Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Dart Hill Road landscaper has revised site plan approved

By Suzanne Carlson
Journal Inquirer
Published: Friday, January 7, 2011 12:06 PM EST

VERNON — The Dart Hill Road landscaping and tree removal businesses that have been a source of neighborhood complaints for several years received approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission on Thursday for a revised site plan.

Ben Carlson, owner of Timber Ridge landscaping company and Alpine Tree Removal LLC at 670 Dart Hill Road, told the PZC that he has worked with Planning Department staff to correct issues related to the businesses and believes the revised site plan will address all neighborhood concerns.

Emma Lane resident Sue Perry and others have been lodging complaints since late 2007, when Carlson’s landscaping company moved into a 6,000-square-foot building that formerly housed a carpet and flooring showroom.

Neighbors of the business, located near the Quail Hollow condominium complex, Skinner Road School, and the entrance to the Hockanum River Linear Park trail, complained that Carlson violated the original site plan by clearing trees and brush, filling the yard with up to 30 trash bins, and storing earthmoving equipment and trucks on the property, creating a nuisance and public health hazard.

The town responded with a cease-and-desist order in December 2007, and the PZC approved a special permit for a general contracting business in May 2008, but denied a second special permit for the storage of trash bins.

Shortly after, Carlson added the Alpine Tree Removal portion of the business, and was issued cease-and-desist orders from the town, the Inland Wetlands Commission, and a notice of violation from the state Department of Environmental Protection because of the large amount of wood chips on the property and other violations.

As a result of the violations, Town Planner Leonard K. Tundermann said Town Attorney Harold Cummings filed an injunction against Carlson several months ago to give the town a legal basis for further enforcement, and as a result the PZC’s actions could be subject to review in court. If approved, the revised site plan essentially would resolve the violations, Tundermann said.

Carlson addressed several of those issues Thursday and responded to a list of questions submitted by Perry during the public hearing on his application for a modification to an approved site plan.

Concerns about unregistered vehicles and boats on the property have been addressed, and staff would not work outdoors on Sundays or outside of normal business hours, Carlson said.

He assured the PZC that “there’s no possible way” neighbors could smell fumes from diesel vehicles left idling on the property, and there is now only one permanent trash bin on the site, though trash bins sometimes are left on trucks overnight if the dump is closed.

He now rents a separate property for storage of trash bins, which are rented to customers, Carlson said.

Carlson said he expects construction of bins for storage of mulch and wood chips, fencing, and other landscaping work shown on the revised site plan to be completed by Memorial Day.

“We, the staff, have been after Mr. Carlson for many months ... to really establish a site configuration that really reflects how he’s using the property,” Tundermann said.

Approval of the plan, “would be a step forward,” and staff is looking for “a satisfactory resolution” to the drawn-out controversy, he added.

PZC secretary Francis Kaplan motioned to approve the site plan, but warned Carlson that he already had received several chances to comply with regulations.

If more issues are found and Carlson returned to the PZC with additional corrective revisions, “save your breath, you’re going to get voted down before you even open your mouth,” Kaplan said. “I came from New Jersey — stickball rules, three strikes and you’re out.”

Newly elected PZC Chairman Chester Morgan said he couldn’t, “in good conscience,” vote to approve the plan until “we get a better signal from the applicant.”

If the revised plan were denied, Morgan said, Carlson could go back to conducting business under the stipulations of the original site plan.

The revised site plan was approved by a vote of 4-1, with PZC members Kaplan, Walter Mealy, Charles Bardes, and Victor Riscassi voting to approve.

Tundermann said town staff would look to make sure the plan was carried out by Memorial Day, and “if there’s enforcement issues after that, then we go back to court.”

Perry, who has long documented the problems at the site, said afterward that she was hoping the revised plan would be denied and was disappointed by the outcome of the vote.

Copyright © 2011 - Journal Inquirer