Development proposal on mayor's property moves forward

A 36-unit condominium development on a 12-acre parcel of land, owned by Mayor Mark Lauretti, is headed toward approval, despite one Planning and Zoning Commissioner's claims that the land is polluted and possibly an ancient Native American Burial Ground.

Country Club of CT, LLC is seeking a zone change for the 550 River Road property to a Planned Development District in order to build the 36-unit residential development at the waterfront property.

The Planning and Zoning commission is moving forward with drafting a favorable resolution to the proposal, to be discussed at the Dec. 11 meeting. The Inland/Wetlands Commission has approved the application.

Commissioner Joan Flannery was the sole dissenter of the proposal Tuesday night, claiming that the property is polluted by chemical contaminants in a “sludge pit” that had to be capped by the DEEP. Since the property has tidal wetlands Flannery was concerned about flooding and sludge polluting other areas. She also said that since residents have reported finding arrowheads there, once developers start digging up the property they may “come up with human remains.”

“Nothing should be built on the property at all,” Flannery said. “No way could I vote with a clear conscience to approve this site and I don’t think anyone should.”

Commission Chair Ruth Parkins said Flannery was making statements based on speculation and any proof of her allegations was not brought to the table before the public hearing on the application closed Oct. 24.

“This site is not a sludge pit, it never was a sludge pit,” Planning Consultant Anthony Panico said.

The sludge pit Flannery was referring to is not part of the site or the development, Panico said. The state Department of Environmental and Energy Protection, capped the pit years ago and responsible for maintaining it.

“The DEP has given a clean bill of health on this land,” Panico said of the development.

The applicant provided soil testing of the area, but Flannery said she didn’t believe the results.

There is also no proof the property floods or that it is the site of an ancient burial ground, Panico said.

“If human remains are dug up, they are stuck dealing with the state archeological society and the whole project would be put on hold,” Panico told Flannery.

Panico said commissioners are welcome to have an opinion but Flannery was making statements that weren’t based on evidence.

“To protect yourself as a commissioner you need to be able to back it up with facts,” Panico said to Flannery.

Under the proposal, the applicants will include public access to the river. Flannery said even if the sludge pit isn’t on the property, it can still be a danger if kids are playing near it or “throwing rocks” at it. Panico said that no one would even notice where the cap was because it is covered by three feet of earth.

Commissioner Anthony Pogoda, who was attending the meeting via a conference call, likened the capped site to The Slab near the Riverwalk.

“It is the exact same thing as there,” he said. “Kids are playing and events are on The Slab all the time and there is nothing wrong with that.”

The rest of the commission seemed happy with the proposal, overall.

Commissioner Elaine Matto said she liked that the developers would be providing public access and making an effort to plant native species around the property.

“In my best situation this would be owned by the town and preserved as a park,” Matto said.

Panico said the property did go before the Board of Aldermen for purchase about seven years ago and it was turned down.

Lauretti purchased the property from Emhart Teknologies in 2003.

“I think we’ve gone over it with a fine-toothed comb,” Virginia Harger said of the application.