By Chris Maza
HAMPDEN – The Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) voted unanimously on Jan. 29 to overturn the Planning Board’s decision to approve Hampden Country Club’s site plan; however, whether Hampden Country Club will adhere by the ruling remains to be seen.
Attorney Seth Stratton of Fitzgerald Attorney at Law, which represents the country club, argued during the public hearing that because there is pending legal action in the Hampden County Superior Court, the court, not a ZBA hearing, had the proper authority to rule.
“The primary issue is that there is a prior pending action before the Hampden County Superior Court addressing the exact issue that is before this board,” he said. “It’s not proper for this board to decide on issues that have already been raised by the same individuals in superior court.”
He added that because of the pending legal action, he and his clients were not at liberty to discuss the issue with the board.
Stratton was non-committal on his clients’ intentions after the meeting, declining to comment when asked by Reminder Publications
if the country club would honor the ZBA’s decision.
At issue was the Planning Board’s decision to approve a site plan for Hampden Country Club that violated a zoning bylaw requiring a 100-foot “densely treed” buffer zone between the course and abutting residential neighbors.
The club has been undergoing extensive renovations since it was purchased by Connecticut businessmen Jerry and Frank Antonacci, owners of USA Hauling and Recycling in Enfield, Conn. Frank’s son, Guy, is charged with overseeing the club’s day-to-day operation.
The Hampden Country Club Committee, which brought forth the appeal, said through their attorney, Tom Miranda, that in doing the work, the club removed a substantial number of trees from the buffer zone, installed cart paths and tee boxes in the area and later erected a large berm.
“This is a clear violation of what is required under the zoning bylaws,” Miranda said. “If you do [allow it] it would set an awful precedent for the town.”
Building Inspector and Zoning Enforcement Officer Lance Trevalion issued a stop work order because of the violations on July 10, 2013, but when the Planning Board ruled in favor of the club’s site plan, the stop order was lifted.
“It should be noted that the plan was approved after the fact,” Miranda said. “The work was already done.”
Stratton read a statement from Jonathan Murray, spokesperson for Hampden Country Club, that said club ownership has “abided by all requests from town officials and complied with all applicable bylaws in order to revitalize one of Hampden’s Most iconic landmarks.”
In the absence of Town Counsel David Martell, the board spent nearly half of its 2 ½-hour meeting attempting to determine whether it had the legal authority to rule on the subject.
Satisfied with associate ZBA member Mark Casey’s interpretation of the bylaw in which he said the board did have the authority, it was decided that the while the general zoning bylaw might allow a land owner to do what they wish, there were specific rules pertaining to golf courses that prevents it and the Planning Board did not adhere to those.
“The Planning Board loses discretion on interpreting the use because of the definition in the bylaw,” ZBA member Richard Patullo said.