Saying the Planning & Zoning Commission’s recent approvals of Grace Farms’ closely followed applications will hurt them financially and threaten residential zones in New Canaan, a neighbor of the Lukes Wood Road organization on Monday filed a lawsuit in state Superior Court seeking to reverse those decisions.
According to complaints filed on behalf of Smith Ridge Road residents Timothy Curt and Dona Bissonnette by attorney David Sherwood of Glastonbury-based Moriarty, Paetzoid & Sherwood, the neighbors are “aggrieved by the action of” P&Z, because their property “is adversely affected by” changes to New Canaan’s zoning regulations.
The lawsuit refers to amendments to the regulations that allow an applicant to seek multiple principal uses for their properties—something Grace Farms wanted in order to be categorized not only as a religious institution but also as a philanthropic agency and club.
“The amendments allow applications for multiple principal uses in residential zones and encourage the expansion of commercial and institutional uses in residential zones, to the detriment of established residential uses,” according to the complaint.
Further, the complaint says, the plaintiffs are “aggrieved” by P&Z’s decision because they’ve “suffered and will suffer economic damage as a result of the regulation changes and their implementation on the abutting property of Grace Farms Foundation Inc.”
The neighbors are seeking for the court to reverse P&Z decision on the text changes—as well as to nullify the commission’s approval of Grace Farms’ amended special permit application—and to be awarded costs and “such other relief as the court deems appropriate.”
P&Z by a 5-4 margin approved the text amendment application at its July 25 meeting. Those voting in favor were Chairman John Goodwin, Secretary Jean Grzelecki, Jack Flinn, Laszlo Papp and Bill Redman. Those opposed were Elizabeth DeLuca, Dan Radman, Kent Turner and Dick Ward.
The commission on Sept. 26 approved the special permit application 9-0. Those voting were Goodwin, Grzelecki, Flinn, Papp, Radman, Redman, John Kriz and Krista Nielson.
The successive votes—and the second one came with a record-high number of conditions—followed months of public hearings on Grace Farms’ applications. The applications themselves were spurred by the town planner’s finding in the summer of 2016—months after the organization had opened its campus to the public—that Grace Farms in its varied and robust activities was going beyond what was allowed under its existing zoning permit.
Ultimately, P&Z in approving the text change to New Canaan’s zoning regulations knowingly opened the town to an entirely new class of application from property owners. In laying out its conditions for approval of the amended special permit, P&Z did appear to address some of the concerns voiced by neighbors. For example, Grace Farms may not host revenue-generating events, must remove the “sound sculpture” from a pond on its property and may not advertise its food service establishment as a standalone amenity.
In approving the special permit application, P&Z “acted illegally, arbitrarily and in abuse of the discretion vested in it” by failing to properly notice its meetings and its decision also was wrong “in view of the reliable, probative evidence before the Commission.”
“The plaintiffs are claiming other relief in addition to or in lieu of money or damages,” the lawsuit said.
The complaint appears to say that P&Z failed to meet its own dates during the public hearing process. For example, the complaint says, P&Z on July 25 set an effective date for the text amendments of Aug. 25, but then a notice published in a print newspaper gave an effective date of Aug. 29.
As such, P&Z “failed to comply with the requirements of the Connecticut General Statutes and of its own regulations governing the content, giving, publishing, filing and recording of notice of the decision on the application by the defendant Grace Farms Foundation Inc. in one or more of the following ways.”
According to the complaint, the post-hearing legal notices of P&Z’s decision were “defective, incomplete and misleading” and also failed to meet the requirements of state law or the town’s own zoning regulations.
P&Z also failed to file a copy of the regulation change with the Town Clerk prior to the effective date of the amended regulation, according to the complaint.
Grace Farms is named as a non-appearing defendant in the lawsuit. Officials from the organization could not immediately be reached for comment.