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The General’s Residence on the Boston Post Road has a new owner who would like a change in zoning to accommodate a renovation and addition of condominium units. Not all the neighbors are onboard. (File photo by Zoe Roos/The Source | Buy This Photo)
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The new owners of the iconic (if dilapidated) General’s Residence in the town center is proposing a very specific addition to the town’s zoning regulation that the developer said will benefit the town, though a group of neighbors have united to oppose the regulation they say will adversely affect their properties as well as future developments.
The change is being proposed by a new ownership group that took over the properties at 908 and 918 Boston Post Road—commonly known as the General’s Residence—with the intention of modifying a condominium project previously approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission (PZC) in May 2019. A change in the regulation would allow the developer to expand the project by decreasing the front setback by 15 feet, from 40 to 25.
After an approximately 90 minute public hearing on Feb. 20, the PZC declined to approve or deny the rule, instead extending the public hearing until next month.
The General’s Residence dates back to 1730, according to the Madison Historical Society. Over the centuries inhabitants of the home have included Captain Edward Griffin, members of the Hand family, members of the Scranton family, and most recently the home was inhabited by Dorothy Staley. However, in the last few years, according to court records, Staley struggled to keep the home, taking out a reverse mortgage and battling numerous blight citations from the town. The home eventually entered into foreclosure in 2017.
The property was subsequently purchased by local developer William Plunkett, who oversaw the plan that was approved last year. That plan called for the preservation of the General’s Residence structure without housing anyone there, while also building nine condominiums and associated infrastructure on the property.
Plunkett sold the project to Adam Greenberg last fall. Greenberg, a business owner and former professional baseball player raised in Guilford, ran for State Senate for District 12 in 2018, losing to Christine Cohen.
Greenberg was not present at the public hearing on Feb. 20, when Timothy Herbst, an attorney representing Greenberg and the development, presented an initial case for the regulation change and laid out some preliminary designs for what the modified development might look like.
The PZC is not looking at any of the design changes yet, only the regulation amendment. If the regulation change is approved, the developer would submit those plans, according to Herbst, at which point there would be another public hearing process and deliberation by the PZC.
According to Herbst, the developer “would like to rehabilitate” the General’s Residence itself for residential use.
Herbst said he wanted to impress on the public “how serious we are about delivering a project that is going to honor and respect what we heard in May of 2019 from the residents, work to improve upon those concerns...and deliver a project that the town will be proud of.”
Attorney Keith Ainsworth, who is representing the informal group of neighbors opposing the regulation change and potential expansion of the development, also presented the PZC with a protest petition and a letter laying out a case against the change.
“There is a very real possibility that once this regulation changes, there will be other condo cluster developments...and there’s a real possibility there is going to be a domino effect,” Ainsworth said at the meeting.
The regulation would not affect any current properties or developments, according to Town Planner Dave Anderson, and would only apply to a narrow subset of potential future developments—namely, cluster-housing projects located within 500 feet of commercial districts.
The PZC would also have discretion on those individual future applications to a certain degree, according to Anderson.
The regulation could only apply to a relatively small number of properties, Anderson said at the meeting. He told The Source that because the regulation is based on square footage of the lot but also allows lot combinations to meet the minimum, it would be “speculative, and potentially misleading, to try and estimate the number of potential projects” the regulation would affect.
As to why the developer did not apply for a variance through the Zoning Board of Appeals, which could have given the extra room for the General’s Residence development without changing regulations or affecting future projects, Herbst said they didn’t want to bypass the authority of the PZC.
“There was a legitimate and a thoughtful discussion of whether or not that would undermine this commission’s authority acting in a legislative capacity,” he said
Ainsworth offered a rebuttal, saying he did not think that the developers would have received approval from the Zoning Board of Appeals.
In his letter submitted to the PZC, Ainsworth called the regulation change “a back door variance that amounts to the tail wagging the dog.” He further accused the developers of ignoring scenic characteristics of the neighborhood and betraying expectations of the neighbors from the previously approved application.
Ainsworth also added a pointed jab directed at Herbst personally as a footnote in the letter.
“It is notable that the applicant, Mr. Herbst, sat on a zoning commission in Trumbull for a number of years, and is purportedly an attorney,” the letter reads. “Clearly, none of that experience sunk in.”
Herbst declined to respond to “ad-hominem attacks” by Ainsworth in the letter at the meeting.
“I don’t practice law like that,” he said.
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