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ZBA Approves Change of Use for SAA Proposal

By: Maeve Slavin

15, 2006

SOUTHBURY - The Zoning Board of Appeals voted unanimously on November 7 to approve the change of use application for the former Sacred Heart Church rectory at 68 Georges Hill Rd. which the Southbury Ambulance Association plans to buy as its new headquarters.

The decision came after 45 minutes of concentrated deliberation on the merits of the use change from residential to a not-for-profit, community service organization's offices and outbuildings in an R-60 neighborhood.

The public hearing had been closed at the October 3 meeting and Chairman Lem Johnson made it clear that, "This is our time," and that only board members would be permitted to speak. No one in the sparsely attended hearing room demurred.

The board's attorney, Thomas P. Byrne, was unable to attend the meeting, but Mr. Johnson read his opinion into the record.

Attorney Byrne wrote that the use change is permissible, once the board grants a special exception, when the business is conducted by a non-profit corporation.

He noted, "The documents which I have reviewed clearly indicate that, for federal and state of Connecticut tax purposes, the Ambulance Association is a non-profit corporation and is not conducted as a business or for profit."

There remained the issue of whether the association is a philanthropic and/or a charitable institution.

For that determination, Mr. Byrne turned to Webster's New Universal Unabridged Dictionary for a definition of "Philanthropic," "Philanthropy," "Charity," "Charitable" and "Need."

He put it to the board that their task was to decide two things.

The first was whether the association is either a philanthropic and/or a charitable institution. The second was to determine if it satisfies the standards set forth in the zoning regulations which take into account the requirement to be in harmony with and conform to the appropriate and orderly development of the town and the neighborhood, "and will not hinder or discourage the appropriate development and use of adjacent property or impair the value thereof."

There were those who spoke at the public hearings in disbelief that the association could be described as either "charitable" or not-for-profit, although it is recognized as such on both the state and federal level.

Or, indeed, given that the asking price for the 4.28 acres and the house with its standing accessory buildings is a cool $875,000, could it truly be categorized as such.

The board, also checking dictionaries, agreed that the service is provided by a volunteer corps and is a bona fide community service. The town would not be better off without the Southbury Ambulance Association.

As far as issues raised in the public hearing, board members had walked the property and concluded that existing and planned structures would not affect adjacent properties visually.

The 3,800-watt generator is a type used in many home situations that creates minimal noise and would only be used to produce electricity in an emergency situation. It will be located on the side of the house away from neighbors.

Sirens will be used minimally and far less than at the present address on Main Street South.

Georges Hill traffic is not seen as increasing to any extent and the impact is considered probably less severe than at the Main Street South address.

The 16-foot width of the driveway is seen as adequate, but at the suggestion of attorney Gail McTaggart, representing the Ambulance Association, an area of two feet on either side is to be reserved in case the need for a 20-foot width is demonstrated at a later time.

Under no circumstances is a "for profit" event to be held on the property.

Finally, board members checked the provisions of Section 6 of the zoning regulations as they apply to special exceptions. Finding that all stipulations had been met, they then voted accordingly.

The application becomes effective 15 days after the decision is published on November 15.

Two public hearings followed. The first concerned an application for a variance to allow reconstruction of a garage and additions to an existing legally non-conforming house. The property is at 566 Flag Swamp Rd. in an R-80 zone.

The application was approved based on the hardship that no alternative course was possible given the contours of the land. In fact, the feeling was that the work proposed would actually reduce the non-conformity of the property.

The second hearing concerned an application for a variance relating to sideline setbacks to allow expansion of an existing garage for storage and for a room on the second floor. The property is located at 139 Horse Fence Hill Rd., zoned R-60.

The board found that a change in the zoning regulations in 1977 actually created the non-conformity. The changes proposed were very slight and in fact, "you had to go to the edge of the property to see the next door neighbor's house," noted ZBA member Peirce Behrendt.

The vote to approve was unanimous.