City hires new firm to study Shelter Ridge wetlands impacts
SHELTON — The Inland Wetlands Commission has hired its second outside firm to review plans for the controversial Towne Center at Shelter Ridge.
Shelton-based civil engineering firm Civil 1 has been retained to review all plans and perform its own analysis of the project, which calls for a development with 450 housing units in a nine-story apartment building, more than 300,000 square feet of retail space and more than 3,000 parking spaces along 121 acres at the intersection of Mill Street and Bridgeport Avenue.
Civil 1 President Curtis Jones appeared before the commission at its Aug. 12 meeting. The company is expected to review all the information provided by the developer and offer a "peer review" of all the reports.
Civil 1’s contract fee was not immediately available.
The newly hired firm is not the only group studying Shelter Ridge. Save Our Shelton and the city engineer also provided input on the Shelter Ridge project. All reports but the developer’s found problems with the project as proposed.
Civil 1 was to have a finished report by early this week. Commissioner Ken Nappi said the firm requested and was granted an extension to early September. The commission must make a final decision by Sept. 10 on the project.
This is the second such peer review sought by the commission, which originally retained Westport-based LandTech last year to do the same job.
The commission, however, determined in February that that company’s report “did not offer sufficient information to go ahead and deliberate the Shelter Ridge project,” said Nappi at the Aug. 12 meeting.
“Civil 1 will not be making our decision,” Nappi said.
The commission’s stated problems with LandTech prompted Mayor Mark Lauretti to appear at the February meeting and offer to hire another engineering firm after the city already paid LandTech $16,000.
While he said he appreciated Lauretti’s offer, commission Chair Gary Zahornasky at that time said he was not interested in bringing on a new firm.
Lauretti said he was “troubled” after LandTech stated that there was not enough information for its study. He said he had attempted to set up a meeting between Towne Center at Shelter Ridge and LandTech.
Thomas Ryder of LandTech told the commission Feb. 6 that the firm felt such a meeting required all principals, not just Towne Center at Shelter Ridge.
“LandTech did not deliver … we paid them $16,000 and they did not deliver,” said Lauretti in February. “This whole process has gone on way too long.”
While the commission felt the LandTech report did not offer appropriate guidance for its deliberations, members still reached what appeared to be a consensus in May that the Shelter Ridge application was incomplete.
The commission made no formal decision at the May meeting but did agree they would meet with city corporation counsel Fran Teodosio to discuss creation of a draft resolution denying the application. Discussion of the resolution was to happen May 14 but did not occur.
Zahornasky said the commission has three options — approval with conditions; deny with specific details on the adverse impacts that led to the decision; and deny due to insufficient information, which would not, according to the chair, preclude the developer from resubmitting a new application.
Zahornasky said the plans now before the commission are the same ones submitted in 1997. None of the changes the developer agreed to or suggestions from the city or critics were included on the plans in hand at the time that the public hearing closed, he said.
The public hearing, officially closed in March, had been open for more than a year, a point of contention by project opponent Save Our Shelton. Steve Trinkaus, a civil engineer advising the grassroots group, told the commission during its Feb. 6 public hearing that, under state statute, the hearing should have closed in May 2018 and a final ruling should have been made by July 2018.
Teodosio disagreed, saying the commission, with permission of the applicant, can keep the public hearing open as long as necessary.
Greg Tetro of Save Our Shelton stated the application has “failed under many factors” in studies done by Trinkaus, the city engineer and LandTech. And while all engineers involved — including those representing Towne Center at Shelter Ridge — are qualified, three are opposed to the project and only one in favor.
The Planned Development District for the site was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2017 by a 4-2 vote, with commissioners Jimmy Tickey and Anthony Pogoda Jr. opposed. The P&Z decision was appealed, and that appeal has since been denied.