Canton commission approves Applegate Village development plan
By John Fitts
CANTON – The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission on Dec. 21 approved – with conditions – a 34-home housing plan for the former Applegate Farm properties located at the corner of Lawton and Washburn Roads.
East Granby-based Roswell Development is planning to construct 34 free-standing, “maintenance free” homes, ranging in size from 1,800 to 2,400 square feet, on site and has dubbed the project Applegate Village.
For years, the property was the location of Applegate Farm - complete with equestrian activities, farming and a popular retail store - started by the late Jean Bouchard and late Pete Bouchard. (Today the Applegate Farm stand is still run by family members at a storefront in Canton Village).
At the time of the application, the property owner was listed as Jean L. Bouchard 2016 Trust, Peter A. Bouchard, trustee.
Similar to a traditional condominium arrangement, but via a Planned Unit Development, the homes will be privately owned, while the land and roadways will be in common - complete with a homeowner’s association.
Roswell Development went to the commission seeking development of a Design District for the property – which includes several parcels totaling nearly 12 acres – as well as a special permit for earthwork and grading related to the proposal to remove approximately 14,600 cubic yards of material from the site. Developers do not believe any blasting will be required.
The development will also not feature amenities such as playgrounds or clubhouses and many of the models feature first-floor primary bedrooms, optional stone accents and second floors that are “tucked” in the roofline, Roswell Development principal Jonathan Vosburgh told the commission at the public hearing on Dec. 21.
“The main thing we want to achieve here is a lower profile,” he told the commission. reiterating as he did early this year in a pre-application meeting, the similarity to the Copper Brook development in Granby Center, which he and his team also developed. While many of those sold in the low to mid $400,000 range, he told the Canton commission the “target" price point for Applegate is the upper $500,000 range.
Each home will feature a two-car garage and private driveway and have features such as vinyl siding and architectural asphalt shingles.
Vosburgh touted the community spirit of the Granby development, noting that neighbors socialize regularly, can walk around easily with interior sidewalks and even work together on other projects - such as decorating with luminaries at holiday time.
“It really lends itself to a nice community," he said.
Vosburgh said such features attract people within town or nearby, noting that the many in the Granby development already lived in town or nearby communities, such as Simsbury and Avon.
“A significant percentage of these developments are going to people that are within the town or are very close by,” he said, later adding that the developments generate very few school children.
The development team has already arranged to extend public water in cooperation with Connecticut Water and the Canton Water Pollution Control Authority has approved expansion of the sewer shed for the Canton project, developers said.
Vosburgh also touted the plan for screening to help provide privacy for nearby neighbors and the plan calls for units on the smaller side of the noted range in some corners of the development.
In creating a village district for the project, a change from the residential zone for the property, developers said the town's Plan of Conservation and Development's talks about transitional developments such as the Applegate plan.
"Your POCD speaks several times. ... about these transitional zones," Tom Daly, U.S. Manager of Civil and Structural Engineering at SLR Consulting, said. "I believe there's references to conditions and trends, looking at a diversity of housing stock in the town of Canton, as many communities are trying to do that. It talks about the transitional uses. ... multi-family residential between the commercial and single family residential and this is basically just text book as defined in your regulation."
While the development team touted interior sidewalks, Daly asked the commission for a waiver on a sidewalk on the property frontage.
“We didn’t think sidewalks on the frontage was consistent with the neighborhood,” he said, adding that the developers were willing to offer an easement for the Farmington River Trail. Commission members, however, found it an inadequate proposal and conditioned the approval to include a portion of the trail along Lawton Road.
The Farmington River Trail is a 16.1-mile spur of the East Coast Greenway designed to connect to the Farmington Canal Heritage trail in Farmington and Simsbury. However, land-use challenges have resulted in gaps for portions of Simsbury and Canton. In Canton, the off-road portion of the trail currently ends on Lawton Road along the commercial property near CVS and the UConn Health Building.
