Apartments would tower over trail route, commission argues
Following a well-attended informational meeting held by the site developer and staff, the city’s Conservation Commission has publicly voiced its disapproval of the proposed site plan for the 121-acre property along Bridgeport Avenue, Mill Street and Buddington Road.
The Planning and Zoning Commission will hold a public hearing Wednesday, April 27, when it will make a decision regarding the proposed zone change and site plan. The meeting will take place in the Shelton Intermediate School’s auditorium at 7 pm.
Before the project could commence, the Planning and Zoning Commission would have to approve a zone change from a Light Industrial to a Planned Development District (PDD), which grants the developer more freedom to build on the property.
Conservation Commission’s issues with proposal
The Conservation Commission’s Chairman, Tom Harbinson said its decision to oppose the current proposal for the site plan and zone change is a result of multiple factors.
Harbinson said the Land Trust owns property near the 121-acre site, along the Far Mill River, and it has already witnessed impacts to its property from off-site developments. He asked about the impact that storm water discharges from the existing developments (corporate towers) would have on Land Trust property.
“It’s taking away from everything we’re trying to protect and we should be watching out for as environmental stewards. And then the other relationship that we have on the larger scale of things, across town boundaries, is with the Fairfield County Regional Conservation Partnership, and they’re very much into establishing these links and greenways and partnering, and we have this chance to continue to do great things in the eyes of Connecticut Forest and Parks, HVA, our local groups like the Land Trust and the Far Mill River Association, and Trout Unlimited,” said Harbinson.
Conservation Commission Vice Chairman Bill Dyer pointed out that the proposed nine-story, 450-unit apartment tower would be placed directly on top of a portion of the previously proposed Paugussett Trail route.
Harbinson said the trail that would be affected has been a project by local volunteers for the last 25 years.
The Trails Committee did not approve the proposal as well, and voiced similar concerns in a letter.
“[The Paugussett Trail] is a major project of the City of Shelton that has consumed hundreds of volunteer hours in trail construction and improvements, as well as considerable expense by the City in purchasing open space property. The Old Kings Highway parcel next to the Wells Property was specifically purchased before 1997 with the concept that the Paugussett Trail would be extended through it,” the Trails Committee letter reads.
Following the informational meeting
Conservation Commission member Terry Gallagher said he was surprised to hear the developer present the proposal as if the Trails Committee and Conservation had approved the open space and trail route.
Gallagher said he walked the trail route again after the meeting and grew more upset.
“On the west side of the property, the developers show the Paugussett Trail going in near existing back yards. The neighboring homes can’t be seen on the site plans, but they are close.
They also show the trail going closer to Mill Street, down the hill, in very difficult terrain,” Gallagher said.
Both the Trails Committee and Conservation Commission recommend that the plans be modified before being presented to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Natural resources impacted
Teresa Gallagher noted how the current proposal would affect five natural resources in a document entitled “Natural Resources Impacts — Towne Center at Shelter Ridge.”
- Old Kings Highway (roadbed). The scenic aspect of this surviving section of the historic colonial roadbed would be degraded by the development along the ridgetop, especially the nine-story apartment tower and the associated parking, which would be constructed within 50 feet of the roadbed. There is also concern that plans could be modified to convert the roadbed into an emergency access road.
- Old Kings Highway open space. This 16-acre property contains scenic waterfalls and is a potential destination location along a restored Paugussett Trail. The proposal would degrade the scenery of this open space with the construction of the 9-story residential tower overlooking the property with associated parking and a major fill slope at its base. This open space would be demoted to a treed buffer area rather than as a scenic destination location for the general public.
- Paugussett “Blue Dot” Trail Restoration. The 25-year effort to extend the Paugussett Trail to the Stratford border would come to an end if this proposal is approved. Although the applicant shows a trail crossing the property, it is not the type of scenic route that meets the standards of a CFPA Connecticut Blue Blazed Trail. Only the Connecticut Forest and Park Association has the authority to designate a trail as a “Connecticut Blue-Blazed Trail. A section of trail would run alongside new buildings and parking areas from Buddington Road all the way to Bridgeport Avenue before the required half-mile road walk on Beard-Sawmill Road. Although short stretches of CT Blue-Blazed Trails can tolerate substandard trail sections if that section leads to a highly scenic area, the total mileage of this degraded section would be an “unacceptable” 1.5 miles.
- Mill Street, which is Shelton’s first scenic road, would be affected because the nine-story tower would be visible from approximately the old Stump Joint Mill to Bridgeport Avenue, which is approximately half a mile away.
- The Far Mill River: The nine-story tower would degrade the view from the Far Mill River, used for trout fishing and kayaking. In addition, the development will have impacts on stormwater runoff, a topic reserved for the Inland Wetlands Commission.
Terry Gallagher also noted that the service side of the proposed buildings, including trash containers and loading docks, would be up against the trail. The consensus of the committee was that a buffer would not sufficiently protect the scenic elements of the trail.
Harbinson added that consideration of a transition zone concept should not be so quickly dismissed.
“Economic development along the Bridgeport Avenue corridor, and divide it along the property ridgeline, and either the city should try to limit what’s built there, if anything, or scale it way, way back, where heights aren’t protruding out of the treeline, where you can see it across town, even over on the Stratford side.”
Conservation Commission member Sheri Dutkanicz said she thinks the entry points to Shelton are being made less attractive as a result of development.
“People come here to live because it’s pretty, and all of a sudden we’re damaging all those pretty access roads,” said Dutkanicz.
Proposal would put end to years of work
Harbinson said the proposal goes against the trails committee, Scouts, and every other group or individual that has contributed to preserving the community’s environment.
“It’s a violation and a slap in the face to every commissioner or board member who has worked so diligently for the past 10 years ago, or 15 years ago, or 25 years ago, to say what you’ve done, all the way up until now … I think that’s not what our community is about,” said Harbinson.
Teresa Gallagher said she expects developers to respond to their concerns by mentioning their effort to preserve a percentage of the city’s open space.
“Wel,l you know what they’re going to say is, ‘We’re preserving 20% of the site, that’s a lot of open space.’”
Harbinson countered by addressing open space regulations.
“If this were a subdivision, the open space set-aside (requirement) qualifies that open space can’t be steep slopes or wetlands. … Is it qualified open space. Is it not wetlands? Is it not underneath a powerline corridor? Is it not going to be disturbed?”
Dutkanicz motioned that Teresa Gallagher draft a letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission opposing the PDD that incorporates the previous comments made by each of the commissioners, along with supporting reports.