It could be back to the drawing board for developers of the proposed Day Break Ridge condominium project on River Road.

The Planning & Zoning Commission, at its meeting Wednesday, Sept. 11, tabled the plan for a nine-building, 36-unit condominium development on the 12.39-acre lot at 85-97 River Road after voicing concerns about the project’s density and the proximity of some units to the large rock wall on the site.

With the public hearing now closed, commissioners asked zoning staff to inform the developer on these concerns with hopes a resolution could be reached that would be satisfactory to both sides. The proposal was first aired at the commission’s June 26 meeting, and in the interim its developers made a variety of changes requested at that initial hearing.

“This is not an application for a zone change,” said P&Z consultant Anthony Panico. “This is not an application for a PDD (Planned Development District). This is an application for special exception use in a R3 zone. A special permit or special exception use is presumed to be a permitted use if the reasonable standards of the regulations are met.”

Panico told the commission members that there are some findings they can make, and if the commission finds that this development does not satisfy the regulations, he would craft such a resolution.

“But the presumption going into the project like this is you do have the right to build it, we need to be careful how we address it,” said Panico.

Panico said this property has its constraints — specifically the steep slopes, the rock, the watercourse and wetlands. He said the property owner has seen staff numerous times over last 10 years to discuss various ways to develop the site.

“This seems to be the only one that starts to make sense,” said Panico about this most recent application, “as it avoids and protects the rest of the mountain.”

Commission Chair Virginia Harger recommended removal of two units, while fellow Commissioner Mark Widomski called for as many as six to be removed. These recommendations were among those zoning staff will need to share with the developer.

“I had and still have concerns about the retaining wall,” said Commissioner Jimmy Tickey, adding that while the staggering of the wall is an improvement, “still at some places the rock wall is 15, 20 feet from a house or a deck.

Tickey added that he has concerns about the density of development on the site, and parking appears to be “crammed in here.

“I am not there on this development,” added Tickey. “It is much too dense, and, quite frankly, we do not need to develop every inch of land.”

Commissioner Mark Widomski agreed with Tickey on the density concerns, adding that he was also reservations about the rock face.

“I do not understand all the fear of the rock wall is coming from,” said P&Z alternate Ned Miller. “The whole state is made of rock. If someone has a rocky piece of property now we’re not going to consider it anymore because we conceive to be a safety hazard.

“The professional engineers do not see it that way … the traffic study looked OK,” added Miller. “Now after all the discussion with the developer, they changed the plans several times, we all, in my opinion, seemed somewhat in agreement, not Mr. Widomski in some cases, and now I think we’re doing a total about face at 11th hour. That’s upsetting to me. I’d hate to be out there and come before this board.”

Tickey disagreed with Miller’s assessment, saying “We do blast through rock, and developments are in rock. That’s not the problem. It sounds like we’re seeing that a person’s backdoor is 20 feet from the wall, and, in some cases that doesn’t include their deck.”

“Jimmy, they don’t have to buy it,” responded Miller.

“And we don’t have to approve it,” said Tickey.

“The claim seems to be that this is not safe,” said Miller. “I have not heard any professional say this is not safe.”

“I don’t want little Johnny squashed out there while he was playing soccer in his backyard because a rock happened to fall. I don’t want that on my conscious,” said Widomski.

brian.gioiele@hearstmediact.com