial, though some commercial uses have been permitted over the past decade under variances approved by the zoning board of appeals.

Along with establishing a business zone on both sides of the road, the proposed changes would direct limited industrial uses to sections of parcels set back from the road. The proposed changes, which would not affect any existing uses, also includes the town’s first definition of light manufacturing, the use intended for the light industrial zone.

The proposed new business zone would allow an array of commercial/business uses, most under a special permit that would require a public hearing and approval from the commission. Excluded would be large-scale retail uses, and trash or solid waste disposal facilities. The change would allow restaurants, dropping an existing regulation limiting new restaurants to ten seats, and second-floor apartments for any existing residential uses on the road.

Much of the comment at the hearing was from property owners supporting the proposed new zone, and from a handful of property owners whose parcels had been excluded from the proposed new zone. As proposed by the commission, the new zone would not include six properties on the east side of Plains Road, between the railroad crossing and the entrance to southbound Route 9.

The Connecticut Marine Trades Association, owner of one of the parcels, submitted a letter asking for the zone to be extended. Charles Irving, owner of another of the excluded parcels, also called for extending the business zone to include the six parcels. Irving also suggested the commission consider allowing additional commercial uses in the new zone. “It’s a step but only a small step,” he said.

Commission chairman Alvin Wolfgram said the panel would consider including the six properties on the northeast segment of Plains Road in the new zone, though any expansion of the new zone would require a separate proposal and public hearing. Wolfgram said the commission is also willing to discuss other possible commercial uses for the new zone. “It’s sort of a work in progress and we can amend the uses going down the pike,” he said.

The commission is expected to continue the public hearing on the proposed zoning changes at its May 16 meeting.


Essex Selectmen Set Town Meeting Vote on 2011-2012 Town Budget

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has decided to hold a town meeting vote on the proposed $21.59 million town budget plan for 2011-2012, setting the annual budget meeting for Monday May 9 at 8 p.m. in the auditorium at the town hall.

The agenda for Wednesday’s board meeting provided for a discussion of whether to hold the budget vote by town meeting, or an eight-hour referendum. But there was no discussion as First Selectman Phil Miller and Selectman Norman Needleman moved for a town meeting vote. Selectman Joel Marzi was absent.

The board sent the town budget directly to referendum in 2009, but last year the budget was approved at a town meeting attended by less than 50 residents. Residents could still force a referendum by submitting a petition signed by at least 50 registered voters to the town’s clerk’s office by Friday May 6. Residents turning out for the May 9 meeting may determine the method of voting, either by voice vote, show of hands, or a check list and paper ballot vote.

The spending plan includes $6,782,158 for town government, an increase of 4.37 percent from the current appropriation, and an appropriation of $7,407,913 for Essex Elementary School that represents a 2.94 percent increase from current funding for the school. The total spending amount of $21,597,015 also includes the town’s $7,406,944 share of the Region 4 education budget that goes to the voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex in a May 3 referendum.

The spending plan is expected to require an increase in the property tax rate that is currently set at 17.63 mills, or $17.63 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property values. Finance board chairman Jim Francis has said the board could decide to reduce the size of any increase in the tax rate with a one-time transfer of funds from the town’s undesignated fund balance that currently contains over $2 million.


Essex Zoning Commission Sets Public Hearing on Proposed Plains Road Business District

ESSEX— The zoning commission has scheduled an April 25 public hearing on the proposed zoning map amendments and regulations for a new business district zone on Plans Road. Monday’s hearing will convene at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall.

Joseph Burdow, zoning enforcement officer, said the proposed change for parcels on both sides of Plains Road has been under consideration by the panel for more than two years. Most of the properties are currrently in a limited industrial district, though some properties were able to establish a commercial/retail use under variances approved over the past decade by the zoning board of appeals.

Budrow said the proposed business district would encompass about 20 properties on an approximate three-quarters-mile section of Plains Road exstending south from the vicinity of the vacant Iron Chef restaurant parcel to the intersection with Westbrook Road (Route 153). He said one goal of the proposed change is clarify and encourage business development along Plains Road, while directing any future limited industrial uses to the back sections of parcels, not directly on the road. The proposed zone change would not affect existing uses on properties. The proposed business district would allow most commercial uses, though a special permit approval from the commission would be required for some new commercial uses. A public hearing is required for approval of a special permit.

The proposed change would allow new restaurants and food service establishments, while current regulations for commercial zones limit new restaurants to ten seats or less. The proposed changes include a revision of the regulations governing the limited industrial district, eliminating some uses that are currently allowed, such as garbage and trash collection enterprises.


Essex Finance Board Makes No Changes to 2011-2012 Budget After Public Hearing

ESSEX— The board of finance made no changes to the proposed $6.78 million town government budget and proposed $7.4 million appropriation for Essex Elementary School after a relatively quiet budget hearing Monday.

About 25 residents turned out for questions and comments on the proposed spending plans for 2011-2012. The proposed $7,407,913 elementary school budget is up by $211,866, or 2.94 percent, with proposed town government spending of $6,782,158 that is up by $283,912, or 4.37 percent. The town and elementary school budgets are combined with the town’s $7,406,944 share of the Region 4 education budget for a total spending levy of $21,597,015, an amount that is up by $764,285, or 3.67 percent, from the 2010-2011 spending total.

After nearly an hour of presentations and questions, there were only two direct calls for further reductions in the budget. John Ackerman urged the finance board to take a closer look at the town government appropriation with a goal of avoiding a hike in the property tax rate. “Even a small increase could impact a lot to people who are having trouble making ends meet,” he said.

Former Selectman Vince Pacileo, who served the minority Republican selectman from 2003-2009, also urged the finance board to “pare down” the increase in the town government budget.

