The Planning and Zoning Commission voted 6-to-3 in favor of drafting a special permit for Sacred Waters LLC, a proposed pond-dredging service located at 6 Clearview Drive, at its Sept. 19 meeting.

It was the second time homeowner John Keegan applied for a special permit for a “major home occupation” — a home business — from the commission.

In June, the commission rejected what was a substantially similar application after neighbors turned up to the hearing with concerns that Keegan’s equipment, including a 22-foot pontoon boat, was causing neighborhood blight.

The decision to approve Keegan’s latest application came after a contentious public hearing, in which nine residents spoke — all but one of them opposing Keegan’s plan to store his pond-dredging equipment on his property.

“Nothing has changed,” said Jeffrey Londona, whose property sits adjacent to the proposed business.

He argued that the roads are too narrow for Keegan’s truck, and said that school buses do not drive up to pick children up at their houses, because of the width of the roads.

Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti pointed out that UPS vans and oil trucks are permitted to use the roads.

Hidden

But attorney Bob Jewell, who represented Keegan, said that the truck is no bigger than his own midsize SUV. It is not registered as a commercial vehicle, Jewell said.

Under the terms drafted in the special permit, Keegan agreed to continue putting up a fence and add plantings to block his neighbors’ view of the boat and other equipment.

He has also constructed a small shed on the property to store other equipment.

Unless someone is flying overhead in a hot-air balloon, stands nine-feet tall, or is peering through a crack in the fence while trespassing on Keegan’s property “you would never know this was here,” Jewell told the commission.

He said the only reason the business requires a special permit is for storage of the boat — a 3,800-pound diesel pontoon craft with “a big suction thing” — Keegan uses to dredge the bottom of ponds.

Jewell argued that surrounding properties on the lake had boats visible to passersby, and that boats litter the shores of the lake.

In most cases, the town zoning rules allow a homeowner to run a small business or home office without a special permit.

The property is too small for a garage to store the boat under the zoning regulations, Jewell said.  

Support

Laura Stobel, a Lake Road resident, was the only neighbor who spoke in support of Keegan’s plan. In comments that occasionally took aim at her fellow Rainbow Lake neighbors, Stobel said Keegan “bent over backwards” to make the property look acceptable.

She alleged stories of neighbors “getting drunk together” and committing acts of vandalism — some, she said, might have been present at the hearing.

“I don’t want to see zoning rules and regulations used against one person — which is what I feel strongly is going on here tonight,” Stobel said.

‘Petrochemicals’

Commissioner Tim Dunphy initially said he would not vote in favor of approving the special permit out of concern about the location, and the environmental impact of Keegan cleaning his equipment in the neighborhood.

He said he was concerned the dredged material might contain “invasive species” or “petrochemicals,” that Keegan would rinse off his tools.

But the commissioners said they would include a condition in the special permit that will restrict Keegan from washing or operating his equipment on the property.

Keegan also agreed to transport the pontoon dredge on and off the site during weekday business hours — 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday.

Lynn Amler, a Lake Road resident whose husband owns another pond-dredging service on the opposite side of the lake, said that in their experience the business requires far more equipment than Keegan currently has.

“We don’t clean our equipment or bring it to our home ever,” she told the commission.

Jewell said that in the event Keegan ever needed to expand his inventory, they would come back for a revision or move the equipment to a new location.

Keegan said he takes the boat on and off his property to a job two to three times a year.

Other side of town

Not all of the residents who opposed the special permit were Keegan’s neighbors.

Residents from the Peaceable Neighbors Alliance, a coalition of neighbors organized to protest the development of a private skating club on Peaceable Street, also showed up to speak against granting Keegan a special permit.

Old South Salem Road resident Jenn Hansen said that when she drove through the neighborhood, she noticed that the houses “are extremely close together,” and that Keegan’s equipment is “unsightly for the neighbors.”

“Commercial businesses do not belong in residential neighborhoods,” she said, drawing applause from the audience.

Her husband, Jeff Hansen, spoke next and alluded to the proposed Ridgefield Winter Club in a statement that “vague regulations” from the commission “allow residents to be tortured” by commercial businesses.

Stobel, who questioned why residents were showing up from the other side of town to speak against Keegan’s special permit, said the property on Rainbow Lake sits about seven miles away from the disputed site of the proposed winter club.

Vote

Most of the commissioners said they were swayed to vote in favor of granting the special permit because of Keegan’s efforts to clean up the property and hide his equipment.

The commission also approved waiving the fees for Keegan’s application after Jewell said he should have asked for an extension at the last hearing.

Commissioner George Hanlon opened deliberations with an emotional recollection of how his own father supported his family with a small business growing up. He said he felt Keegan had “done everything he can” to make the equipment fit in the neighborhood.

Commissioner John Katz, who voted against the application in June, stuck with his vote again. While he said he supports small businesses, he saw no mention that fencing should be considered as part of a special permit application.

“The point of a special permit is it takes into consideration the specificity of the location in which it lies,” he said.