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    Wednesday, June 19, 2024

    Final Preston zoning hearing on RV park tops four hours; no vote yet

    Preston — The final marathon public hearing on a controversial proposed RV park and campground stretched past midnight Tuesday into early Wednesday morning, when the Planning and Zoning Commission closed public comment and tabled action to its May 24 regular meeting.

    Maryland-based Blue Water Development Corp. has proposed the seasonal RV park and campground resort, under the name Blue Camp CT LLC, on 65 acres of land owned by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation at the junction of routes 2 and 164 and abutting Avery Pond. The three parcels are at 451, 455 and 495 Route 2, much of the land in the town’s resort commercial zone and part in a residential zone.

    Campground resorts are allowed by special exception permit in both zones under town zoning regulations. The proposed RV park and campground would be open from April 1 through Oct. 31 each year. No guest RVs will be allowed on the property during the off-season, and though 27 rental RVs owned by Blue Camp would remain on the property year-round, they would not be rented out during the off-season.

    Blue Water has downsized the project from the original proposed 304 campsites to 280 campsites, eliminated a proposed T-shaped dock in Avery Pond, a boardwalk and tent sites along the pond, and reduced the number of bathhouses from three to two. All roadways and parking areas will be gravel-based, except at the main entrance and welcome center area.

    About 30 people attended the 4½-hour public hearing Tuesday night, the third and longest PZC hearing session on the project, held in the Preston Plains Middle School cafeteria. Attendees laughed when, shortly before 11 p.m., the battery on the wireless public microphone died. The hearing continued using one of the commissioners’ mics.

    Residents of Avery Pond neighborhoods have vehemently opposed the project throughout the PZC and Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission public hearings that started in December. Speakers continued to oppose the project Tuesday, citing anticipated traffic problems on Route 2, light, noise, environmental concerns and saying the project is too big, too dense and unfit for the quiet surrounding neighborhoods.

    A petition, with more than 400 signatures of people who oppose the project, was submitted to the commission prior to Tuesday’s hearing.

    The wetlands commission had approved wetlands permits for the project in a 3-2 vote April 19.

    Project attorney Harry Heller asserted the surrounding neighborhoods will be “fully buffered” from the project. But he added it would be unrealistic to say they would not hear “sounds” from the development.

    Heller disputed claims the project is too large for the 4,000-population town. Blue Camp would have 280 campsites. The longstanding Strawberry Park campground in town has 450 sites, Heller said.

    Heller said there were nine fire calls and 14 police calls to Strawberry Park and Hidden Acres campgrounds in 2021, just over 1% of overall calls in town and 0.7% of police calls, not including motor vehicle calls. He said the project would become the second- or third-highest taxpaying entity in town.

    “The cost for public services for what will be a major tax contributor in the community, will be minimal,” Heller said.

    Commission member Denise Beale expressed concern about traffic flow on Route 2 and the potential for vehicles to be backed up along Route 2 waiting to turn left into the campground.

    Blue Camp plans to convert a 12-foot-wide center median on Route 2 into a left-turn lane. Blue Water Project Manager Emily Demarco said vehicles would not be backed up at the entrance for check-in.

    “I represent to you that this is good development,” Heller said. “This is going to be a benefit to the town of Preston. It is going to enhance your tax base. It is going to create both construction jobs when the project is being constructed, as well as operational opportunities for employment.”

    Residents disputed many of Heller’s points Tuesday. Route 164 resident Connie Moshier said the buffer planned to shield Lynn Drive, which runs along the western shore of Avery Pond, would not help her property. She said she would have full view of the campers, will hear the noise, see the lights and experience the construction disruption.

    “There’s some semblance of peace in our backyards,” Moshier said. “That will be all gone.”

    Cooktown Road resident Steve Ballirano envisioned the RVs parked side by side in rows like a large trailer park. “This is outdoor sprawl,” he said.

    Ballirano submitted copies of news articles about other towns denying RV park campgrounds because they disrupt the community, and he urged Preston to reject the plan.

    Resident Margaret Gibson said Preston will have new tax revenue with the pending redevelopment of the former Norwich Hospital property by Mohegan Gaming & Entertainment, the Uncasville-based corporation that owns the Mohegan Tribe's gaming enterprises, including Mohegan Sun. She said denying Blue Camp would not signal that Preston is unfriendly to business.

    Gibson quoted a comment from wetlands commission Chairman John Moulson, who said he was not in favor but voted to approve it because it met regulations. Gibson said that standard should not be enough. She thanked fellow residents for objections that led to significant downsizing but she still urged the commission to reject the project.

    Heller later objected to Gibson's stance, saying the town created its land use regulations to be fair to all property owners in town, and the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation owns the Route 2 property and has the right to develop it according to town zoning regulations.

    Resident John Waggoner read criteria in the town's special exception zoning regulations and argued the proposed campground would not be compatible with neighborhoods, would cause traffic problems, hurt property values and harm the environment.

    “Please put the concerns of hundreds of citizens that signed the petition against Blue Camp’s project,” Waggoner said, “and all the taxpaying citizens that signed a petition against Blue Camp’s project and all the taxpaying citizens that will have their quiet neighborhoods, quality of life and property values detrimentally affected by Blue Camp’s campground.”

    Attorney Michael Carey, who represents Lynn Drive residents Susan Hotchkiss and Jennifer Hollstein, who have filed for intervenor status in the planning and wetlands processes, praised residents for their research into technical, environmental, traffic and development issues. Carey said he had not seen this level of residents’ involvement in his many years of representing clients in zoning matters.

    c.bessette@theday.com

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