Board of Finance Chairman Jim Francis said Tuesday the board made no changes to the proposed budgets during a special meeting after the hearing. Francis said residents should anticipate a small increase in the tax rate that would be comparable to increases in recent years. The current tax rate is 17.63 mills, or $17.63 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed property value. The rate had increased last July by .68 mills to fund spending for the current year.
Francis said the increase in the tax rate could be lower if the board decides to transfer money from the town’s undesignated fund balance to defray a portion of any increase in the mill rate. The fund balance currently contains over $2 million, and has not been tapped for several years to limit any possible increases in the tax rate.
Francis said the finance board has followed a policy goal of keeping the fund balance at about 10 percent of total annual operating expenses. “It is now more than that,” he said, adding that some members may be willing to consider a one-time transfer from the fund balance.

Barring any petition for a referendum vote, the town government and elementary school spending plans go the voters for approval at the annual budget meeting on May 9. The Region 4 education budget goes to the voters of Chester, Deep River, and Essex in a May 3 referendum. If the spending plans are approved by voters, the board of finance would set the tax rate for 2011-2012 at its regular meeting on May 19.


Chester Zoning Board of Appeals Denies Most Variances for Route 154 Market

CHESTER— In a split decision, the zoning board of appeals had denied most of the variances required for a proposed market in a vacant building at 56 Middlesex Avenue, also known as Route 154.

The board acted unanimously at a March 21 session on two motions after a public hearing where local resident Peter Kehayias and Deep River architect John Kennedy presented plans for the proposed market with a 10-seat cafe area. The plans require a small expansion of the building for a walk in cooler.  The building, located on Route 154 near the intersection with Main Street, has been vacant for more than two years.

Kehayias, a former owner of the Patticonk Restaurant in the downtown village, has been trying for nearly a year to win zoning approval to convert the building into a market. The planning and zoning commission denied a special permit for the market last November, leading Kehayias to file a lawsuit in Middlesex Superior Court appealing the decision.
Eight residents, including former Selectman Peter Zanardi and Edward Ward, chairman of the water pollution control authority, spoke in support of the variances at the March 21 hearing. Kehayias said the market would be open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday-Saturday, and from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. He said the market would have four full-time employees, and four to six part-time workers.  No one spoke against the plans at the ZBA hearing, where Kennedy noted the building has always had a commercial or retail use.

The board acted on a two-part motion by member Mark Borton, approving an extension or expansion of a non-conforming structure to re-fit the structure, while denying all of the other variances requested by Kehayias. Borton’s motion said the other variances, including a change of use and variances of minimum setback and non-conforming characteristics requirements of zoning regulations, were issues for the planning and zoning commission to decide.
The ZBA decision leaves Kehayias’s lawsuit pending. The planning and zoning commission discussed the case with commission attorney David Royston and First Selectman Tom Marsh in closed sessions on Feb. 17 and March 3. After conferring with Royston, the commission decided not to send a representative to oppose the variance appeals at the March 21 ZBA meeting.


Deep River Town Meeting Approves $320,000 Cell Phone Tower Lease Buyout

DEEP RIVER— Residents at a town meeting Tuesday quickly approved a $320,000 buyout of ground rights for the cellular communications tower located on town property off Route 80.

Only a handful of residents turned out for the town meeting, unanimously approving a waiver of competitive bid requirements for the cell tower negotiations and the buyout offer from Tower Co. after less than a half-hour of discussion.

The tower was erected in 1998 by Nextel Communications on town land near the solid waste transfer station. The town has been receiving payments of $25,000 each year on a 25-year lease that ends in 2023. Under the $320,000 offer, Tower Co., a North Carolina-based firm affiliated with Nextel, would buyout ground rights for the tower site in a lump sum payment. Tower Co. would be required to remove the tower at no cost to the town if it was no longer being used for cellular communications.

First Selectman Richard Smith said another cellular communications company had submitted a buyout offer that was $1,000 higher than the Tower Co. offer after the original offer was announced in January. But Smith said he was not in favor of the town embarking on an “auction” for the ground rights.

Town attorney Jane Marsh, who was present for the meeting, said opening the process to other offers would “prolong the negotiating process,” and possibly result in a loss of the original offer from Tower Co. “It would not be in the best interest of the town to get a contract by that method,” she said.

Smith said the board of finance would have the final decision on how to use the $320,000 cash payment. Smith said some of the money could be placed in a capital and non-recurring projects fund to pay for various capital projects that would otherwise be funded through the annual town budget. The town is expected to receive the payment by July, the first month of the 2011-2012 fiscal year.


State Police Lieutenant Expected as New Essex Police Hire

ESSEX— First Selectman Phil Miller has confirmed that State Police Lt. Paul Kenefick, the current commander at the Troop F barracks in Westbrook, will be hired for an open position on the town police force.

Miller said last week Kenefick is retiring from a 21-year career with the state police, and was one of nearly 40 applicants for the town police position that opened up when former officer April Pawlow became a state trooper.  He said Kenefick was recommended by a law enforcement panel that screened the applications and interviewed four finalists. “The decision has been made,” Miller said, adding that he expects to introduce Kenefick at the April 6 meeting of the board of selectmen.

The decision to hire Kenefick comes amid a public effort opposing the hire being waged by former town officer John Orr, and unresolved questions about the status of another town officer, Corp. Marc Pisciotti, who was placed on administrative leave by Miller on Feb. 28 after he had been cleared by doctors to return to work following medical leave for a shoulder injury.

Orr resigned his position with the Essex police in August 2005 for reasons that have not been fully explained. In a six-page written statement that was left at post offices last week and distributed by Orr at the March 16 meeting of the board of selectmen, Orr claims Kenefick had mishandled an internal affairs investigation of him that was begun in September 2005 after he had left town service. Kenefick was a sergeant at the Westbrook barracks at the time. The statement also alleges favoritism in the handling of personnel matters, including citizen complaints, involving town police officers. Orr and another resident, Paul Goodwin, appeared at the March 16 meeting to question the plans to hire Kenefick.

Miller, at the meeting and in comments later in the week, dismissed as “ridiculous” the concerns raised by Orr.”He has no facts, no relevance, and no validity whatsoever,” Miller said.

