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New Canaan Planning and Zoning deliberates on Silver Hill expansion

Published 11:17 am, Friday, October 25, 2013
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The fate of a Valley Road house will hang in the balance for two more weeks, with Silver Hill Hospital on one side and angry neighbors on the other.

The Planning & Zoning Commission deliberated but did not vote on Tuesday night over the special permit application by Silver Hill to use 225 Valley Road as a residential medical treatment facility.

Silver Hill purchased the 5,700 square foot house in December 2012 for $2.4 million. The hospital plans to add three bedrooms to the house, for a capacity of eight patients and five staff members. Silver Hill is a renowned psychiatric hospital that covers 60 acres in the Silvermine part of New Canaan.

But the proposal has rankled neighbors, many of whom attended a Aug. 27 P&Z meeting and voiced opposition to the plan, which would expand the boundaries of Silver Hill.

As P&Z commissioners debated the application Tuesday, some of them expressed that they would vote against it.

"I'm thinking that right now the impact on the neighborhood has matured to the point where I'd like to see a permanent resolution, which is denial," member David Scannell said.

Commissioner Tony Shizari said the zoning code stipulates that a change to the use of a property must be in harmony with the neighborhood's development.

"I didn't hear any evidence that it would be in harmony," he said. "I did hear testimony that it wouldn't be."

Shizari cited neighbors' testimony about an increase in ambulances and emergency services traffic in the area if the house were to be made into a residential facility.

But other commissioners asked about the accuracy of neighbors' testimony. P&Z Chairman Laszlo Papp asked if neighbors did not produce evidence there would be more traffic or more ambulances, but rather based their assertions on reasoning or feelings or intuition, whether that would stand up in court. Town Attorney Ira Bloom cautioned members to base their decision on the application on concrete evidence rather than emotional testimony.

"If there's a challenge in court, that's what the court would look at, specific evidence on either side," he said. "An emotional feeling would normally not be good. We normally look for appraisals, traffic reports, etc."

The panel will vote at a special meeting Nov. 5.

"Our homework is for the next two weeks to go back to notes and records and see what is notable and credible evidence," Papp said.

After the meeting, Scott Hazard, president of the Silvermine River Neighborhood Association, a group recently assembled to speak for the neighbors on this issue, said he was satisfied with the commission's discussion.

"It's interesting to hear the commission's deliberations on the matter. I think they're being fair to both sides," he said. "I'm a little surprised, I guess, at how difficult the decision is for them."

twoods@bcnnew.com; 203-330-6582; @Woods_NCNews