Hawks Ridge: Mayor insists light industrial zones have future in Shelton

Mayor Mark Lauretti defended the economic viability of the light industrial zone in remarks concerning the proposed Hawks Ridge mixed-use development.

“I’m not going to sit around and watch the LIP zone ... be thrown under the bus,” Lauretti said in a reference to Shelton’s zoning designation for Light Industrial Park use.

Lauretti said there still is a demand for LIP space in Shelton — and definitely will be in the future as “market conditions change” over time.

“These zones have the tendency to reinvent themselves,” Lauretti told the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) when addressing the pending Hawks Ridge application.

The developers have argued there has been little new LIP development in the past decade or so, and want to create a Planned Development District on 41 acres of the Wells property now zoned for light industrial use.

Combine assisted living, houses, condos

Hawks Ridge would include 54 single-family homes, a 57-unit condominium/townhouse complex, and a 196-unit assisted living facility. The developers have described the homes as being a “luxury adult-oriented” community.

The site is bordered by Long Hill Cross Road to the north, Route 8 to the east, and Beard Sawmill Road to the south, and is close to Bridgeport Avenue to the west. It is essentially in back of Wells Hollow Farm.

Lauretti’s comments were the last part of the process before the P&Z deliberates and votes on the proposal. Deliberations should begin at a March 25 meeting, when Hawks Ridge will be only item on the agenda.

Mayor: Are some positives to plan

Lauretti was not entirely critical of the Hawks Ridge plan, saying it had some positive aspects. “It’s not all bad,” he said.

He said the assisted living facility would be a plus and not generate a lot of traffic, noting he lives near such a facility on Long Hill Avenue.

But Lauretti said he was disturbed by how proponents had implied “LIP is dead” and “a thing of the past.” He said this claim, if left unchallenged, could hurt Shelton’s reputation with developers.

He worries similar claims will be made in the future to try to have additional LIP parcels rezoned for residential use.

Shelton is unique because companies want to move here, despite challenges with the overall economy, Lauretti said.

He said light industrial buildings on Long Hill Cross Road have been enlarged, and perhaps new buildings for such use haven’t been constructed recently because of the lack of appropriate lots to build on.

The developer has argued that Long Hill Cross Road isn’t wide enough, and has too many hills and curves, to attract new light industrial use in recent decades.

'A down market'

Lauretti also said it’s not fair to imply new office buildings aren’t being built in this part of the city. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said.

He questioned claims that the Wells property can’t be sold for commercial uses. He said the property has only been on the market for a few years “in a down market.”

Balanced approach

Lauretti said the city has benefited from a balanced approach to zoning, with the master plan calling for offices and light industrial uses in specific areas.

“To me, it’s about balance,” he said.

Altering that approach can have consequences, Lauretti said, such as leading to conflicts between residential dwellers and nearby businesses. City officials “have to deal with the potential conflicts that can arise,” he said.

Lauretti said residential development leads to increased demand for city services. “When you bring people in, it costs money,” he said.

In addition, he said new residences generate traffic seven days a week, while industrial and office use only brings weekday traffic.

'A cow road'

However, P&Z member Thomas McGorty questioned the feasibility of putting another light industrial use off Long Hill Cross, describing it as “a cow road” that’s now overburdened due to prior commercial development.

Earlier, the Hawks Ridge developers had agreed to allow Lauretti to offer comments without having a chance to rebut them. This was part of a strategy to have the public hearing closed to expedite a vote on the application.

P&Z Chairman Ruth Parkins said the commission’s goal at the March 25 meeting will be “to come to a consensus” on Hawks Ridge and direct staff to draft a decision. It’s therefore likely a formal vote on the application won’t happen until April.