Fairfield denies veterinary hospital for Hillside Road property

The Town Plan and Zoning Commission unanimously voted against a zoning change application and special permit application for the Greenfield Animal Hospital to build a 7,000 facility at 40 Hillside Drive.

The Town Plan and Zoning Commission unanimously voted against a zoning change application and special permit application for the Greenfield Animal Hospital to build a 7,000 facility at 40 Hillside Drive.

Josh LaBella / Hearst Connecticut Media

FAIRFIELD — A proposal to build a large veterinary hospital in a new location in Greenfield Hills was denied recently, after officials agreed it would expand commercial business too much into a residential area.

In a meeting last week, the Plan and Zoning Commission looked at a proposed zoning change along with a special permit application to demolish an existing church and instead build a new, 7,000-square-foot veterinary hospital, along with a 28-car parking lot.

If approved, the zoning change and building proposal would have seen the Greenfield Animal Hospital move from 212 Hillside Road to 40 Hillside Road. While the commission and supporters of the plan spoke highly of its staff and service, commissioners were concerned it would be out of character with the neighborhood and would not fit the town’s plan of conservation and development.

Town Planning Director Jim Wendt said the property just more than 1 acre large on the east side of Hillside Road. He said a church has occupied the site since 1972, noting the building was approximately 2,200 square feet in size with a 24-car parking lot.

Wendt said the property is in a residential zone. The applicant was seeking to establish a neighborhood designed business district — contending that, since it has already been used for a non-residential purpose, it would not be a big change.

“The change would also facilitate the expansion of an existing use already in the neighborhood,” Wendt said of the applicant’s contention.

Wendt said those in opposition to the proposed zone change argue that other uses besides the proposed veterinary hospital could be permitted if approved. Further, he said, the opposition contends the development plan is not neighborhood in scale and does not satisfy the plan of conservation and development criteria.

Those opposed, Wendt said, also point to the size of the proposal as being incompatible for the site.

Commissioner Kathy Braun made a motion to deny the zone change, saying it would go against the POCD guidelines for the Greenfield Hill area of town. She said it would increase the permitted density of the area.

“There’s no basis to change the zone of a residential area to a commercial area in any portion of Greenfield Hill,” she said. “Unless we’ve decided to expand by changing the plan of conservation and development. I don’t think we’ve ever come to that conclusion.”

Braun said there are several vacant areas in the commercial district that could accommodate the proposed business, as opposed to “invading into a residential area.”

“I drove by there and this is a very small parcel,” she said, adding major changes would have to be made to accommodate the plans.

Braun said she would love to have the business stay in town, just not in a residential area. Commissioner Mark Corcoran agreed.

“I think there’s a provision of the POCD that generally says that business areas should not expand into residential areas, and this clearly violates that,” he said, later adding residents were worried about its possible impact on property values. “Also, I think there’s a concern that, despite so many neighbors being very happy with the veterinarian and what he does... we don’t know what the next use of this building might be.”

Commission Chair Matthew Wagner said he could not support the zone change unless the neighbors supported it. While that is not always necessary for zoning changes, he said, this is a special case.

“The church that was there was permitted use in a residential zone. We have churches in residential zones,” he said. “It was 2,200 square feet. The proposed veterinary hospital was 7,000 square feet. The church was nothing near 150 feet long. This would be a relatively imposing building.”

When it came time to vote, the commission unanimously denied the zone change. It also voted to deny the special permit application for the building plans.

Wagner said there might be some common ground in the future, but the applicant’s wishes are at odds with neighbors.

“At the end of the day, I fall also on the side of denying the zone change,” he said.

joshua.labella@hearstmediact.com