In mixed decision, judge rejects approval of major Farmington apartment project – but dismisses allegations of unfairness or bias – Hartford Courant

The proposal for a huge apartment complex near UConn Health in Farmington suffered a setback in court but could theoretically be back on track as soon as the end of this week.

Owners of Prattling Pond Road scored a partial victory when Superior Court Judge Matthew Budzik ruled the city’s wetlands commission erred in approving 131 apartments along Route 4.

But Budzik also rejected two important elements of the neighbors’ lawsuit, and wetland commissioners on Wednesday evening are expected to discuss the matter – and possibly issue a revised approval.

The project is likely to remain delayed in court, however, as neighbors also pursue legal action to overturn the separate plan and zoning commission approval.

The question is whether Geoffrey Sager can build a three-story apartment complex almost directly across Route 4 from UConn Health, the first large-scale, high-density housing project in that immediate area.

402 Farmington Ave. Sager’s LLC argued that modern apartments within convenient walking distance were needed in the health and technology corridor along Highway 4.

In pitching the idea last year, the developer pointed out that state and city governments have long worked to attract more high-value health science and technology employers to this region. The current lineup includes the American Red Cross, Carrier Corp., Otis Elevator, Stanley Black & Decker UConn Health Center, and Jackson Laboratory.

Sager initially proposed a four-story complex with 146 units, but reduced the number because the plan and zoning approval capped height at three stories.

Prattling Pond Road owners Douglas and Kimberly Zeytoonjian, along with many neighbors, say the project will damage a quiet neighborhood that was never intended for large-scale multi-family housing.

Despite its proximity to busy Route 4, Route South, and I-84 Exit 39, the Prattling Pond area is quiet, largely untouched woods. Only a small handful of upscale homes break the forest along Prattling Pond Road, a dead end.

The neighbors have been fighting Sager’s plan for over a year, and in the spring of 2021 created a Facebook page called Save Farmington – Reject Massive Development, which has attracted 200 followers. Residents of other neighbors joined in, agreeing with the Zeytoonjians that city planners should not be allowed to alter long-established residential areas to accommodate large developers.

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Building a four-story, 146-unit apartment complex next to the Prattling Pond section would be completely unreasonable, owner Richard Fichman told a hearing last summer.

“It’s the size of a football field,” Fichman told the planning and zoning commission. “Imagine a 46-foot-tall building placed right behind your homes.”

Planners eventually agreed that nighttime lighting of a 46-foot building would be intrusive and only approved a scaled-down version. The Wetlands Council also approved it.

The Zeytoonjians have since been in court, claiming the municipal reviews favored the developer and asking Budzik to overturn the approvals. The lawsuit against the plan and the zoning commission is ongoing, but in late May Budzik ruled in the wetlands case.

Budzik dismissed the allegations that would have automatically triggered a whole new commission hearing. Instead, his conclusion leaves it up to the commission to specifically state whether there is a feasible and prudent alternative.

“The court can find no evidence that the members’ consideration of the application was ‘glib’ or ‘superficial,'” he wrote. Instead, they “diligently reviewed the evidence presented by both sides,” he concluded.

The commission meets at 7 p.m. Wednesday, and its agenda includes consideration of the case, “including possible modification of the approval resolution.”

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