Vosburgh noted the challenges and lack of current plans to extend the trail along the frontage of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints that sits between the Applegate parcels and the commercial properties along Route 44.
Neil Pade, the town’s director of Planning and Community Development, said that while current efforts are focusing on an offshoot extension of the trail through the Shops at Farmington Valley and hopefully beyond, the town is going to be looking for grant opportunities to tackle design on the Lawton Road section along the church property, as well as to the north - to get to the 21 acres of town owned land at 30 Lawton Road. While plans for fields at that location have not materialized since a Lawton Road Park Plan was created in 2013, the town continues to seek funding for it, Pade added. He also noted that the state is amenable to allowing a portion of the trail on to the west side of Lawton Road, on state open space across from 30 Lawton Road. With that home being so close to the road, the trail would likely veer temporarily across the street to that west side before coming back to the east side.
Many commissioners were firm on the idea of the project including the trail section along property frontage on Lawton to the intersection with Washburn. Commission chair Jonathan Thiesse said the trail along the frontage along Lawton Road for this development would complete a key piece of the puzzle. Some commissioners also said the touting of the site as a transitional use made walkability and cycling access all the more important in the area.
After further discussion, commission members did acknowledge that the creation of the 8-foot wide trail section would likely mean that existing trees along Lawton Road would have to come down. Developers had wanted to keep those but the commission did require that the team work with the town on updated plans that include the trail and a supplemental planting plan.
Another topic brought up by commission members was affordable housing. Under a state statute, developers can deed restrict some units for households earning a percentage (often 60 or 80 %) of the state or area median income.
Vosburgh, however, said the size of the development, infrastructure costs for the project, and other factors made it unfeasible.
“It’s next to impossible to make it work, especially with building costs right now,” he said.
While town officials have started talking about possibly making affordable components a requirement for some developments, the current regulations do not include such a stipulation.
Some nearby residents also spoke at the public hearing, expressing concerns such as traffic, pedestrian safety and environment.
James Davidson, who lives across the street from the site, expressed some specific screening concerns from vehicle lights and also said he preferred the site stay zoned as it is.
“Adding more people to the neighborhood in what’s been a quiet area is not something I think benefits the neighborhood very much,” he said.
Nearby resident Michael Carstensen spoke and wrote a letter to the commission, speaking of his experience of working with the farm on a roots to table initiative and finding solace in the property. While Carstensen acknowledged efforts to work with owners to maintain agriculture pursuits on the land were not successful, and that the land was not in their control, he expressed several concerns.
“While we appreciate the ownership of the land is outside of our control, we do press its impact on the community. Community is not simply a count of taxpayers within the zip code. It’s a shared set of values of the people that call the town home," he wrote. "The over-development of the Applegate farm property from a two home to a thirty-four home property is a maskless cash grab. In what way does it foster the identity, history, or community of Canton?"
In the letter he later added, "Anyone can be given authority over land and make choices to generate revenue. We of the community are tasked with providing value to ourselves and our future. I see no community value in the proposal aside from introducing more voices to inhibit future decisions such as this. My family joined this community for its grassroots lifestyle and its shared acceptance of the lifestyle. Those community benefits will not be available to the successive owners of the property, and we will all suffer because of it.”
In their presentation and following the public comment, developers addressed some of the concerns and answered questions brought up by other residents. Daly, for example, referenced a traffic study done for the application and said expected trips in and out of the site had no degradation in the level of service for Lawton Road.
"There was no measurable change to the function of the roadway network," he said.
Following the public hearing – after taking care of other agenda items – commission members spent some time working on a motion to approve the project, adding some of the new conditions and finalizing language.
After ironing out those details, commission members unanimously approved the project.
Vosburgh said he does not have an exact timeline for the project, but said starting in mid 2023 is a possibility, depending on the "housing economy."
During the hearing, Daly noted that earthwork would take place fairly quickly and early in the process and that once infrastructure is in place, homes are built as they're sold.