Granby resident Tracy Cavaciuti is somewhat incredulous that the dispute over whether her son, Dylan, is allowed to ride his 85 cc Kawasaki dirt bike on the family’s seven-acre property at 18 Candlewood Lane has gotten this far.
Indeed, Tracy and her husband, James, have spent about $6,000 over the course of nine months since the family received a May 17, 2011 cease and desist order from Zoning Enforcement Officer Bill Volovski that prevents Dylan from riding his dirt bike in the property’s horse pasture.
“This is seven acres and I have a kid on a small dirt bike who wants to enjoy the property,” Tracy Cavaciuti said in an interview Sunday. “Unless you are going to abuse it, then you should be able to do what you want on your property. Taxes are through the roof here. This is not a matter of a kid going on people’s lawns and tearing them up. He’s an only child and extremely responsible.”
To be sure, the use of dirt bikes is a sensitive topic in Granby, pitting riders who say they should be able to use their land as they wish on one side against abutting neighbors who claim that the quiet enjoyment of their property and their property values are compromised from the noise and dust generated by the bikes.
For the last several years, Volovski has issued about a half a dozen cease and desist orders that bar residents from having motorized dirt bikes ridden on their properties.
Volovski has issued the orders despite the town having no ordinance or regulation that specifically restricts the use of dirt bikes, nor is there a noise and nuisance regulation on the town’s books. Instead, Volovski says that the town has taken the position that the riding of dirt bikes is not a permitted use, nor is it a “customary accessory use” of residential property, under the zoning regulations.
“In all the cases cited, people built tracks and structures that you wouldn’t find in your typical residential area,” Volovski said in an interview. “If you build tracks then you have changed the residential character of the lot.”
In the Cavaciuti’s case, Volovski issued the order after receiving complaints from Susan and James Gnesda of 20 Candlewood Lane and Todd Klein of 19 Candlewood Lane, who said in letters that the noise generated by Dylan’s bike is frequent and unbearable, and that dust from the bikes is being kicked up and onto their respective properties.
The Cavaciutis, for their part, appealed the order to the zoning board of appeals, which upheld the order on July 19, 2011.
In response, the Cavaciutis have filed a suit in Connecticut Superior Court appealing the ZBA’s decision. In addition, the Cavaciutis have also applied with the Planning and Zoning Commission for a special permit to establish a “recreation area” for riding a dirt bike in a residential area.
The Cavaciuti’s application is narrowly tailored, calling for the limit of one rider, Dylan, who would be permitted to ride his dirt bike two Saturdays a month for no more than two hours between 12 and 6 p.m. and three weekdays per week between 3 and 5 p.m., for no more than two hours.
It’s a novel approach, as the commission has not considered an application under that section of the zoning regulations “in at least 26 years,” wrote Fran Armentano, the town’s director of community development.
The P&Z Commission will hold a public hearing Tuesday evening at Town Hall on the application.
For now, Tracy Cavaciuti, who has lived at the property for nearly 20 years, said that the matter has been overblown and is really one of intolerance by a couple of neighbors who recently moved to the neighborhood over the last three or four years.
“There have always been dirt bikes going through here,” Tracy Cavaciuti said. “In the summer [the neighbors who take issue] can’t even see the property.”
Dylan Cavaciuti competes in Motocross events all over New England, according to Tracy, and he practices mostly at the track at Rocky Hill. Riding on the Candlewood Lane property, Tracy said, is merely designed to get him some seat time and give him something to do during the week.
“This is a slippery slope,” Tracy Cavaciuti said. “If you take this away from kids, what else are you going to take away from them? … This is Granby. It’s not like we’re asking to do this on a half-acre or one acre plot of land. If you take this away from the kids, they’ll move away and they won’t want to come back.”
Tracy Cavaciuti also made the point that her property could be leased to a farm company, which would generate a lot more noise when working the land than one dirt bike ridden by a child.
“You want to see noise? You can do whatever you want with farm equipment,” Tracy Cavaciuti said. “Part of me just wants to say, ‘Don’t poke the bear. Just leave me alone.’”
Tracy Cavaciuti is also upset about several claims made about the intensity of the use of the dirt bike as well as how large the dirt bike track is on the property.
“They handed out a petition last Tuesday and they took an aerial shot from Google and penciled in a track that looks like it’s the Stafford Motor Speedway,” Tracy Cavaciuti said, who noted that she was unaware of anyone signing the petition, though several Candlewood Lane residents have defended the Cavaciutis.
Deb Goodridge, a resident of Candlewood Lane, said in a July 19 letter that she and her family have never had any concerns or complaints concerning the use of a dirt bike on the property.
“We live in a family neighborhood, not a retirement community,” Goodridge wrote.
Tracy Cavaciuti said that she attempted to work with the neighbors who have taken issue with the dirt bike, most notably Susan Gnesda, but that the talks have not yielded a compromise.
Cavacuiti cited the complaint that Gnesda also made to town officials about the noise a donkey the Cavaciutis purchased as evidence that there was little chance for common ground.
Susan Gnesda, when reached by phone Sunday, declined to comment for this story.
Gnesda’s attorney, Stephen Morelli, wrote in a Feb. 21 letter, however, that “[t]he landscaping involved in constructing a track, which included jumps, is not consistent with the landscaping of a residential neighborhood and therefore diminishes the value of the adjoining properties. The noise, odors, and vibrations which are produced by the use of a dirt bike, or dirt bikes, create and constitute a nuisance.”
What is not mentioned, however, is whether the construction of a jump for a BMX bike also should not permitted.
The town, for its part, has not taken any position on the matter, though it does appear that the Cavaciutis have an uphill battle ahead.
As Armentano wrote, “The Granby Office of Community Development believes that Granby citizens should be confident that when they purchase a home in a residential zone, they will not be subjected to unregulated, non-residential activities, particularly those that can make it impossible to live peacefully and comfortably in their homes.”
In granting a special permit, Armentano noted that “[w]hen considering a request of an applicant who wishes to use their property in a manner that can disturb their neighbors, the onus is on the applicant to prove that their proposed use will not unreasonably burden the neighborhood nor diminish their neighbor’s quality of life.”
Should the P&Z Commission deny the application, the Cavaciutis still have an appeal before in Superior Court challenging the cease and desist order upheld by the Zoning Board of Appeals, though getting a town’s commission’s or board’s decision overturned by a court is rare.
In January, Granby resident Garrett Cardwell had his appeal of a Zoning Board of Appeal’s decision to uphold a cease and desist order for his son to ride his dirt bike on the 8 ½ acres of land on East Granby Road dismissed by a Superior Court judge.
The judge did not rule on the substantive issue, however, as the court ruled that Cardwell’s appeal was filed after the 30-day limitation on appeals had expired.
Cardwell, when reached by phone last week, said that the town is being disingenuous when it issues its cease and desist orders, however.
Specifically, he said that the town is concerned about noise, not the structures or tracks that are built to accommodate dirt bikes.
“The part that bothers me is that they don’t go after the real issue,” Cardwell said. “The real issue is noise. They said that the reason why I couldn’t use the dirt bike was because it wasn’t listed as an accessory use. If that’s the case, you also can’t ride a mountain bike, roller blade or sled on the property because they’re also not listed as accessory uses.”
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