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    Tuesday, March 05, 2024

    Court appeal of Preston commission’s rejection of RV park moving forward

    Preston ― Attorneys for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and Blue Camp CT, the developer that proposed a luxury RV park within hailing distance of the tribe’s Foxwoods Resort Casino, have detailed their claim that the Planning and Zoning Commission had no business rejecting the project some 18 months ago.

    In a brief filed Nov. 8 in New London Superior Court, the plaintiffs say the proposal complied with all local regulations and that therefore the commission was bound to grant a “special exception” zoning permit for it.

    The brief focuses, in part, on a particular commission member, Denise Beale, who voted against the project after stating prior to the vote that Blue Camp’s applications for a zoning permit and site plan approval were consistent with the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development and met regulations regarding recreation campgrounds.

    “Where factual determinations of compliance have been made by a commissioner, and expressed by that commissioner on the record, that commissioner has no alternative but to exercise his/her vote in a manner consistent with those factual determinations,” attorney Harry Heller writes in the plaintiffs’ brief.

    Had Beale voted for the project, it would have been approved 4-3 instead of being rejected.

    Town Attorney Kenneth Slater, representing the commission, has disputed what he calls the plaintiffs’ “novel conclusion” regarding Beale’s vote. In a brief filed in October, he wrote that since the commission didn’t adopt a “collective statement” of its reasons for rejecting the project, the court “must search the record for a basis for the denial and ignore individual statements by a Commission member. …”

    That record contains ample justification for the commission’s vote, Slater wrote, including a petition signed by nearly 400 residents who oppose the project. Commission members “pushed through a mountain of filings … identified deficiencies in the Plaintiffs’ evidence, and relied on substantial evidence justifying denial of the Applications,” he wrote.

    Heller, on the other hand, claims commission members depended on their own knowledge and experience and the testimony of “lay opponents” of the project, “which in essence are nothing more than opinions on matters technically complex in nature which require expert testimony to resolve.”

    Earlier, Heller had sought the court’s permission to depose commissioner members to determine whether they had improper communications with members of the public while considering Blue Camp’s applications and whether all members who voted ― two were alternates ― had attended public hearings on the matter.

    The court denied Heller’s request.

    The project, officially named the Blue Water Recreational Campground Resort at Avery Pond, was proposed for 65 acres of tribe-owned land at the intersection of Routes 2 and 164. The tribe would lease the land to Blue Camp CT, a subsidiary of Blue Water Development Corp. of Ocean City, Md.

    In response to early opposition to the project, Blue Camp reduced the number of proposed campsites from 304 to 280, eliminated a dock, a boardwalk and tent sites along the pond and one of several bathhouses. In recommending the commission approve Blue Camp’s applications, Town Planner Kathy Warzecha called for further modifications in the plan, including the elimination of nine more campsites, the addition of buffers and restrictions on music festivals and the amplification of sound.

    The Blue Camp site lies in two zoning districts, one allowing residential development, the other permitting commercial development. Both require “special exception” permits for recreational campgrounds.

    According to the briefs, the plaintiffs and the town, each citing testimony provided during the public hearing, differ over the project’s potential impact on traffic, Avery Pond and property values and whether its scale is compatible with the neighborhood.

    “… (T)he Commission denied an application that clearly complied with the very Regulations that it had enacted,” the plaintiffs conclude in Heller’s brief.

    b.hallenbeck@theday.com

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