WINSTED — After an almost three-hour public hearing filled with debate and marred by internet issues on Monday, Jan. 25, the Planning and Zoning Commission continued its public hearing on two separate applications by Educated Canines Assisting with Disabilities (ECAD) to Monday, Feb. 8.
The organization, located at 149 Newfield Road, is a 501(c)(3) is operated by Dale Picard and the Director of Programs Lu Picard.
According to the organization’s website at www.ecad1.org, the mission of the organization is to train dogs to help people with disabilities.
The first application ECAD filed is for a special permit that, if approved, would allow ECAD to go ahead with Phase 3 of a site plan for the construction of a new building that would house adult service dogs in training.
The new building would be located proximal to the existing training facility.
The second application ECAD filed is for a zoning amendment that would provide a bonus of five percent impervious surface coverage if Low Impact Development (LID) techniques are employed on a property in the Rural Residential (RR) Zone.
The wrong Zoom meeting web address was listed on the meeting’s agenda, and at one point during the meeting software crashed.
Despite this, the hearing went on with several residents, who are neighbors of the ECAD property, oftentimes sparring with ECAD representatives over both applications, starting with the proposed zoning rule change.
“The proposed zoning change would affect a large portion of all of Winchester,” resident Amy Reeve said during the public hearing. “Over 80 percent of Winchester is zoned Rural Residential. You would be allowing the rest of Winchester to be covered under this, which is a pretty big ask, just from this one project.”
“It’s not automatic,” Commission Chairman George Closson said. “But it is true that anyone who asks for this would be covered.”
Attorney Patsy Renzullo, representing ECAD, addressed Reeve’s comments.
“While it might sound like a great deal of individuals might be affected by the proposed text change, in practice how many people come before the board on special permits?” Renzullo said. “It’s not something that happens very frequently. It seems to me that they are exaggerating the impact of this proposal.”
Residents at the hearing also took issue with the plans proposed new building and its potential impact on neighboring properties, which ECAD representative Jason Dismukes, an engineer from Goshen, defended.
“What are we trying to get approved? We are trying to get a special permit for use,” Dismukes said. “That use is already on this property. We are trying to build a building that was intended to be built on day one when the existing building that’s there was approved [by the commission]. Under the circumstances, we are trying to meet the regulations to do that. I hope that the commission can keep in mind that we are trying to comply.”
Dismukes went on to say that Mayor Candy Perez wrote a letter in support of the project “for ECAD applying for and being awarded a half-a-million-dollar grant to start this project.”
“If [ECAD] would have known that they would have never been allowed to start this building, they would have never started it,” Dismukes said. “They need this facility because it’s a critical part of [ECAD]. The city came out in support of this.”
“May I argue that it’s great that the city was on board for this, but I would also argue that not a word was whispered to anyone who this project impacted in the neighborhood,” Reeve said. “It started as a special permit and then it was changed to a site plan, and no one was ever notified. We were never asked to give our opinion.”
“You can’t reconstruct whatever mistakes or errors that were made in the past,” Closson said.
Near the end of the hearing, members decided that it would be beneficial for the commission to make site visits to ECAD and neighboring properties before any decision is made on the two applications.
While the site visits will be advertised in advance, as per Town Attorney Kevin Nelligan, commission members will not be allowed to ask questions during the visits.