Gravel excavation variance back before Wilton ZBA, again

  • A property along Isaac Frye Highway in Wilton is back before the Zoning Board of Adjustments for a rehearing. Staff photo by Ben Conant

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 10/13/2021 4:22:21 PM

Despite a convoluted journey, an application to excavate gravel from an Isaac Frye Highway lot in order to build a house is once again before the Wilton Zoning Board of Adjustment, for a fresh start.

The ZBA began a rehearing of the case, which is a request for a variance for gravel excavation, on Tuesday night. The board has seen the case before – it previously ruled it would not hear the case because a previous Zoning Board had already ruled against an application to remove gravel from the site. By law, the board cannot rehear cases already settled previously.

Isaac Frye Holdings and owner Kenny Lehtonen appealed that decision, arguing that the previous application was for a commercial gravel operation, and what he was proposing was a much smaller operation, which would end when the lot was suitable for a single family home. It’s a process anticipated to take six to eight months, where a commercial operation would be in effect for years.

Ultimately, the board agreed with that assessment, and now the case is back before the board for a new hearing.

The eight-acre lot and proposed development has been controversial among neighbors, particularly as Lehtonen started developing the lot’s driveway, including removing about 5,000 cubic yards of gravel without the proper Planning Board approvals for a gravel excavation outside the gravel excavation district.

The attorney representing Lehtonen, Roy Tilsley, argued before the board any development of that lot required removing gravel. When the lot was subdivided in 2016, the Planning Board included a requirement that any removal of gravel come before the board for permitting. Tilsley said this shows that the town was likely aware when the lot was created that removing gravel would be required to make any use of the lot as a residential development.

One of the issues, Tilsley said, is that the current lot is too steep to meet the town’s driveway regulations, and the flat surface available isn’t big enough for a home and associated septic system.

He pointed out that removing gravel would only occur for a few months, and leave the lot more compliant with the town’s zoning.

The board pushed back on the notion that a house could only be built if more gravel was taken off site, quizzing Tilsley and Lehtonen on possible alternatives, including building closer to the front of the property, or using a shared driveway easement with a neighboring property to avoid a steep sloping driveway.

“Is that the only location, or is it, as you said, just the best possible location?” questioned board member Judith Klinghoffer.

Silas Little, an attorney representing multiple abutters to the property and other nearby residents who object to the proposal, also noted there were possible other building techniques which could be used without requiring so much disturbance to the land. He said those alternatives should be considered before allowing a huge amount of truck traffic to disrupt the neighborhood trucking gravel from the site.

“This application is the antithesis of a reasonable application,” Little said. “There are standard engineering techniques that allow for construction on steep slopes without the removal of material. It’s going to be more expensive, but you don’t have to remove material from this site.”

Tilsley, as well as an engineer for the project, dismissed some of those alternatives, saying they would not alleviate the steep driveway issue, and said the current proposal was the one that worked best for the lot they had.

Denying the variance, Tilsley said, discounted any future “reasonable use” of the property as a residential lot.

On Tuesday, the board heard Tilsley, as well Little, before continuing the case to its next scheduled meeting.

As the hour neared 10 p.m., the board was about to hear testimony from two abutters to the property, who wished to read excerpts from a letter provided by an engineering firm, which they said provided an alternate view to testimony submitted by the applicant. Tilsley objected to the letter, saying it had not been submitted prior to the hearing and he had not had the opportunity to review it. Little pointed out there was no rule of law requiring objectors to turn over copies of their evidence to the applicant before the hearing, but also suggested the board could continue the hearing so the applicant could review the letter.

Lehtonen requested the board attempt to come to a conclusion Tuesday, though Klinghoffer noted that due to the already late hour, that was unlikely. With only board Chair Neil Faiman voting in opposition, the board agreed to continue the hearing to its next scheduled meeting.

 

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 244 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter @AshleySaariMLT.


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