After a contentious 6-hour public hearing that seemed at times more like a courtroom trial, city councilors on Meriden's Economic Development, Housing & Zoning Committee voted unanimously Thursday night against a request by Summerhill, LLC, a Carabetta company, to alter the status of a knoll protected from development by state and local ordinance as part of Cathole Mountain.
Their recommendation will go to the City Council for a final vote next Monday.
It was just a day after the Carabetta Management Co., a local builder and property manager with more than 20,000 units throughout the country. The aim of the investigation has still not been revealed publicly by the agencies involved, but agents spent all day Wednesday at the organization's headquarters at Pratt and Center Streets in Meriden, bringing out what looked like boxes of files and reportedly searching computers. Business at the building appeared to have resumed Thursday.
In Thursday night's meeting, lawyers and an expert representing Summerhill – which is headed by the management company's president Joseph Carabetta who was not present – attempted to make their case that the 13-acre knoll owned by the firm at the entrance to Cathole Mountain should not be considered part of this mountain.
Summerhill is interested in building townhouses on the land in question, but a city designation of the area as the Cathole Mountain Ridgeline Zone in 1998 prevents any development on it. The company has fought the city several times in the last 15 years in both council chambers and in court for rights to build on their land, even prior to the official designation.
Geologist Robert Good of Leggette, Brashears and Graham, Inc. served as an expert witness for Summerhill, and testified Thursday that the knoll should not be considered part of the protected area. He said that the knoll, which is separated from the mountain by Sam's Road, visibly appears to be a separate structure from Cathole Mountain with "separate geomorphic features from cathole mountain," and that he believes a fault line likely runs between the two.
Good also addressed the idea that the excavation of land to create Sam's Road caused the separation between Cathole and the knoll that was raised . He said that a layer of till, or glacial sediment deposited more than 20,000 years ago, was found in the gully, showing that the structures were separate before that time.
Testifying on behalf of the city, Wesleyan University geologist Dr. Jelle Zeilinga de Boer said that excavating the 18 to 20 feet of rock to create Sam's Road likely made the division look greater than it naturally would be.
De Boer and experts called on separately by the Tilcon Company, which owns land nearby and opposes the rezoning proposition, said they believe the knoll should be considered part of the same entity as Cathole Mountain. They said that the division between the knoll and Cathole is not necessarily indicative of a fault – and could be simple fracturing of rock. They also said that the fact that the type of the rock that makes up the knoll – basalt or volcanic rock– is the same as that which makes up Cathole, is more evidence that the knoll is part of Cathole Mountain.
State Rep. Mary Mushinsky (D-Wallingford) also spoke in favor of keeping the knoll protected. Mushinsky is the author of the original state bill that designated Cathole Mountain one of 44 state sites considered protected ridgeline. This legislation allowed the city to put its own regulations in place.
"Regarding legislative intent, I believe that the name Cathole Mountain already includes the knoll as the knoll does not have its own place name on the USGS map referenced in the statute," Mushinsky said. "If the knoll had a separate place name, I would have listed it in the statute as I certainly intended to protect the crest of the entire basalt unit of Cathole Mountain."
Summerhill attorney Dominic Aprile countered Mushinsky, saying that legislative intent does not mean what the single legislator who wrote the bill intended, but what the legislature who voted on it intended when passing it.
Summerhill's testimony did not sway committee members.
"The applicant has not proven that the area at issue is separate and distinct from Cathole Mountain," City Councilor Brian Daniels said, listing reasons he was voting against the application. City Councilors Dante Bartolomeo, Dan Brunet, George McGoldrick and Daniels each voted against the request.
The federal raid on the Carabetta company was not openly referenced in the hearing or the meeting afterwards, and may only have been mentioned obliquely during the events.
"If (the knoll) would become property of another owner, they would have permission to level the site," Councilor George McGoldrick said of the vote councilors were taking.
"I represent Summerhill and the sole managing partner of that LLC is Mr. Carabetta," Aprile said. "There’s no intention to sell the property."
Last updated at 11:05 a.m.