Farmington Plan and Zoning approves Morea Road Plan, Rejects Expansion of Polo Club Events
Editor's Note: Additional details on both of these project votes will be included in our June 2 edition of The Valley Press.
By Paul Palmer
FARMINGTON – The Farmington Plan and Zoning Commission has given the go-ahead to one hot project and denied another application that pitted neighbors against a local business.
By identical 6-0 votes on May 22, the Commission approved the application to build a 25-home cluster development on Morea Road, and rejected an application that would have changed the number of events that could be held at the Farmington Polo Club grounds.
Neighbors living along Morea Road had been fighting for nearly a year to stop the planned development by the Carrier Group to build along the Scott Swamp. They had raised concerns regarding storm runoff, groundwater, flooding, traffic, chemical runoff from lawn chemicals, and the impact on the wetlands and its inhabitants. Engineers working for Carrier presented expert reports to rebut many of the concerns that were raised and Commission members had previously said that they felt the town staff had provided strong oversight and all the staff concerns had been addressed. When it came time for the vote many members said it all came down to are the town’s regulations and rules being met.
“This role is not about what I like and what I don’t like, it’s about the town’s regulations,” said Commissioner Scott Halstead. “I don’t see anything here to say it shouldn’t be approved.”
Commission member Mike Walsh echoed those sentiments. “My opinion does not matter. We are looking at rules and regulations.”
The Carrier Group is donating 70 acres of the property along Morea Road to the Town of Farmington as open space. Opponents of the project had repeatedly asked why Farmington did not buy the property to preserve the land when it went up for sale. At a previous Town Council meeting residents were told that the Town did engage the seller but they could agree on a price. Monday night, that fact was part of the Commission members’ discussion. “This is a private property and if the town had purchased it, we wouldn’t be here,” said James Radcliffe.
“Should the Town Council have looked at purchasing this property? Maybe,” said Matt Hutvagner.
Approval by the Plan and Zoning Commission comes with 10 conditions that have to be met by the builder and the HOA of the development. The members made one change in wording to a condition regarding the testing for the chemicals that may be used on lawns of the 25 homes that could run into the wetlands. The original wording called for “Subdivision plans shall note requirement of Homeowner’s Association to implement an Integrated Pest Management plan for all usable area of each lot of the development.”
After discussion it was decided to change that wording to reflect that the HOA – which will manage the use of lawn chemicals – must provide their testing results to the Town annually. It was also made clear that if the groundwater impact into the catch basins requires redesign, it would have to be approved again by the Plan and Zoning Commission.
The second vote of the night was a decision to reject an application to modify the existing Permanent Special Permit Conditions for events at the Farmington Polo Grounds. In the end it was problems with horsepower and not the horses that moved most of the Commissioners to reject the request. Town Farm Development, LLC, which owns the Polo Grounds, made the request.
Neighbors had vehemently opposed what they said was loud music coming from polo matches and tailgating. But their biggest concern was the noise and traffic issues associated with the so-called “Coffee and Cars” events. They involve muscle cars coming in for an 8 a.m. start on Sunday to park on the grounds with their engines off. Neighbors along Town Farm Road and in the Devonwood area complained that the cars would show up as early as 7 a.m. on Sunday mornings, revving their engines and at times driving erratically. There were never any complaints regarding the activities of the boarding and riding of horses on the grounds. Town Farm Development has already taken steps to limit the noise from music and announcements from the polo matches being heard inside nearby homes. They have also said they would move the start of the car shows back to 830 a.m. and hire off-duty Farmington Police officers to patrol the roads. In addition, they would also prohibit anyone caught driving dangerously or revving their engines from returning to future events.
“There is so much back and forth, it has become one big enforcement issue,” said Commission chair Inez St. James. “I worry if we say yes, we are going to face adherence issues.”
Fellow Commission member Mike Walsh said his concern was not only the noise, but also what he saw as a lack of compromise from Town Farm Development toward its neighbors. “They have compromised on the noise from the equestrian related events, but I don’t think a best foot was put forward to compromise with neighbors was there.”
Part of the request from Town Farm Development was an adjustment in how non-equestrian events with fewer than 200 people would be counted. Their original request did not want those events to count against the current permit that allows 25 non-equestrian, non-polo events annually.
“We could be approving events for every day of the year,” said Hutvagner.
By voting to decline the request for changes to the special permit, it leaves neighbors with a half-full feeling. The vote means the existing terms that the Polo Grounds have been operating under for the last several years – including the Coffee and Cars events- stay in place. It will be up to town staff to monitor any complaints and taken any action they deem necessary.
“I think they took the easy way out,” said Devonwood resident Pierre Guertin about the Commission decision. “I’m not sure it’s gonna change the applicants behavior.”
When asked after the vote what the next step would be, attorney Christian Hoheb, who was representing Town Farm Development LLC, said he could not comment.