Westport zoners dismiss Old Harbor appeal

Though appeal dismissed, zoning board members say building inspector did not endorse teen educational/treatment proposal

By Ted Hayes
Posted 12/7/23

It’s rare when the dismissal of an aggrieved party’s appeal to a public board could be seen as a victory for the person who filed it. Still, that is how Wednesday evening’s zoning …

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Westport zoners dismiss Old Harbor appeal

Though appeal dismissed, zoning board members say building inspector did not endorse teen educational/treatment proposal

Posted

It’s rare when the dismissal of an aggrieved party’s appeal to a public board could be seen as a victory for the person who filed it. Still, that is how Wednesday evening’s zoning board of appeals meeting played out for Old Harbor Road residents, when an appeal filed by two residents who live near a proposed education and substance abuse rehabilitation center for teens was thrown out.

The for-profit center, which would be developed on a 10-acre farm at 435 Old Harbor Road, was proposed earlier this year by Hyannis treatment center developer Ken Weber. Under town bylaws, educational uses are allowed by right in the residential/agriculture zone in which the property lies, and require only site plan approval before the planning board.

In mid-June, following discussions with Weber and his attorney, Westport zoning enforcement official Ralph Souza wrote a short letter to the developer stating that “the use of the property at 435 Old Harbor Road for educational service would be allowed” a long as the planning board issues site plan approval.

With letter in hand, Weber approached the planning board for site plan review, saying the town had already “made a determination” that his plan is an allowed use. He has continued to maintain that Souza’s letter is an official town determination that his proposal is allowed by right.

On Wednesday, board members ruled otherwise, stating that the letter is not binding, not an official opinion of the town, was general in nature, and was not directed at any particular proposal.

“He did not make a determination that that use was educational,” board member Cynthia Kozakiewicz said of Souza’s letter. Souza agreed, saying he was writing only on allowed uses within that zone.

For that reason, acting chairman David Cole told appellants Kevin McGoff and Ryan Kim, their appeal fails the “ripeness” doctrine and thus must be dismissed.

“Hopefully you can stay on top of what’s happening and take appropriate action at the appropriate time, but right now is not the appropriate time because we don’t have anything to act on.”

Neighbors have contended all along that Weber does not plan to build an educational center, but a treatment center for teens with disorders, but is calling it educational to avoid having to appear before the zoning board for variances and other approvals that would be necessary with a non-conforming use.

Speaking to that point, Kozakiewicz said the ball is now in the developer’s court:

“If this is a project he wants to do, he has to make the decision if it’s risky enough to go ahead and go through all of the expense of the planning board, and buying the property, and perhaps getting a building permit denied. I don’t think us making a decision one way or another to make his job easier or more secure in his investment, is really what he should be doing here.”

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