Residents push for Shelter Ridge denial

Tom Harbinson emphasized that the opposition to Shelter Ridge is aware that the 121-acre site will be developed in some way and clarified that this designated area is not the city’s only pristine piece of land; there’s a 160-acre parcel located in White Hills. — Aaron Berkowitz photo

 

A group of Shelton residents concerned with the potential effects of a massive 121-acre would-be mixed-use development gathered at the city’s latest Inland Wetlands public hearing last Thursday night to try to convince the commission to deny the project.

Among the issues expressed by the opposition during the March 15 public hearing were the endangerment of wildlife near the parcel of land and predicted water runoff from the site and its effects on the ecosystem where the development would be built.

The group of approximately 30 residents and community members took turns speaking to the commission about why the Shelter Ridge application should be denied.

The Shelter Ridge plan, as presented, consists of 1 million square feet of retail, office space and apartment buildings. Construction of the project has been estimated to take about 10 years.

Save Our Shelton (SOS) member Caitlin Augusta initiated the opposition’s comments by reading a prepared statement from the group’s attorney, Keith Ainsworth. In the statement Ainsworth claims the developers are proposing maximum usage of the parcel of land without regard for the impact on nearby wetlands.

“The applicant has presented the commission with insufficient information upon which to determine the true extent of its impacts, but an independent review by Steven Trinkaus (an engineer for SOS) indicates that these impacts will be far greater than they admit,” Augusta read.

Trails Committee member and SOS affiliate Terrance Gallagher agreed with Augusta and said there are more feasible alternatives to the site plan as it was presented, but the developers have not considered them.

“They (the alternatives) would probably eliminate 90% of the impact on wetlands and 90% of the public opposition to this thing being built,” said Gallagher. “So you don’t have a shopping center on Buddington Road maybe, but you would still get the same square footage of retail. It might be in a different arrangement, it might be in different lease agreements. You would get most of what the developer is looking for with much less internal impact.”

Augusta followed up her reading of Ainsworth’s statement with comments of her own, maintaining the stance that the developer hadn’t tried to come up with alternatives to its plans.

“Why haven’t they provided the commission with storm water management alternatives?” Augusta said.  

She speculated it is because the alternatives would mean a smaller site plan for the developers, with a smaller footprint and greater setbacks around the wetlands, including the Buddington Road wetlands and on the Far Mill river side.

Augusta also expressed concern for the amount of asphalt the developers would use for the property and described how it would affect wildlife.

“The applicant claims that it has made the curves angled at 45 degrees to allow salamander movement, but it is safe to say salamanders do not successfully cross hot pavement,” said Augusta.

Shelter Ridge attorney Dominick Thomas disagreed with Augusta’s claim that the development was largely composed of impervious material.

“That’s a big site and we’re only at 48% impervious area. There’s a lot of sites on Bridgeport Avenue that are 70% impervious area,” he said. “Can we still make improvements? Yes.”

Interpreting the law

SOS founder Greg Tetro said he was unclear why the commission is even discussing the application because he feels state law wasn’t followed when P&Z approved the Shelter Ridge application in March 2017.

Tetro said that according to his interpretation of the state law, the P&Z application should have been denied because it didn’t already have approval of Inland Wetlands, but Shelter Ridge attorney Thomas said he was mistaken.

“A site plan application is when you get an approval and put your shovel in the ground. What we did with P&Z was a zone change,” said Thomas. “A lot of Mr. Trinkaus’ stuff is opinion with no factual basis. We’ll address it.”

Thomas went on to suggest that residents approach the Board of Aldermen with the idea of the city purchasing the parcel of land through eminent domain.

“If they wanted to do it, they could take it. It would be costly to them, but they could do it. Shelton’s rich” said Thomas.

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace said the city won’t be purchasing the 121-acre piece of land and the developers most likely would not sell the city the piece of land required to preserve the portion of the Paugussett trail that connects to Stratford.

“There’s no chance. We’re not doing that. It was never an option,” said Anglace. “We’re not rich. I wish we were but we’re not. It’s got to make sense for us to buy something like that. Tom Harbinson and those guys are the ones who make those recommendations to us. It’s got to work. They’ve got a bunch of other properties with higher priority. … These guys won’t sell you that piece of the property because it’s not practical for them.”

Inland Wetlands Chairman Gary Zahornasky said Thomas and his experts will have the opportunity to address the issues voiced at the meeting when the hearing resumes at 7 p.m. on March 29 in city hall.

“The intervenor (Save Our Shelton) will get their chance to respond either that day or at the next hearing,” Zahornasky said. “So there may be a fourth day of hearings, but at some point we have to bring this to a close.”

Thomas wouldn’t say whether he was confident he would gain approval from Inland Wetlands, but he did say his team is willing to solve all wetlands issues raised by the commission.

“If the goal is to keep it pristine and that’s what the commission wants, they’re going to find any reason to deny it,” said Thomas. “If the goal is to address wetlands issues, then we can address those issues.”

If Inland Wetlands were to deny the Shelter Ridge application as presented, the developers would have 15 days to appeal the decision, according to Thomas.

SOS member Caitlin Augusta said the application for the Shelter Ridge plan was incomplete and therefore a waste of the Inland Wetlands Commission’s time to review. — Aaron Berkowitz photo

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