2018-05-17 / Around Town

Residents Request Town Improve Objector Process

By Christopher Allen

During a routine Public Workshop on May 15 to receive input from residents on the town’s process on subdivision development and zoning applications, the Middletown Planning Board discussed possible ways to polish the process by which residents can protest proposed developments.

Town Planner Ronald Wolanski gave an hour-and-and-half presentation on the steps taken for various types of development proposals, such as commercial lots and so-called conservation subdivisions. The purpose of the workshop was to gauge public opinion on any possible changes. Questions were taken on the three-point approval process and what sort of actions would trigger abutters of projects being notified in the mail by the town.

As for major and minor subdivisions, a “major” meaning a project with 6 or more lots, Wolanski broke down the Master, Preliminary and Final steps needed for a new subdivision to break ground. Additionally, Wolanski addressed the concept of “open space” related to conservation development, specifically, who has access to the space and who is responsible for maintaining it.

However, towards the conclusion of the meeting, the issue of problems related to residents’ right to adequately oppose a project was broached.

Middletown Resident Bill Welch suggested possible changes to the process to help concerned residents. “Those of us in the community concerned with some of these projects have a lot of organizing to do to get here and it could go right up until the last minute,” he said.

Welch conveyed his personal frustration and experience with past proposals.

“I can’t see how this is any way fair to the people of the community. This has happened repeatedly on things that I am interested in… we would like to be involved in the processes of the town,” he said.

Welch also suggested that any third-party reports related to proposals be uploaded to the town website in a timely manner so that residents may review them. Wolanski responded that Planning Board policy dictates that all related document materials be submitted a week in advance of a meeting.

Any time a proposed development is on the Planning Board’s agenda, the proposers can request that the item be continued to a later meeting, sometimes making this request on the very night of the hearing. According to some residents, a continuous request for these creates a headache for neighbors or other people who wish to oppose. It is not uncommon for the board to announce that an agenda item has been continued, followed by the exit of citizens who were there to speak.

It has even been suggested that some developers and their legal representatives purposely request continuances as a strategy to stifle opposition.

“Well, nobody up here likes them [continuances],” said Planning Board member Arthur Weber. “One of these nights we’re going to be up here having breakfast.”

Welch suggested that there be a week or so deadline before an item can be deemed absolutely ready to be heard the following meeting, so the opposition has time to prepare.

Wolanski responded that this type of deadline is not always feasible, as proposals by town ordinance and state law often need to jump through multiple hoops to gain final approval. For example, if a subdivision is up for review, but in the meantime, it is found that there are extenuating zoning or Department of Environmental Management issues, a continuance is necessary.

“Sometimes…an applicant has been asked to make some modifications. Those modified plans are not available. If that’s the case, then that oftentimes will trigger the need for a continuance,” Wolanski said.

Wolanski explained that there are alternatives to simply showing up to Town Hall on the night of a hearing. Concerned residents, he said, may call the planning office earlier in the day to get a feel for an item’s chances of being heard. However, he did acknowledge things could be improved on the town side as well.

“We could definitely do a better job trying to inform folks when a continuance is expected to happen,” he said.

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