Hawks Ridge development opponents say use 41-acre parcel as it’s now zoned

Questions were raised about increased traffic congestion and lack of consistency with the city’s master plan at the most recent public hearing on the proposed 41-acre Hawks Ridge development.

In letters submitted into the record, one nearby resident said the added car traffic “would burden the neighbors” and new residents with young children would impact the school system.

Another neighbor said the city’s Plan of Conservation and Development calls for light industrial or office development on the property, and using it for other purposes would lower the number of businesses and jobs in the city.

“We see nothing but opportunism in this application,” the neighbor wrote, adding that it’s time for the master plan to be followed and not ignored.

The Feb. 11 hearing was the second meeting to take up Hawks Ridge, which would involve building 54 single-family homes, a 57-unit condominium/townhouse complex, and a 196-unit assisted living facility on Wells family property.

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.

Seeking zoning approval of concept

The developer is seeking conceptual zoning approval to create a Planned Development District for the project. If the concept is approved, the project’s specifics would come later and also require zoning approval.

A similar but slightly more intense proposal for the property was withdrawn last year after it appeared the P&Z was unlikely to approve it.

The land now is zoned for light industrial use. The developer has a contingency deal to buy the land from the Wells family if zoning approval is granted.

The developer’s representatives have said the new houses would be part of an adult-oriented community, but there would be no formal age restrictions.

They have claimed the city would get more in tax revenues from their plan than from light industrial development. “Let someone come in and challenge our experts,” said Dominick J. Thomas Jr., a project attorney.

‘A question of patience’

P&Z Alternate Frank Osak said the role of planning is to look at the best long-term use of land, and that based on that approach the property has been zoned for light industrial.

The developer’s representatives have said the market for new light industrial property in Shelton is virtually nonexistent, with only three new light industrial buildings being constructed in the past two decades.

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They said it costs much more to build new light industrial space than it costs to buy and renovate existing, similar space, making it unlikely such new construction will take place.

Osak said he remembers in the late 1980s when people said office development was dead, but since then a lot of office development has taken place in Shelton and expanded the tax base.

“There’s a question of patience here,” Osak said.

P&Z Chairman Ruth Parkins said development is “cyclical,” noting that some think manufacturing now is making a comeback.

Other land better for light industrial?

Thomas said other vacant land zoned for light industrial is better suited for that kind of development, such as parcels on Constitution Boulevard South and Forest Parkway, with wider roads that can better handle truck traffic.

Thomas said Long Hill Cross Road in particular is not conducive to trucks because of its limited width and hilly terrain.

The light industrial and office markets have changed, he stressed, partly because technology means less space is needed per worker.

Thomas also said having the land sit vacant doesn’t help the city as far as tax revenue, jobs or increased economic activity.

Another project attorney, Stephen R. Bellis, said a strong market exists locally for assisted living facilities, with low vacancies at existing complexes. “They’re in demand,” Bellis said.

Plea from family member

Thomas Wells, a Seymour resident who is a member of the family that owns the land, said Hawks Ridge would be an attractive development that would generate taxes.

Wells noted if the 41-acre parcel is developed, the family still would own almost 150 acres of undeveloped land in the immediate vicinity that could be used for nonresidential uses. “We still have loads of land,” he said.

Wells said Toll Brothers had considered building 240 homes on this parcel but lost interest because of concerns about topography and the existing sewer and gas lines that run through it. He said other offers to use the land for offices or hotels also have fallen through.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re getting a little old in the tooth,” he said of the elderly Wells siblings who own the property.

Some other people also spoke in favor of the project.

A neighbor said Hawks Ridge would keep “the beauty of the land” and feature an “attractive” layout that doesn’t look “overcrowded,” while light industrial use would bring more trucks.

Jobs vs. downtown

Two other speakers said the development would create jobs for local construction workers. “There’s a lot of jobs at risk if this development doesn’t go through,” said one proponent.

But opponent Joan Flannery said if the land isn’t used for light industrial, it should be zoned for one-acre lots to allow 41 homes.

Flannery said more housing in this area could hurt attempts to revitalize downtown by putting more residential development there. That point was echoed in an opposition letter by Alderman Eric McPherson, who represents downtown.

Water issues

The developer also has made presentations to the Conservation Commission on the plan, and representatives of that advisory commission are expected to discuss their concerns when the P&Z hearing continues on Feb. 26.

Project representatives said a storm water management system would be installed to filter, clean and control the flow of water from the development into nearby waterways — including Wells Hollow Brook and the Far Mill River — and the Route 8 drainage system.

They said natural wetlands as well as new detention areas would be used to handle the water flow, and many trees would be saved and others planted to create plenty of shade.