Plan for 30 apartments in downtown Bethel 'just doesn’t belong' and faces rejection

BETHEL — A 30-unit apartment complex proposed for 17 Whitney Road may hit a dead end.

On Tuesday, the Planning and Zoning will review a draft resolution to deny the application submitted by Judy and Frank Saunders, who want to construct the three-story building on their 1.7-acre Whitney Road property.

The Saunders want to transform the lot — which has been used as a contractor’s yard since they purchased the property more than 30 years ago — into a multi-family residential space within Bethel’s transit-oriented development overlay zone.

Judy Saunders — who declined to further comment on the application Monday morning — told CT Insider in August that the development would “fit perfectly” with the town’s goals for transit-oriented development, or TOD.

Not only would it increase foot traffic and attract people to Bethel’s downtown, but it would help fulfill the demand for affordable housing in the area, she said. 

In addition to 30 one-bedroom apartments — at least six of which would be designated affordable per the town’s TOD regulations — the Saunders look to offer several thousand square-feet of recreational space and add benches and bike racks to the site.

The project has drawn criticism from neighbors and members of the Planning and Zoning Commission, who have cited conformity, aesthetic, traffic and other concerns. 

Residents have also taken their opposition to Facebook, where a public page and private group — both called “Say ‘No’ to 17 Whitney Road” — were created to “galvanize citizens to fight back on behalf of this small, unique neighborhood of 1- and 2-family homes.”

As of Monday morning, the Facebook page had more than 110 followers and the private group — which recently changed its name to “Stop Overbuilding Bethel” — had more than 150 members.

Elgin Avenue resident Cynthia McCorkindale — the administrator and moderator of the Facebook page and group — has said the proposed Whitney Road project is “insulting to the neighborhood” and “just doesn’t work.”

Land use staff drafted a resolution to deny the Saunders’ application following the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Sept. 13 meeting, during which five of seven members said they would not be in favor of approving the project.

Several commission members have expressed concern about the three-story building’s lack of conformity.

“Even if they took a whole floor off it, it’s not going to work,” one commission member said during the Sept. 13 meeting.

Another commissioner said the design of the proposed structure is nice, but the size of it “just doesn’t belong.”

“If this were next to me, I’d be up in arms,” he said.

Town Planner Beth Cavagna said the commission will review the draft resolution to deny the Whitney Road application on Tuesday, but she doesn’t expect a final decision to be made on the application until the commission’s Oct. 11 meeting.

The Planning and Zoning Commission’s Sept. 27 meeting will take place in Meeting Room D of the Clifford J. Hurgin Municipal Center, as well as over Zoom, beginning at 7 p.m.