Pisciotti said this week he was placed on paid administrative leave by Miller on Feb. 28, just as he was cleared to return to duty after several months on medical leave. Pisciotti said Miller had cited a state police internal affairs investigation involving him that Pisciotti believed had already been concluded.

Pisciotti, a town officer for more than a dozen years who also serves as the local representative to the International Brotherhood of Police Officers union, said he wants to return to work. Miller last week declined to comment on Pisciotti’s situation.

When he begins duty in Essex, a step that will require a period of training for service as a municipal police officer, Kenefick will join with Corporal Russell  Gingras as on-duty town officers under the supervision of Resident State trooper Kerry Taylor. The town has been paying for a second resident state trooper for some patrol duties since last fall because of short staffing among the town officers. Another officer, Salvatore Bevilacqua, has been on medical leave since last fall.


Essex Conservation Commission Authorizes Lethal Trapping of Beavers at Viney Hill Brook Park

Library image courtesy of J Schmidt - NPS Photo

ESSEX— The conservation commission has authorized the lethal trapping of beavers in one of the ponds at Viney Hill Brook Park. First Selectman Phil Miller announced the trapping at a meeting of the board of selectmen Wednesday where a handful of residents objected to the plan.

Miller said beavers have been constructing dams in the smaller of the two ponds at the 900-acre park located off Cedar Grove Terrace, flooding a trail. He said the conservation commission, which supervises a large portion of the park set aside for passive recreation, is concerned the beavers may move to the larger pond that is used as a public swimming area. “There is a potential for more problems,” he said.

Miller said the commission has retained a private trapper, who would do the trapping at no charge in exchange for the beaver pelts that have increased in value in recent years. A permit for the trapping requires the activity be completed during March.

Several residents objected to the trapping, where the beavers are held under water to drown Residents also contended the traps were laid last week, before all nearby property owners were notified of the plan.

Jim Richmond noted the commission’s own regulations prohibit trapping and hunting in the portion of the park that is set aside as an open space nature preserve. Other residents said their dogs often enter the smaller pond, and could have been caught in one of the traps and harmed.

Miller said the traps have been set up, but have not yet been armed to catch the beavers. “I wish we were not in this situation” he said.

Selectman Joel Marzi said he would prefer an alternative method of trapping that allows for a relocation of the beavers without killing the animals, though Miller said that live trapping would require an expense of town funds. Miller maintained that most of the property owners abutting the park favor the trapping.


March 22 Town Meeting to Consider Deep River Cell Tower Buyout Offer

DEEP RIVER—Voters at a March 22 town meeting will be asked to consider a $320,000 buyout offer for ground rights to a cellular communications tower on town property, or whether to open the buyout process to offers from other cellular communications companies.

First Selectman Richard Smith said the town has received at least one other ground rights buyout offer since the board of selectmen discussed a buyout offer from Tower Co. at a Feb. 8 meeting. He said an inquiry from AP Wireless Infrastructure Partners indicated it would be willing to improve on the offer from Tower Co., a North Carolina firm that is affiliated with the current user of the cell tower.

The tower, located on town property near the solid waste transfer station on Route 80, was erected in 1998. The town, which does not use the tower for communications, has been receiving payments of $25,000 per year on a 25-year lease that expires in 2023. Tower Co. is now seeking to buyout ground rights for the tower for a lump sum payment of $320,000.

Smith said all information on the Tower Co. offer, and any other offers, would be presented to voters at the town meeting. Voters would then be asked to approve a resolution exempting the cell tower buyout process from town competitive bidding requirements. If this resolution is approved, voters would be asked to approve the $320,000 offer from Tower Co.

Smith said he favors accepting the $320,000 offer from Tower Co., noting that it is currently the best formal offer available to the town to provide an infusion of cash in a tough budget year where the town experienced a drop in the grand list of taxable property. “Tower Co. has been upfront with us and they are the ones we’ve has an agreement with for the past 13 years,” Smith said, adding “I’m not sure we want to get into a bidding war over it.”


Town of Essex Seeking Commission Members

The Town of Essex is looking for registered voter citizen volunteers to serve. There are available vacant positions for the following Commissions:

  • Two Alternates on the Conservation Commission – 3 year term
  • An Alternate on the Park and Recreation Commission – 3 year term
  • Regular and Alternate Member of the (dual) Sanitary Waste Commission and Water Pollution Control Authority – 2 year term
  • An Alternate on Zoning Board of Appeals – 3 year term
  • A Connecticut River Estuary Regional Planning Agency Member – 2 year term 

Commitments vary, as some are filling vacancies with tenure limits.  These Commissions meet monthly, and the recent posted agendas and minutes may be viewed at under Meeting Information.

Please send letter of interest to the Selectmen’s Office, 29 West Avenue , Essex , CT 06426 or by email to

 Maria P. Lucarelli
Administrative Assistant to the Board of Selectmen
Town of Essex
(860) 767-4340 x112
(860) 767-8509 Fax


Essex Selectmen Defer Action on Abandoning Toby Hill Road

ESSEX— The board of selectmen has deferred action on abandoning a portion of Toby Hill Road after a public hearing where a representative of the developer of a planned subdivision objected to the proposed move.

Selectmen held a public hearing Wednesday on the option of discontinuing a 300-feet section of the unimproved town road that extends from Westbrook north to an intersection with East Pond Meadow Road in the Ivoryton section. The planning commission, after learning of a proposed 10-lot subdivision that would straddle the Essex-Westbrook town line, last year urged the board to pursue abandoning the segment of road in Essex.

The abandonment could prevent the creation of a through road between the larger section of Toby Hill Road in Westbrook, which now serves dozens of homes, and the intersection with East Pond Meadow Road in Ivoryton. John Guszkowski, the town’s consulting planner, had advised selectmen in a written memo that the intersection is dangerous, with a steep approach from Toby Hill Road, poor sight lines, and unfavorable topography.

