Guedes says Pond Meadow condo opposition became 'too emotional'

Developer John Guedes said he withdrew the application for the controversial Pond Meadow condo proposal because the process had become “too emotional.”

“If concerns are technical, you’re able to address them,” Guedes said. “If they’re emotional, you’re not.”

He said he’s been in the development business for more than three decades, pursuing hundreds of projects in many towns during that time, and he knows when to abandon an idea.

“You fight the fight, but this would be a distraction. … We felt it would be a drawn-out affair,” he said.

Guedes also said he prefers to focus his attention on projects in downtown Shelton, along the waterfront, where he’s had some success and generally been praised for his efforts.

“We have so many other positive things to do in Shelton,” he said. “[Pond Meadow] would be a distraction.”

Was seeking to create a PDD

Guedes pulled his proposal for the 20-unit, four-building condo complex at Shelton Road and Huntington Street while the public hearing on the application was still open. The Planning and Zoning Commission formally voted to accept the application withdrawal on Dec. 9.

The plan was strongly opposed by many neighbors and others at the first public hearing, and that process was to be continued at another meeting in January.

Concerns mostly centered on density, traffic safety and the environmental impact, especially on wetlands and wildlife. The 2.1-acre property is zoned for one-acre homes and Guedes was seeking a zone change to a Planned Development District (PDD).

The land includes a pond and wetlands, and is located at a complicated four-way intersection that is next to a highway entrance ramp.

Had contingency agreement

Guedes, operating as Pond Meadow LLC on the project, had a contingency deal to purchase two parcels that would be combined to create the condo site. He said he will no longer buy the land. “We bowed out of it,” he said.

A contingency agreement means Guedes was obligated to purchase the two parcels — which are owned by the same individual — only if zoning approval for the project was granted.

Unrealistic expectations by foes

Guedes said some opposition to the application involved what he called the “Bambi syndrome,” and people had unrealistic expectations of what should happen to the land.

“One person said we should donate the land for open space,” he said. “Others said [our plan] would eliminate a corridor used for animals. You can’t technically address this.”

He said it’s ironic when people want someone else to set aside land for open space but the same people are living on land developed to create their homes.

Thirty years ago, Guedes said, what is now Lobsterback Road — a residential road behind the Pond Meadow site — was raw land. “This is natural progression in these areas,” he said.

Guedes said the city of Shelton has done a great job setting aside hundreds of acres for open space in recent decades, with most of these properties being contiguous to each other. This approach, he said, “serves a useful purpose for the city.”

In contrast, he said, “individual parcels” such as the Shelton Community Land Trust property that borders the Pond Meadow site have a more limited value.

While stressing he realizes the land trust property has environmental benefits and much effort went into creating it, he said the property is “on the outskirts of town,” bordering the town of Trumbull. “It may serve Trumbull people more” than Shelton residents, he said.

Future of site

Guedes believes that in the future, the property is likely to be developed in a more intense way than the one house that now occupies the land.

“Someday, someone will do something with that property,” he said. “It won’t be us.”

He noted it’s at a major intersection and that some nearby properties, off Bridgeport Avenue and even abutting Huntington Street, have been turned into PDDs.

“People may not even realize it,” he said of PDDs created in this area in recent years, including the one for the large Avalon Huntington residential complex that borders both Bridgeport Avenue and Huntington Street. “Precedent has been set,” he said.

He said these “are developable areas” due to access to the Route 8 highway, public water and public sewers.

Downtown plans

Guedes developed the 103-unit Birmingham condo on Canal Street, and helped facilitate the construction of the adjacent 250-unit Avalon Shelton apartment complex.

Next, he plans to rehab another old factory building on Canal Street — the former Spongex site — and build a small commercial building near the waterfront on an abutting parcel.

Plans for the Spongex and Rolfite sites, which also involve building a new public road, should be submitted for zoning approval soon, he said.

Guedes also is working on a project for the Brennan property, just north of Avalon along the riverfront, where he envisions a new building with 62 apartments.

He said the success of Avalon Shelton, with its high occupancy rate, should be seen as proof that residential development can work in this area.

“Shelton’s downtown will transform,” he said. “There is a demand for it.”