Zoners approve home landscaping business on Highview Drive

Amid backlash from neighbors, the Planning and Zoning Commission approved a special permit to store two trailers and a salt spreader at 44 Highview Drive for a home-based landscaping business on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
“It’s for two trailers and a sander on the side of my property,” explained homeowner Patrick Biehl, who spoke for himself without an attorney. “I picked a spot that I thought was pretty secluded … it’s just for those three things, I’m not asking for anything else.”
Biehl said he is the only current employee of his landscaping business.
The house is currently under construction, and Biehl plans to sell the 1.3-acre property after construction wraps up within the next five months.
But Biehl’s neighbors, four of whom spoke, complained that he has operated a much larger operation out of the home than he described.
“If it’s landscaping equipment — as we know landscapers are busy spring, summer, fall — my two children live on that cul-de-sac … my concern is having landscaping equipment in a residential zone,” said Andrew Libonati of Highview Drive. “We’re actually right behind a school as well, so kids cut through that area as well.”
Ridgebury Elementary School sits nearby on Bennett’s Farm Road.
One of the neighbors lodged a complaint with Richard Baldelli, the town zoning enforcement officer, over equipment and debris left outside at the property in October.
“In addition to what [Biehl] is asking for, there were some other items on the property,” Baldelli said. “What was given to Mr. Biehl was the choice of either removing everything from the property, or removing some of the debris and other objects from the property” and applying for a special permit for a major home business, he added.
Biehl’s next door neighbor, Michael Allen, claimed Biehl had previously had other employees at the house.
“In the summer, I believe there’s five, six, seven employees standing on the corner waiting for these trucks to go back and forth,” Allen said.
Approval
Commissioners were divided on whether or not to approve Biehl’s special permit.
“The neighbors’ worries are not really what we’re involved with,” said Commissioner George Hanlon, who made the motion to approve.
But Commissioner John Katz disagreed, indicating that the neighbors’ testimony gave him pause.
“If we do approve it, we’re going to have to police the hell out of it,” he said.
“There’s something missing here,” said Commissioner Bob Cascella. “There’s a landscape architect with no equipment. A mason with no equipment … and no employees.”
Chairwoman Rebecca Mucchetti seemed sympathetic to Biehl’s case. Denying the application would mean “you’re taking away a guy’s livelihood, and the season’s starting,” she said.
In the end, the commissioners voted to approve the permit with conditions limiting Biehl’s trips with his trailers on and off the property to six times a week, and that he remain the only employee.
Commissioners voted 6-2 in favor of the application, with Cascella and Commissioner Charles Robbins opposed.
“I don’t know why you wouldn’t give the guy an opportunity — he cleaned up,” said Mucchetti.