Guszkowski noted that recent court decisions have limited the ability of towns to require a prospective developer to pay the full cost of off-site improvements, such as upgrading an intersection serving a proposed subdivision. The cost of upgrading the intersection could exceed $250,000. “The vast majority of traffic and roadway will belong to Westbrook, but the intersection burden will fall on Essex,” Guszkowski wrote.

The segment of Toby Hill Road in Ivoryton currently serves three homes, one in Essex and two in Westbrook. If the abandonment was approved by the board and voters at a town meeting, ownership and maintenance responsibilities for the road right-of-way would fall to the property owners on the road.

Paul Vumbacco, a local resident, owns a 37-acre parcel that straddles the Essex-Westbrook town line. Local engineer Robert Doane said Vumbacco is planning a 10-lot subdivision with seven lots in Westbrook, and three lots in Essex. The Westbrook lots would be served by a new road extending off Toby Hill Road to bypass a particularly steep and rocky section of the old unimproved road in Westbrook, but the lots in Essex would access the intersection with East Pond Meadow Road.

Doane said Vumbacco is willing to fund some improvements to Toby Hill Road in Essex, though Guszkowski’s memo noted these improvements “will not totally correct the inadequacies of the intersection, nor will it provide for longer-term maintenance of both intersection and roadway.” Doane contended abandoning the section of the road in Essex would be unfair to Vumbacco and the three property owners on the road. “We have a taxpayer that wants to use it now,” he said, describing the proposed abandonment as a “knee-jerk reaction” to the proposed subdivision.
No residents living on the section of road attended the public hearing, though planning commission member Linda Herman said accessing a new development from the Essex portion of the road “could potentially represent a significant burden on the town of Essex.” Doane said the difficult intersection could eventually be bypassed through an abutting parcel that is now owned by an estate, and suggested Essex “will not see any increased expense,” from the development.

Selectman Norman Needleman said he is “not sure abandoning the road is the right thing to do.” Needleman urged Doane to work with the planning commission and land use officials in Westbrook to address the concerns about a through road to the difficult intersection in Ivoryton, including discussions with the owners of the abutting parcel for a possible bypass. Selectman Joel Marzi said he is “on the fence” on the proposed abandonment, and wanted to “wait to see what comes out of the planning commission.”

The seven lots of the proposed development in Westbrook have already received approval from the Westbrook Planning Commission, and the Westbrook Board of selectmen has taken no action to abandon any section of Toby Hill Road. Doane said a subdivision application for the three proposed lots in Ivoryton would be submitted next month.


Preserve hearing poorly attended, Counsel’s non-attendance an issue

Town Engineer John Jacobson at the maps

Only seventeen members of the public attended the March 2 hearing on whether to permit a private developer to modify the town’s original 2005 plan to develop the Preserve. One hint that the hearing might not be too significant was the fact that the Counsel to the town Planning Commission, Mark Branse, did not attend.
In contacting Branse’s office as to why he did not attend the hearing, or even send a back up attorney, Eric Knapp, an attorney at Branse’s firm, said that he himself had been planning to attend the hearing. However, Old Saybrook Town Planner Christine Nelson told him that it was not necessary for him to attend. So, Knapp said, he took the meeting off his calendar.

When questioned, Nelson acknowledged that she had told Knapp that it was not necessary for him to attend the hearing. She also said that she had conferred with Commission Chairman Robert McIntyre, who had said that it was not necessary for an attorney from Branse’s firm to attend the hearing.

Town Planner Christine Nelson (l)and Enviornmental Planner Sandy Prisloe (r)

Nelson also said that on February 25 Attorney Branse had sent a list of outstanding of issues to the Chairman and herself that might be discussed at the March 2 hearing. This February 25 memorandum, evidently, was not sent to the other members of the Commission. It turned out that Branse was vacationing in Florida.
Even without its counsel guidance, the Commission did decide that the nine lots of housing sites, contained in the developer’s proposed modifications, were “reasonably likely” to be approved as a conventional land use development. That was it; the Commission decided little else, after close to three hours of deliberations.

Still, the Commission should be credited with undertaking an exhaustive examination of the developer’s proposed, new nine lots from virtually every angle. Discussed were the impact on the vernal pools, roadway accessibility, roadway improvements, flood prevention, adequate septic and water systems, and other impacts on the original general plan for the development of the Preserve.

One member of the Commissioner, Robert D. Missel, however, was restive. He complained that he had not heard from the Commission’s counsel, since a memorandum by Attorney Branse dated January 13. Most especially, Missel said, “We need additional information on the February 16 memorandum of the developer’s counsel.”

In that February 16 memorandum, the developer’s counsel, David Royston, dramatically withdrew from the developer’s original modification proposal the plan to construct over 200 new homes on the site. Missel wanted to take up this overarching issue before going into the details of other land use questions.

Commissioner Robert Missel

Commission Chairman Robert McIntyre tried to sooth the dissident member. McIntyre said that perhaps the dramatic withdrawal of the new houses from the proposed modification should have been the first question considered at the hearing.  The Chairman went on to assure Commissioner Missel that Attorney Branse would be present at the next Commission hearing. He also told Missel that there were other questions that could the resolved by the Commission without the attendance of counsel.

The Commission concluded the hearing with a discussion of when and where to hold the next meeting. It will be on Tuesday, March 8, in the first floor conference room in the Old Saybrook Town Hall. 

Chairman McIntyre said that the Commission must complete its deliberations by April 22, adding that if possible he would like to schedule committee meetings once a week, so as to make this deadline.

There was one final point that was made a number of times by Chairman McIntyre at the hearing. He said that when the Commission approves a particular element of the developer’s proposed modifications based on a condition, the Commission will rigorously demand that these conditions be met before final approval of the modifications will be granted.


Commission members will do the talking at Preserve public hearing March 2

Where Bokum Road ends within the Preserve

There is another hearing coming up on whether the Old Saybrook Planning Commission should approve a modification of its 2005 development plan for the Preserve. This latest hearing will be held at the Old Saybrook Middle School, on Wednesday, March 2 at 7:30 p.m.

