Whimsy Brook Farm: Court upholds zoners’ decision

Connecticut Superior Court Judge Marshall K. Berger has upheld the Zoning Commission’s 2010 decision to deny Candace and Curt Benyei’s application for a special permit to construct an indoor riding arena on their Giles Hill Road property.

The decision came on Jan. 25, 2013, after a trial was held on Dec. 18, 2012, said attorney Catherine Cuggino, who represented the intervenors.

On June, 17, 2010, the Zoning Commission voted 3-2 to deny the special permit because the commission couldn’t determine if the structure would be in harmony with existing land use and couldn’t make that conclusion under Articles I and II of Redding’s Zoning Regulations, which establish the authority and purpose of the Zoning Commission, according to the Memorandum of Decision.

“Such a finding is lawful and is supported by the record. Accordingly, judgment enters for the commission,” said Judge Berger in the Memorandum of Decision.

The permit application came two years after an Appellate Court ruling stating the project required a special permit because it was found to qualify under zoning regulations 4.2.3, said Gerry Casiello, commission chair.

The construction of the structure has been an ongoing zoning issue since 2005.

One of Ms. Benyei’s reasons for appealing the Jan. 25 decision, she said, is because of an advertisement placed in The Redding Pilot on June 3, 2010, days before the commission’s deliberation and weeks after the public hearing closed in 2010. The full-page advertisement was intended to influence the commission’s decision, she said.

The advertisement was paid for by 26 neighbors on Giles Hill Road.

“The illegal, provocative, and intentionally misleading full-page ad run in the paper after the public hearing, purposed to influence the delayed and subsequent decisions of the Zoning Commission, totally misrepresented the situation,” said Ms. Benyei.

According to the Memorandum of Decision, on Aug. 16, 2010, Jerrold Fine, John Richardson, Laurie Richardson, Phillip Villhauer, Donna Villhauer, Brian Wasko, and Phyllis Rhodes, all residents of Giles Hill Road, moved to intervene as party defendants, alleging that they would suffer harm if the application were granted.

During Zoning Commission discussions at the June 9, 2010, meeting, members talked about whether the structure would negatively impact nearby property values and alter or augment the property’s use.

On Nov. 6, 2012, Phillip and Donna Villhauer withdrew their appeal because they sold their property on Giles Hill Road and no longer had an interest in the matter, according to the memorandum. The motion to remove them from the lawsuit was granted on Dec. 4, 2012.

“The building as proposed would not be visible from Giles Hill, was represented [in the advertisement] as larger than the structure in our application, was not a ‘corrugated metal building’ like a Quonset hut, but a combination of a wood-sided barn, an arena, and a storage shed,” said Ms. Benyei.

The proposed 12,900-square-foot building, she said, would occupy only one acre of land out of the total 6.4-acre lot that the Benyeis own.

“I should add, the commission members apparently, according to the transcripts of the proceedings, were influenced by the Planning Commission’s negative, although based on error, referral regarding the project,” she said.

The error that was made, she said, was that the farm would have only one acre of grass, instead of 4.8 acres of grass of the 6.4-acre lot.

“This claim was refuted at the public hearing by not only our engineer, but the Town Consulting Engineer, Malone and McBroom,” said Ms. Benyei.

Her other reason for the appeal is for “the ability of existing farms to be able to upgrade their operations in order to be marketable enough to stay in business,” she said.

Ms. Benyei said that in addition to appealing the decision of denying an indoor riding arena at Whimsy Brook Farm, she is also open to a conflict resolution process.

“We asked for such previously, but the neighbors that are opposed to our project, and who refused our invitation to even walk the property to actually see the location of the proposed building, also refused to engage in a town-sponsored conflict resolution discussion,” said Mr. Benyei.

On Tuesday, Feb. 12, Ms. Benyei said that she is filing an appeal to the Appelate Court.

“We are prepared to go all the way to the Connecticut Supreme Court if necessary,” she said.

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