Public hearing on Huntington Center housing proposal continues tonight

An estimated 500 people pack the Shelton Intermediate School auditorium to oppose the 20-home development proposed on Huntington Congregational Church land on Ripton Road. — Brad Durrell photo

Applicant engineer James Swift, far left, makes a presentation on the Ripton Road proposal with P&Z members sitting in the front row of the auditorium. — Brad Durrell photo

An aerial map showing the development site, with Ripton Road at top, Centerview Drive on the left and the Huntington Center commercial area on the right.

The concept plan for the 20-home cluster development proposed for 6.1 acres off Ripton Road, including dedicated open space in the lower left. — Brad Durrell photo

Editor’s Note: A public hearing on a proposed 20-home project in Huntington continues tonight, Tuesday, Aug. 21. The hearing will be held at the Shelton Intermediate School auditorium, starting at 7 p.m.

Below is a story, published July 5, covering the first public hearing in late June.  

Chris Gallo, who lives on a dead-end road bordering a proposed 20-home project in Huntington, offered a one-word reason why the developer wants to build it.

 “Money,” said Gallo, one of about 500 opponents who packed a June 27 public hearing on the cluster housing development plan for property owned by Huntington Congregational Church.

The Centerview Drive resident asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to preserve the neighborhood’s “country setting” by upholding the one-acre zoning that covers most of the development site.

Gallo added he’s worried adjacent undeveloped land owned by another Huntington church, St, Paul’s Episcopal, might be developed next.

Resident Leo Sands said the developer “wants to put 15 pounds of potatoes in a 10-pound bag. It doesn’t fit.”

Nineteen people spoke against the application inside the Shelton Intermediate School auditorium, and more have signed up to speak when the hearing continues Aug. 21.

Comments focused mostly on not changing the current zoning and potential traffic impact, with speakers pointing out the area already suffers from congestion. “This is not the right place for this development,” resident Robert Duckworth said.

The developer’s presentation and responses to P&Z members’ questions took up most of the three-hour hearing, which appeared to frustrate people in the crowd. When the developer’s team began showing architectural renderings of what homes might look like, which is normal for a developer’s presentation, one irritated resident shouted, “We’re not here to buy a house!”

P&Z members appeared skeptical of the plan.

“That was one of the most unconvincing presentations I’ve ever heard,” said member James Tickey, mentioning concerns about density and traffic. Tickey said former longtime P&Z member Frank Osak, who recently died, would call putting 20 homes on a 6-1 acre parcel “greed.”

Member Elaine Matto said cluster housing should allow a developer to build the same number of homes on a large parcel as traditional zoning, with open space provided in return for putting the houses close together, and that’s not what is being proposed.

Primrose Development LLC wants to put the houses on a wooded tract off Ripton Road, with an entrance between Centerview Drive and Huntington Congregational’s rear parking lot entrance.

The Huntington Village development would have two private cul-de-sacs, and 1.4 acres — or 23% of the overall site — would be set aside as open space. Homes would have three bedrooms, two-car garages in most cases, and be connected to city sewers and public water.

The detached single-family homes would be part of a condominium association and the condo owners would not own individual lots.

The developer is John Guedes, best known for pursuing residential projects on Canal Street downtown. Guedes is an architect and builder. Some speakers encouraged him to continue working to redevelop downtown.

The applicant is seeking to create a Planned Development District (PDD) on property now zoned for one-acre and half-acre lots. Due to uncertainty, P&Z members told developer representatives to provide the exact amount of land in both zones on the 6.1-acre property.

‘Transitional area’

Developer attorney Dominick Thomas described the location as “a transitional area,” with nearby institutional uses such as churches, the community center and firehouse as well as the Huntington Center commercial hub, condominium complexes and single-family home lots.

Thomas said having what he called “moderate density housing” makes more sense than large housing lots near a village center such as Huntington. He noted the P&Z has approved other cluster housing plans in Shelton.

Developer traffic engineer Dave Sullivan said the project’s traffic impact wouldn’t be noticeable because it would only generate 20 to 25 vehicle trips per peak commuting hour.

Sullivan said there are traffic issues in the vicinity but actual volume has decreased since 2008, causing the audience to skeptically laugh. P&Z members asked why Sullivan’s traffic count data was a year old.

Residents and P&Z members questioned the difficulty of taking left turns to pull in or out of the proposed development’s entrance during heavy commute times, with a potential to worsen existing backups at traffic lights near Huntington Green.

They said this scenario  would be particularly bad in the winter when heading up the hill on Ripton Road.

Thomas said enough room exists to add a paved vehicle bypass area on one side of Ripton Road. He also suggested the city hire its own traffic engineer to analyze the project’s impact.

Resident Harry Foothorap said only six homes should be allowed on the property, and the requested density has turned the application into “a townwide fight.”

“If this happens in our neighborhood, it could happen in yours,” Foothorap said.

He added he felt “betrayed” by the church, based on earlier assurances any residential development on the land would be reasonable.

Resident Scott Gura said the developer wants to create “postage stamp-sized lots” on a visible site in a historic neighborhood.

Greg Tetro, who heads Save Our Shelton, called it an “egregious” plan that would cause almost every tree on the property to be knocked down to build houses about 30 feet from one another.

The property contains no wetlands, but the Inland Wetlands Commission has indicated it wants to weigh in on the project at this time. Thomas said a wetlands application isn’t required now because a PDD request involves a zone change and not a detailed site plan, which comes later in the process.

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