However, unlike the previous four hearings, where the general public and interested parties were invited to testify before the Planning Commission, only the members of the Commission will be allowed to speak at the March 2 hearing.  The general public will be permitted to listen to the Commissioners discussing among themselves whether to approve or disapprove the developer’s proposed modification of the Preserve’s original plan, but the time for a public voicing of opinions in these proceedings is over.

Also, unlike the four previous public hearings, during which many of the general public spoke out against the entire development plan approved back in 2005,  Commission members are expected to concentrate entirely on approving or not the modifications proposed by the developer, and not stray to the larger issue.

The Commission has a number of choices in dealing with the modification application of the developer. First it can give its full approval to the modifications proposed by the developer. This would mean that going forward, the original plan would reflect these changes. Second, the Commission could vote to reject the proposed modifications, which would leave the original plan in place, as it has been since 2005.

Also, should the Commission approve the proposed modifications, it even might  go a step further, and treat the adoption of the modifications as in themselves a first phase of a phased development. This in turn could trigger an obligation by the developer, as part of its first phase, to reserve all the open space in the original plan, as is required by the town’s land use regulations. The result would mean that 483 acres of the present site would be reserved in perpetuity as open space.

The Valley Railroad track within the Preserve

When it first proposed a modification of the original plan, the heart of the developer’s proposal was to build three stand-alone, housing clusters, which it called pods. However, on the day before the last hearing on February 16, the Attorney for the developer, David Royston, withdrew the request for permission to build the three, stand alone clusters of housing units. Attorney Royston also withdrew the developer’s earlier request for a deferral of roadway improvements in the 2005 plan.

However, even with these changes, the developer’s attorney left in place a request for a modification of the Bokum Road parcel so that it could contain 9 lots, as well as a request to install 30,000 gallon cisterns in each developed area for fire protection.

Also, Royston said the developer would assume responsibility for gaining approval for a crossing over the Valley Railroad State Park, even in the face of a written denial by the Department of Environmental Protection of such a crossing. The reason for taking this step, the developer’s attorney said, was because of ongoing discussions regarding the purchase of new property that will make the DEP denial of a park crossing a moot point.

It might be noted that Royston made no mention of gaining approvals by the Town of Westbrook, which the developer must obtain before it can construct a key access road to the project. Past and present First Selectmen of Westbrook have expressed their firm opposition to the entire Preserve project, and it is the developer’s full responsibility and not that of the Commission’s, to turn this attitude around in Westbrook, if indeed it can.

Finally, the developer’s Attorney Royston emphasized in his final memorandum to the Commission that the developer was not pursing a “phased development” by making its modification application. However, it could be argued that the Commission itself has the final say as to whether to characterize modifications requested by a developer as the first phase of a phased development, and not the developer.

In this case saying that the requested modifications do not constitute a first phase of a phased development does not necessarily make it so. Under this scenario the Commission would decide the question, if it chooses to consider it.

However, if the proposed changes in the developer’s modification application were indeed determined to be the first phase in a phased development, the developer might even decide to withdraw its entire modification application. If this were to happen, the original 2005 plan would remain intact, and the developer’s plans for the future would become an open question.

Another possible scenario is this. If the developer maintains that its proposed modifications are not the first phase of a phased development, a position with which the Commission disagrees, then the Commission could simply refuse to grant the developer’s application. Then, once again, it would be back to square one in the development of the Preserve.


Variance Hearing for Postponed Chester Market Put Off to March 21

CHESTER—The zoning board of appeals has postponed to March 21 the public hearing on a variance appeal for a proposed organic market on Middlesex Avenue that is the subject of a lawsuit after the planning and zoning commission denied the original special permit application last fall.

Board Chairman Mario Gioco said the hearing that had been scheduled for Monday evening has been postponed to the board’s March 21 meeting at the request of applicant Peter Kehayias.

Kehayias, a local resident, has been trying since last summer to win zoning approval for an organic market in a vacant building at 56 Middlesex Avenue, also known as Route 154. The planning and zoning commission rejected a special permit application for the proposed market last November, leading Kehayias to file a lawsuit appealing the commission’s denial to Middlesex Superior Court. In the lawsuit, Kehayias’s lawyer, Middletown attorney Patricia Farrell, contends that some commission members should have recused themselves from hearing the special permit application because they own property or businesses in nearby Chester village that would face competition from the proposed market.

Kehayias is seeking variances of the minimum setback and non-conforming use/change of use provisions of Chester Zoning Regulations to allow an organic market with a ten-seat cafe area in the vacant structure at 56 Middlesex Avenue.


Chester Zoning Board of Appeals to Consider Proposed Market That was Denied by Planning and Zoning

CHESTER— The zoning board of appeals will hold a public hearing Monday on a proposed organic market in a vacant building at 56 Middlesex Avenue that was rejected by the planning and zoning commission in November as an illegal expansion of a non-conforming use.

The special permit denial led applicant Peter Kehayias to file an appeal in Middlesex Superior Court. Kehayias, a local resident, has now applied for seven variances of zoning regulations that would allow the market with a ten-seat cafe area to go forward. The ZBA hearing convenes at 7:30 p.m. in the Chester Meeting House on Liberty Street.

Kehayias has been trying since last summer to win zoning approval of an organic market in the vacant structure at 56 Middlesex Avenue, also known as Route 154. An initial special permit application that included a ten-seat cafe area was withdrawn in September after some members of the planning and zoning commission suggested Kehayias present a new application without the seating area for on-site consumption of food and other items.

But a revised special permit application without the cafe seating area was denied on a unanimous vote of the panel in November after a public hearing that began in October. Commission members maintained the market would be an illegal commercial expansion of a non-conforming use because the plan called for enlarging the structure to make room for storage coolers. Members voting to reject the application were commission chairman Michael Joplin and members Jon Lavy, Janet Good, Steven Tiezzi, Steven Merola, Errol Horner, and Keith Scherber.

