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Bethel panel tables controversial zoning change

By Marietta Homayonpour
THE NEWS-TIMES

BETHEL -- A controversial zoning change proposal is off the table -- for now.

The town's Economic Development Commission on Monday withdrew its request for Bethel's Planning and Zoning Commission to rezone a 64-acre site from residential to industrial.

Withdrawal of the application means a public hearing on the proposal scheduled for tonight before the Planning and Zoning Commission is canceled.

EDC's withdrawal is temporary, said the commission's attorney, Daniel O'Grady, and was done in reaction to concerns raised in Danbury and Redding and by Aquarion Water Co.

O'Grady said the EDC will re-examine the zone change proposal and resubmit another one, likely in a few months.

EDC's move for the zone change was made as the first step in fulfilling its long talked-about expansion of the 200-acre Francis J. Clarke Industrial Park. The site proposed for rezoning is adjacent to the park and, like the park itself, is part of the town's 660-acre terre haute property.

The rezoning proposal elicited positive reaction in Bethel, where industrial park expansion would mean an increase in jobs and tax revenue.

But the 64-acre site abuts a quiet neighborhood of single-family homes in Danbury, whose owners were strongly opposed to the zone change.

Residents of roads including Old Lantern and Frontier Lane said there is not enough open space and feared the loss of the scenic woods they now view from their backyards.

Most of all, however, they were worried that Old Lantern Road, which ends at the Bethel property, would be made a through road into the site.

In Redding, the Planning Commission voted to oppose the proposed zone change, saying it would be detrimental to residents and the aquifers.

Aquarion Water Co., O'Grady said, was worried about runoff from the site going into the Saugatuck reservoir system. Aquarion is in charge of that system.

"We want to examine the concerns," O'Grady said.

That position by the EDC is good news to some of the Danbury residents who oppose the proposal.

"It speaks very well of them," longtime Old Lantern resident Ken Brooks said about the EDC. "I'm very impressed they will take their time and give this more thought."

Brooks would like the site to remain undeveloped. But barring that "at least have a kind of buffer that would ease our concern," he said.

By a buffer, Brooks and other Danbury residents mean leaving woods between their neighborhood and the areas that would be developed on the site.

Bethel First Selectman Bob Burke, who strongly supports the industrial park expansion, agrees with the EDC's decision to temporarily withdraw the rezoning proposal.

Burke, however, said expansion of the industrial park is important "to the 18,000 residents of Bethel" who own the site proposed for development. "It's an opportunity to reduce taxes for residents."

Burke also said that concerns expressed by Danbury and Redding are unfounded. "There will not be a through road, and we're not impacting the aquifers because we'll have municipal sewers and water."

Aesthetics, Burke said, also will be a consideration in expanding the industrial park. "We're trying to blend in and work with the environment."

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