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Friday, April 8, 2011

YMCA Land Use Hearing – Act 2

I attended, and even spoke at, the continuation of the YMCA Land Use Hearing on Thursday night.

While Democrats are idealized to want to hug every tree and oppose anything that smacks of development I have seen a lot of merit in the proposals of Ted Veazey as I previously reported here, here and here.

Unlike the first hearing, this time the Sonquipaug neighborhood of 1/10 acre lots to the south came out in force to express outrage to the plan to put 10 homes on the 27 acres of the unused and decaying former YMCA campground.

In this post I list some of the arguments and give my reactions. I also list the approximate text of my short speech. As usual you can watch the hearing on ClerkBase.

I was somewhat taken aback watching how a group can become extremely opposed to something, to the point of making group outbursts in the council chambers, without having much merit at all in their arguments. I can tell that the opponents have firmly bought into their position and I tried to empathize with their arguments, but without success.

The primary speaker for the opposition was Joanne D'Alcomo of the high-density development to the south of the YMCA land.

She repeatedly stressed how the lots in her neighborhood are 45’ by 100’ so it’s very important to them to have open space next door. I’m sorry, if it’s so important I don’t understand why they have not acted to try to acquire that land during the years it has been unused.

Also we have these houses crammed together next to this YMCA land and Mr. Veazey’s proposal will leave at least 15 of the 27 acres in their current natural state.

Though I didn’t get to see them firsthand, Joanne showed a series of photos exhibiting how beautiful the view of the YMCA land was from homes in her community near the property line. They probably look something like the one on the left, though probably without showing how close the Sonquipaug house is to the fence. (You can click on it to enlarge it.)

She demands that the view be maintained without the addition of a few homes scattered among the trees.

I don’t suppose she submitted photos from the other direction showing how crowded her neighborhood looks or how the neighborhood looks from the YMCA land so I have included an example here. This is the neighborhood they bought a home in, not the private land next door.

Joanne is extremely worried about the noise from those added houses, and the construction of them next door. It is simply unacceptable and will ruin her quality of life. She is demanding that any construction leave a 200 foot buffer to her neighborhood.  Let’s see … when I look at the map I count over 30 existing homes within 200 feet of Joanne’s lot. Can we sympathize with her about the impact of 2 more homes within that 200 foot limit? I think not.

And an abutter to the north, supporting the proposal, brings up the history of noise when the land was an active camp with weekend parties of teenagers and lots of buses and cars. I doubt that Joanne would be too happy with that either. She just wants the YMCA to hold the land unused for her free benefit.

Of course Mr. Veazey wouldn’t mind asking the neighborhood to the south to have a 200 foot buffer to his property either. He was quick to retort that he has no interest in building homes close to the boundary, the tiny lots with storage buildings and such right up to his property line.

Another speaker offered a dire warning for the health of Watchaug Pond, warning that the 10 additional homes could push it past the tipping point for water quality and turn the pond into a cesspool (his word). It’s odd that he’s worried about 10 homes with modern septic systems but not the three existing homes with real, live cesspools next to the pond. I’ll guess they put ten times the crap (literally) into the pond than the 10 homes will.

I could list a half-dozen more arguments worthy of eye-rolls but fear exhausting my loyal readers so I will pause, for now.

I don’t “have a dog in this fight,” I live far from the land in question and hadn’t met Mr. Veazey before the first hearing session, but I have some sympathy for Mr. Veazey and his proposal and I just can’t help to challenge fatuous arguments. So I prepared and presented the following comments at the hearing:

I certainly support the preservation of important open spaces that are part of Charlestown's natural heritage and provide attractive recreational opportunity. It is equally important for the Town to use good judgment in evaluating which properties meet reasonable criteria for that. 
Our comprehensive plan does not provide clear and consistent guidance for which properties should be protected for OSR. It only seems a matter of history and whim. At the last hearing we were given the impression that the current land use map is nearly sacred. But then we find that properties with nearly identical attributes are not treated equally. The YMCA camp property is classified as OSR while two other non-profit camps in town are classified as residential. Does that make sense?
The YMCA property that Mr. Veazey wants to buy and put to good use is far from natural forested land. It is a developed property with 15 buildings, paved roads, wells, septic systems, and basketball courts. It is now unused and it’s only a matter of time before the buildings decay and become unsightly homes for wild animals or shelters for people with something to hide. It seems clear that the current OSR designation is a mistake, and one that is easy to correct.
Some abutters seem to be saying nothing more than “I have a very small lot so someone should provide more space for me nearby that I don’t have to pay for.” If they want to enjoy more space it would be more appropriate that they buy it.
Lacking that, it’s reasonable to classify this developed piece of property as low-density residential like the other non-profit campgrounds in the town. Mr. Veazey has made a proposal that will leave the property less developed than it is today and will protect the most sensitive portion along the lake. I believe that is a vast improvement over letting this developed property decay into ruin.
The benefits to the town should not be overlooked. These will most likely be well-above-median priced homes for year-round residents with disposable income. Beyond the valuable local jobs to build and maintain these homes the additional families will give a small but welcome addition to our local businesses who all-too-often struggle outside of the summer months.

While Ted Veazey must be starting to see this as the nightmare that never ends, I look forward to the continuation of this entertainment on May 9.

Author: Tom Ferrio