Kehayias, represented by Middletown lawyer Jennifer Farrell, appealed the decision in December with a lawsuit that contends the commission’s decision was arbitrary and an abuse of discretion. The lawsuit also contends that one or more members of the panel should have disqualified themselves from considering the special permit application because they had a “personal interest or bias toward the property and proposed use,” including an alleged previous attempt to purchase the property by one member, and other members’ ownership or business interest in properties in the nearby downtown village.

The lawsuit contends there was a conflict of interest for one or more commission members because the market would provide economic competition for their business interests in Chester village. The 56 Middlesex Avenue structure, which has been vacant for about two years, is located directly across from the intersection of Middlesex Avenue and Main Street leading to the downtown village.

The lawsuit also contends commission members “misled” Kehayias with the suggestion that he submit an application without the cafe seating area, and that one or more members of the panel missed portions of the public hearing and did not review tapes or transcripts of the hearing.

Kehayias is seeking variances of the minimum setback and non-conforming use/change of use provisions of Chester Zoning Regulations.


Chester Selectmen Appoint Library Expansion Committee

CHESTER— The board of selectmen has appointed a nine-member volunteer committee to develop a plan for an expansion of the historic 1907 Chester Library on West Main St.

The committee’s review and recommendations are expected to lead to a proposed building project for the library that could go to the voters for funding approval later this year. Members of the library board of trustees, which has been considering options to expand and upgrade the library for more than a year, had asked the selectmen to establish the committee late last year.

Based on input received in a town wide survey and other factors, the trustees have decided to pursue a renovation and limited expansion of the existing library building, rather that construction of a new library on another site. The library building on West Main St. (Route 148) currently comprises about 2,000 square-feet with about 17,000 volumes.

Appointed to the committee are Selectman Larry Sypher, library trustee Peggy Carter Ward, Patricia Holloway, a librarian in West Hartford, builder Jeff Ridgway, project planner Jean Davies, Clifford Vermilya, a former town manager and library director, Dennis Tovey, an engineer, Lois Nadel, and Michelle Clark.

The charge for the committee that was approved by the board of selectmen at a meeting last week calls for recommendations on assuring full handicapped accessibility, upgrading of all mechanical systems as needed and providing dedicated storage space and an office for the librarian. The charge also calls for the committee to develop a plan that would not reduce parking capacity around the library.

Another key component of the charge calls for the committee to “secure a clear determination of the ownership of the library building and property.” The library is located on a parcel near the United Church of Chester, and some land records indicate the property is owned by the church.

Selectmen requested a determination of the ownership because questions about ownership of the land could hamper the town’s ability to secure bond financing for a building renovation and expansion project. The charge also calls for any proposed alterations of the building to be “unobtrusive and in keeping with the integrity of the existing building.”


Counsel of Old Saybrook Planning Commission suggests new rules for orderly public hearings

Attorney Mark Branse, Counsel to the Old Saybrook Planning Commission and author of article on conducting public hearings

Mark Branse, the attorney for the Old Saybrook Planning Commission, has written an article in an environmental group’s newsletter, suggesting proper rules of conduct for commissioners and the general public at hearings on controversial subjects.

Attorney Branse must have had his own proposals in mind, when at the Planning Commission’s February 16 public hearing on the Preserve, he threatened to call the police, when he felt that members of the audience were getting out of hand.

Branse’s thoughtful article, entitled “Order in the Court,” was published in “The Habitat” of the Connecticut Association of Conservation and Inland Waterland Commissions.

Although Branse begins by citing a couple of court cases, one when a hearing officers used “foul language and threats” against an applicant, and another when an “atmosphere of hostility” was created, when an issue was made of the applicant’s ethnicity, his article is far from a dull recitation of zoning court cases.

Rather it is an easy to read summary of suggested rules that should be followed at town public hearings.

Listed under “Be Prepared,” he gives the following advice to hearing chairmen.

  • If you suspect trouble, have police on hand, preferably in uniform. Have more than one if any doubt at all and more on call.
  • Have a large room – oversized in fact. Packing people together contributes to their anonymity and encourages heckling and shouting out (the “voice from the crowd.”) Have a board or other way to display plans, etc. It avoids having people call out, “I can’t see that.”
  • Have an AV (audio visual) system. People will sit in the back row and shout, “I can’t hear.” Invite persons with hearing problems to sit in front of the room (they won’t.)
  • Set out the rules of the game before the applicant ever stands up: “We will hear from the applicant; then questions from the Commission and staff; then those in favor; then those opposed; then those who don’t wish to be categorized as in favor or opposed. There will be no shouting, applause, booing, heckling, or other disturbance. Those who break these rules will be ejected from the meeting. There will be no exceptions.
  • Explain what kind of preceding this is (wetlands, zoning, etc,) and what the criteria for review are. Have copies of those criteria available for distribution and ask people to address their comments to those criteria. . ….  And stick with it.

Under “Keep the lid on,” Branse writes, “Nothing spirals out of control faster than a mob mentality. You must react swiftly and decisively to the very first person who gets out of order.  Shout them down at once and explain that the next person who interrupts the proceeding will be ejected.”

He also writes, “Chairmen: Keep Your Own Troops in Line. Your own colleagues may be your worst enemy, if they are playing to the crowd, are bigoted people, or are just plain stupid. You have to keep them in line, too. If you don’t think you can handle your role, have your town attorney present to do it for you. The town attorney doesn’t have to run for office and (usually) doesn’t live in your town. Let him/her be the lightning rod for misdirected energy. We’re used to having people mad at us! We can handle it.”

Obviously, Branse himself had his own rules in mind when he took over the mike from the Planning Commission Chairman Robert McIntyre and threatened to call the police at the February 16 public hearing on the Preserve in Old Saybrook.

Read the full text of Branse’s thoughtful article in the Winter 2010 newsletter of the Connecticut Association of Conservation and Inland Wetlands Commissions, Vol. 22, No. 4.  Branse’s article can be found on page 6.


