Developer appeals denial of zone change for Beacon Falls housing project

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

BEACON FALLS — An appeal filed in Superior Court in March seeks court intervention to grant a developer’s application for a zone change for the proposed Hopp Brook Estates housing development project.

Attorney Stephen Bellis, a lawyer with The Pellegrino Law Firm and a principal with Hopp Brook Developers, LLC, filed the appeal. The appeal claims the Planning and Zoning Commission “acted illegally, arbitrarily and in abuse of its discretion” when it denied a zone change application for the project in February.

Hopp Brook Developers applied last year for a zone change and a special exception for a project to build 109 three-bedroom homes on a 135-acre, undeveloped parcel of land it owns off Oakwood Drive near the Bethany border. The proposed project elicited strong opposition from members of the public.

In 2017, the then-Planning and Zoning Commission approved changing the zone of the land from Residential 1 to a Planned Residential Open Space District for the project, but the legal notice announcing the decision incorrectly stated the area for the change. The zone change application filed last year was meant to clear up the clerical error from 2017.

In February, the commission unanimously denied the zone change application, without prejudice, after discussing the issue in an executive session. Denying the application without prejudice meant Hopp Brook Developers could reapply or take the issue to court.

The appeal argues that in denying the application, the commission failed to correct the clerical error made after the zone change was approved in 2017, failed to state its reasons for denying the application, failed to make the findings of expert opinions offered by the developer in the record, and succumbed to public opinion not expert opinions.

The appeal also argues Hopp Brook Developers wasn’t treated equitably since the commission’s decision to deny the zone change application went against the approval granted in 2017. The developer also claims that First Selectman Gerard Smith “unduly influenced” the commission.

The appeal points to a letter dated Nov. 1 that Smith wrote about the project. The letter was posted on the town’s website. In the letter, Smith stated the purpose of the letter was “to shine light on a murky and questionable process that town officials used to approve Hopp Brook Estates, piecemeal over time.”

The letter detailed events leading up to the approval of the zone change in 2017.

The letter also stated “conflicts of interest in the form of a personal land acquisition, with more possible in the future, raise red flags.” The appeal states these statements in the letter are false.

Several new members were appointed to the commission late last year, including a new chairman and vice chairman. The appeal claims new members appointed under Smith’s administration should have recused themselves due to a “personal conflict of prejudice and bias.”

Smith said appealing the commission’s decision is the developer’s right.

“They’re exercising their ability to appeal it. It will get settled in the courts,” said Smith, who declined to comment further due to the pending litigation.

Bellis could not be reached for comment. He did not return a message seeking comment.

The appeal asks the court to find that the original zone change was approved, order the commission to publish a new legal notice and grant the zone change.

Commission Chairman Don Molleur could not be reached for comment. He did not return a message seeking comment.