Notice for remote wetlands hearing confuses, scares some residents

Monroe Town Hall is at 7 Fan Hill Road in Monroe. Photo by John Babina

MONROE, CT — A notice for an Inland Wetlands Commission meeting confused 20 residents who showed up at Monroe Town Hall for a hearing Wednesday night, only to learn it was being held remotely online with no in-person option.

First Selectman Ken Kellogg recommended the commission not hold the three hearings that were scheduled, so as not to disenfranchise those who showed up.

Though the agenda was clear that the meeting was “fully remote”, Town Attorney Barbara Schellenberg said the hearing notice that was mailed out to neighboring property owners could have been confusing.

Jim Morganteen, president of the High Meadows Condo Association, said residents there were confused about the hearing for a “multi-aged restricted development with associated site improvements” at 1271 Monroe Turnpike.

“Now you have to keep in mind you sent 138 certified letters to a community of senior citizens, the majority of whom are in excess of 75-years-old,” Morganteen told the commission. “I’ve spent the last week explaining to people that A: they’re not being sued, B: they don’t have to hire lawyers and C: this has nothing to do with their ownership of their unit.”

“They were absolutely scared to death to get certified letters about a hearing, and clearly it did not come across to them that they could not go to Town Hall tonight,” he continued, “because I personally spoke to over 15 of them to tell them that A: there was no need to go and B: I had looked at the agenda and this was a completely virtual meeting, so sending your notice, even if it complied with every letter of the law, did not get correctly interpreted by those who received it. And if you are going to renotice, you have to make it absolutely clear that this is a virtual meeting.”

Jason Edwards, an engineer for the applicant, said he mailed out the certified letters based upon the town’s meeting notice, before the agenda came out.

Schellenberg said the notice read: The Monroe Inland Wetlands Commission will hold a public hearing on Wednesday, August 25, 2021, at 7 p.m. either by remote access or in the Town Hall Council Chambers, 7 Fan Hill Road. The location/type of meeting will be listed on the meeting agenda.

“I think that’s somewhat unclear,” she said.

Schellenberg said it could be read in two ways, one that the type of meeting would be on the agenda and another that people could either attend remotely or at Town Hall.

Edwards asked if the commission could open each hearing, then immediately close and continue them without any testimony, so he would not have to send out notices of the meeting by certified mail again at a cost of $1,300 to $1,500.

The other two hearings were for the Housatonic Valley Rail-Trail, connecting the existing trail in Wolfe Park to an existing trail near Maple Drive; and an application for an excavation and fill permit to prepare property 10 and 36 Main Street for future development.

Schellenberg said the commission should open the hearings and continue them, then she would determine if it is the proper way to proceed. If so, the hearings could be postponed to the next meeting. If not, the applications would have to be refiled with a notice going out to the abutters again.

The commission opened each hearing and continued it.

At minimum, Morganteen asked that the condo association be notified when the age-restricted housing hearing comes up again.

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