Essex Police Officer Questions Town Hall Restriction

ESSEX– A town police officer now on a disputed medical leave has questioned a move by First Selectman Phil Miller to limit his access to town hall. Corporal Marc Pisciotti , a 13-year town officer, appeared before the board of selectmen Wednesday to question a directive from Miller that he notifies Miller by e-mail before entering town hall.

Pisciotti, who is also the local police union representative, said he suffered a shoulder injury last September that began causing discomfort again in December. Pisciotti said he went on medical leave on Dec. 21, a leave that has been disputed by the town’s workmen’s compensation insurance carrier, Connecticut Inter-Local Risk Management Agency (CIRMA).

Pisciotti is one of the town’s three full-time officers. Another officer, Salvatore Bevilacqua, has also been on medical leave since last fall. A fourth police position has been vacant since last spring when former officer April Powlow left for training to become a Connecticut state trooper. Corporal Russell Gingras is the only officer still on duty, along with Resident State Trooper Kerry Taylor and an interim second resident trooper who has been on the job since last fall.
Pisciotti said he notified Miller that he would be attending Wednesday’s meeting to discuss the situation. He said Miller replied that he should “be forthcoming about your intentions otherwise please stay home.”

Pisciotti asked the full board, including selectmen Norman Needleman and Joel Marzi, whether he is prevented from attending a selectmen’s meeting and speaking during the public comment portion of the agenda. He noted that Bevilacqua, also on medical leave, had not received a similar directive from the first selectman.

Marzi and Needleman said they had no objections to Pisciotti attending the meeting. “You’re welcome to attend a public meeting as anyone is,” Needleman said.

Miller, who described Pisciotti’s appearance at the meeting as “nothing but provocative,” said Thursday he asked for the advance notice from Pisciotti while he is on leave because Pisciotti had been “going to town hall after regular business and using town equipment ” such as computers and copying machines. He said Pisciotti is scheduled for a hearing on the disputed medical leave in the coming weeks.

Miller said the town has posted Powlow’s police position, with a screening committee ready to begin interviewing finalists. But Miller said he may hold off filling the vacant position until at least one of the police officer medical leaves is resolved.


“We don’t want the Preserve!” A message loud and clear at Old Saybrook’s Feb. 16 public hearing

Finally, the public had a chance to speak.

Up until last evening (Feb. 16), the “public” hearings in Old Saybrook on proposed changes in the much delayed Preserve development, consisted mostly of mind-numbing presentations delivered in monotones by attorneys and assorted experts.

Chairman of the Old Saybrook Planning Commission Robert McIntyre

Not so last evening, when finally Robert McIntyre, Chairman of the Old Saybrook Planning Commission, let the voices of the public to be heard. The overarching question behind it all was whether 1,000 acres of open space in Old Saybrook should be blasted and bulldozed into modernity by a private developer.

Although the narrower question at the hearing was whether the Planning Commission’s original development plan should be modified to permit the building of three clusters of new housing along the edges of the site, speaker after speaker came back to the basic unworthiness of the whole development.

Without exception every member of the public who spoke, said that letting a private developer build on this unique space of open land should not be allowed.  Although at one point Chairman McIntyre tried to steer the discussion back to the narrower question of whether to permit the building of the three new housing clusters, his words were in vain.

The speakers were of one voice. You could almost hear in the background, “Stop the Preserve! Stop it!”

One of the arguments expressed was how will a new cluster of houses be sold in the present tight housing market? Also, one speaker claimed that developing the Preserve will mean “huge costs to taxpayers,” such as paying for road upgrades, new intersections and new public services, generally, for the new residents on the site.

Another speaker pointed out that three private companies had tried to develop the Preserve site, and each of them filed for bankruptcy, the most recent being Lehman Brothers.

Then, the citizen environmentalists took the floor. Their comments included that the present open space is a coastal forest that is a key transit stop for migrating bird life, and that the vernal pools on the site must be protected, as well as the wood frogs, which after their eggs are hatched, clean the vernal pools.

At this point Chairman McIntyre tried to bring the speakers back onto a narrower point. The Commission had approved an overall plan back in 2005, he said. Now under consideration was simply a request by the developer to modify the original plan, so as to build three clusters of new housing.

But no one paid any attention. The ad hominem attacks against the entire Preserve project went on.

One speaker, David J. Walden, told the sad tale about what happened in Fairfield, when residents tried to preserve as open space, a 200 acre tract of land. It was nibbled continually around the edges by developers, he said, until there was nothing left.

Another speaker said that the issue should be, not what is good for the all mighty dollar, but what is good for the town.

At one point the cheers for the speakers attacking the Preserve development grew too loud for the taste of Mark Branse, Counsel to the Planning Commission. He stood up, seized the mike, and said that he was going to call the police, if the audience did not quiet down.  It seemed to be an overreaction to what was generally a peaceful meeting, but it did quiet the proceedings.

The popular feeling of the audience was summed up by the next speaker who said that after 12 years of considering whether to develop the Preserve, “Enough is enough.”

Finally, near the end of the public venting of hostility to developing the 1,000 acres of open space, the largest open space between Boston and New York City one speaker pointed out, there came a comment that was clearly relevant to the larger question, which was whether the Commission should permit this entire development to go forward.

Attorney Janet P. Brooks, representing the Alliance for Sound Planning, made the point that there was a fatal flaw in the Commission’s ongoing approval of its original plan for the site. The Commission’s original plan, Attorney Brooks pointed out, was conditioned on the fact that the developer would be granted an easement to build a bridge over the Valley Railroad State Park, which is owned by the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

Back when it granted its approval of the Preserve development in 2005, the Planning Commission held that it was “probable” that the DEP would grant such an easement.  However, in 2006 the DEP did just the opposite. It flatly denied the developer’s request for a bridge easement. As Attorney Brooks put it in her written submission, “the probability that the DEP would grant an easement for access … no longer exists.”

