St. Joseph Church Plan Not Approved by P&Z Commission

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In October 2022, James McMahon requested an opportunity to discuss with the Planning and Zoning Commission a project to convert St. Joseph’s Church at 140 Main Street into residential housing per Section V.U. Adaptive Reuse Zoning Regulations.

Two public hearings on this application were held on November 21, 2022 and January 23, 2023, and the Commission began deliberations on the information presented over the course of the two public hearings on February 27, 2023. The Commission’s Attorney Carl Landolina was present to answer any questions regarding procedure. Deliberations were focused on the adaptive reuse special permit as well as the site plan and whether the criteria in the Adaptive Reuse Regulations (V.U.) had been met. They would also need to consider if the Special Permit Approval criteria in Section XIV.B.1.b. had been met. Commissioners reviewed the lack of a substantial benefit to the town and raised concerns about the adequacy of the parking, the change from proposing affordable units as part of the development, and the density of the development compared to the surrounding properties. There was concern that the applicant had not shown that there was a substantial inability to develop the property in conformance with its current zoning. Mr. Winne (P&Z Chairman) also mentioned the plan would call for a number of substantial trees to be removed from the property.

Ms. Golembiewski (P&Z Vice-Chair) moved to approve File#2022-11 for 140 South Main Street with the application having met the criteria for adaptive reuse as listed in Section V.U. and having met the criteria for the special permit approval as listed in Section XIV.B.1.b. with the following conditions: (1) The plans are revised to indicate “Type C” screening on the northern and eastern sides of the parking lot; (2) The plans are revised to indicate a screening fence around the trash bin area; (3) A drainage easement is shown on the plans for the grading and drainage basin shown on the adjacent property; (4) A letter from CT Water indicating they can provide adequate supply to the building; (5) Submission of a revised Storm Water Management Plan that meets Town Engineer approval; and (6) final plans shall specify the basin outlet (location and material) to agree with the approved storm water management plan, and include necessary measures to ensure stable overland discharge for all storm events.

The motion was seconded and defeated with a unanimous vote of 0-6-0.

Mr. Winne stated that the Commission should provide a collective statement of reasons for not approving the application. Ms. Golembiewski moved to enter into the record a collective statement of reasons for denial of the application as set forth in the memo from Bill Hawkins, Director of Planning and Development, dated February 27, 2023 as included below.

The applicant failed to show that: (1) there is a substantial benefit to the town; (2) the conversion of the church building into apartments is compatible with the surrounding area; and (3) there is a substantial inability to develop the property in conformance with its current zoning based upon the information submitted with the application.

Other reasons the Commission did not approve the application included: (1) The proposed density of 13 units/acre is not appropriate for the general vicinity of the project and a higher density than any other permissible density in the zoning regulations for a residential zone including the Planned Development Apartment zone which permits 5 units/acre or 7 units/acre if age restricted; (2) The location and size of the proposed use; nature and intensity of the operation associated with the proposed use; the size, shape, and character of the site in relation to the proposed use; and the relationship of the proposed use and site to adjacent land uses, sites, and streets giving access to it are not appropriate for the orderly development of the district in which 140 South Main Street is located; (3) The parking and loading facilities are inadequate and improperly located for the proposed use as the design does not show an area for snow removal, and while the number of spaces meets the minimum requirement there has been no provision for guest parking shown on the plans.

Conversion of the structure to multi-family residential is not an appropriate use of the adaptive reuse regulation and is inconsistent with the 2022 Plan of Conservation & Development as follows: (1) This application does not guide residential growth in ways that will provide compatible uses of land; (2) Approval of this application does not retain the overall character of Suffield; (3) The applicant removed the proposed affordable units from the project as part of reducing the number of apartments and therefore does not provide housing that is affordable; and (4) The plan requires the removal of too many trees of 12” caliper and greater.

Motion for denial of the application was approved with a unanimous vote of 6-0-0.

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