Fairfield approves plans for an animal hospital on Hillside Road

FAIRFIELD — A proposed veterinary hospital won approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission on Tuesday night after being turned down last year.

Greenfield Animal Hospital was seeking a special permit application as well as a zoning change to allow them to move their operations from 212 Hillside Road to 40 Hillside Road in the Greenfield Hill area. The plan is to build a 6,289 square foot animal hospital on approximately one acre currently occupied by a church.

The commission voted unanimously to approve both items, adding a condition that the applicant work with the tree guard and the Department of Conservation to use as much native foliage as possible.

According to city documents, John Fallon, the animal hospital’s attorney, said the company’s current location does not have the space to provide care. The plan is notably scaled back from the 7,000 square foot proposal a year ago, and documents say the animal hospital owner worked with neighbors, who had concerns last year, to make the application possible. The new plan also reduced the total coverage of the land and reduced the number of parking spaces from 28 to 26.

Commissioner Alexis Harrison said that while she was not on the commission when she rejected the application a year ago, she has reviewed the criteria for zoning and believes they meet them. She noted that the parcel is currently zoned residential, but has not been used as a residence for decades.

“This site has previously been used as a non-residential use, so the proposed change does not change from a traditional residential use,” she said. “The change would also help retain an existing commercial use already in the neighborhood.”

Harrison said the city’s conservation and development plan, which is currently being updated, reflects the need for small local business districts supporting local residential areas.

“This will likely be expanded as we update the POCD to reflect current thinking on smart growth, walkable communities with less reliance on long-distance driving, and the expansion of mixed-use and local business base,” she said. “This area change would support those planning objectives.”

Last year, supporters of the commission and the plan praised the hospital’s staff and services, but commissioners worried the animal hospital was out of place and too big for the neighborhood. They were also concerned that it did not fit into the city’s conservation and development plan. There were also concerns that allowing this commercial use in the residential area would invite other businesses to attempt to locate there as well.

Harrison said area residents now support the proposal and allow more small businesses to open in the neighborhood.

Commissioner Meg Francis said she respects the efforts of Dr Andrew Marsh, owner of Greenfield Animal Hospital, to work with neighbors and rethink plans for the new location. She said it would be a great addition to the area.

Chairman Tom Noonan said the commission should always be careful about opening commercial zones in residential areas, adding that this plan should be more of an exception than a rule. He said the applicant, who had an impact on the community during his time there, is that exception.

“In the last bid, we had strong support from the public, except for adjacent neighbors,” he said. “It concerned me, and I think it concerned this committee. They were the ones who were going to be most easily affected. They are now in agreement with the amendments that have been.”

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Benjamin M. Yerger