Planning Commission Counsel Branse termed Attorney Brooks’ argument “an interesting perspective.” However, it could well be more than that, if access to Bokum Road by a bridge is considered to be an integral part of the original plan approved by the Commission.

What was accepted as probable in 2005, as Brooks pointed out, in 2006 turned out not to be the case.  The access scenario on Bokum Road, a key element in the entire development plan, was no longer possible. This being the case, the Commission might have to go back to the drawing board, because a major assumption in the 2005 plan is no longer valid.

How the Commission can think of approving the modification of a plan that is itself fundamentally flawed and unworkable is the question members must resolve.

The effectuation of the Commission’s original plan in 2005 was also premised on the fact that the Town of Westbrook would approve a new entrance to the site on Rte. 153. However, the Commission has chosen to ignore the fact that the First Selectman of Westbrook has been on record as opposing this entrance to the site for over a decade.

Some say it is almost an “Alice in Wonderland” attitude by the Commission to assume that Westbrook will grant the approvals necessary to implement this aspect of its 2005 plan.

The public hearings phase on the modification of the original plan for the Preserve is now over, and future meetings will be open to the public but closed to further public comment. The Commission in its deliberations has three options. It can: 1) approve the modification requested by the developer, 2) reject the developer’s proposed modification but leave untouched the original plan, or 3) nullify or amend the original plan, because of the probabilities on which it was based back in 2005 have proved to be simply wrong in 2011.


Deep River Selectmen Consider $320,000 Cellular Tower Buyout Offer

DEEP RIVER– The board of selectmen is considering an offer to buy out the long-term lease for a cellular communications tower on town property for $320,000.

First Selectman Richard Smith presented the buyout proposal to the board Tuesday.  Tower Co., a North Carolina firm affiliated with Sprint Communications, the main cell phone carrier using the tower, has offered to buy out a 25-year lease for ground rights under the tower for a single lump-sum payment of $320,000. The tower is located on town property near the solid waste transfer station off Winthrop Road (Route 80).

The tower was erected in 1998, with Sprint making an annual payment of $25,000 on a 25-year lease that expires in 2023. The town does not use the tower for communications.

Smith said Tower Co. contacted him last year with a $240,000 buy-out offer that he discounted. But Smith said the new offer received last month is more appealing.

“I would seriously consider it,” he said, noting the $320,000 payment would be helpful in a budget year where the town has experienced an 8 percent drop in the grand list of taxable property. The offer also includes a commitment from Tower Co. to remove the tower at no expense to the town if it is no longer used for telecommunications signals.
Smith said he would discuss the offer with the board of finance at a Feb. 22 meeting. The buy-out offer would require approval from the selectmen, board of finance, and voters at a town meeting.


Public Workshop on Essex Transportation Study Set for Feb. 15

ESSEX– A public workshop on the draft results of a townwide transportation study is set for Tuesday Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall. The study, which is funded by a grant, was done by planners and traffic engineers with Nelson/Nygaard Consulting Associates of Boston, Mass. The study was coordinated by the planning commission, with work beginning last spring.

The study is intended to help the town develop a multi-model transportation strategy to accommodate potential future growth and development impact. Draft recommendations to be presented at the meeting include possible improvements for roads, intersections sidewalks, bicycle routes, and transit service links. The study suggestions will cover the three villages of Essex, Centerbrook, and Ivoryton, including Westbrook Road (Route 153). In the event of inclement weather, the workshop will be held on Feb. 16 at the same time and location.


Deep River Grand List Down 8 Percent After Revaluation

DEEP RIVER— The grand list of taxable property is down by 8 percent as a result of the required townwide property revaluation that was completed last year in a down real estate market.

Assessor Robin O’Loughlin has filed an October 2010 grand list that totals $478,735,422, representing a decrease of $39,601,840, or eight percent, from the 2009 grand list total of $518,337,262. O’Loughlin had alerted the board of selectmen of the grand list drop last November when she reported the revaluation completed last year by Vision Appraisal of Northboro, Mass. showed the value of the average residential property in Deep River was down by five to ten percent from the values established during a revaluation update in 2005. Property assessments in a revaluation are based on recent sales, and sale prices for homes in Connecticut have dropped in the wake of the national economic recession.

The grand list shows decreases for both real estate and personal property, with a small increase for motor vehicles. The town’s 2,182 real estate accounts showed an assessment total of $433,760,710, down by $38,591,080 from a 2009 real estate total of $472,351,790. The town’s 428 personal property accounts showed an assessment total of $13,791,072, a decrease of $1,453,630 from the 2009 personal property total of $15,244,702. Motor vehicles were up, with the town’s 4,848 motor vehicle accounts showing an assessment total of $31,183,640 that is up by $442,870 from a 2009 motor vehicles total of $30,740,770.

O’Loughlin said the drop in the grand list would represent a loss of $816,540 in tax revenue at the current tax rate of 21.73 mills. The revenue loss means a tax increase of about 1.8 mills would be needed to fund the current 2010-2011 town/education budgets.

But First Selectman Richard Smith said many homeowners would not see a large jump in their individual tax bills if the assessed value of their property had decreased. “It represents a shift in revenue,” he said. Smith said town government spending is likely to decrease for 2010-2012, with education spending and any possible reductions in state aid to be the determining factors in any possible increase in the tax rate for 2011-2012.

The list of the town’s top ten taxpayers was unchanged from 2009. The top ten taxpayers with the current assessment totals are Connecticut Light and Power Co.-$5,028,195, BDRM Inc.-$4,295,868, Mislick Family Limited Partnership-$3,137,190, Silgan Plastics Corp.-$2,739,758, Deep River Associates LLC.-$2,605,680, Thomas & Dernocoeur Boyd-$2,430,610, 180 Main Street Partners LLC-$2,277,450, Jerome & Marlene Scharr-$1,923,180, Virginia Linburg-$1,881,950, and Alberto & Raffaella Cribiore-$1,823,430. Boyd, Scharr, Linburg and Cribiore are all high value residential properties on or near the Connecticut River.