P&Z indicates it will support Hawks Ridge plan for 41 acres in Shelton

The Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) has reached “a consensus” in support of the Hawks Ridge development proposal, based on a vote taken during deliberations at a Tuesday special meeting.

Members voted 5-1 at the meeting to indicate they expect to support the plan when it comes to a formal vote in the near future. Staff has been directed to draft an approval motion that likely will have certain conditions.

Hawks Ridge would include 54 single-family homes, a 57-unit condominium/townhouse complex, and a 196-unit assisted living facility on 41 acres of Wells family property between Long Hill Cross Road and Beard Sawmill Road.

The site is essentially behind Wells Hollow Farm, as viewed from Bridgeport Avenue.

The land now is zoned for Light Industrial Park (LIP) use, but the developer wants to create a Planned Development District (PDD). They are seeking approval of their plan in concept for now, with the specifics to come later in separate applications that also would require zoning approval.

About 65 people attended the P&Z meeting, leading it to be moved to a larger venue at City Hall. Most attendees appeared to be people who back the project. A public hearing on the application spanned several previous meetings.

Topography, traffic, other LIP land

Supporters on the P&Z indicated the land would be hard to develop for light industrial use due to its topography, the proposed mixed use would generate less traffic than light industrial, and there would still be plenty of LIP-zoned property to be used if needed.

P&Z member Jimmy Tickey said a lot of undeveloped light industrial land will remain in Shelton if this Wells family parcel is changed to a PDD. Tickey pointed out some nearby commercial buildings now are completely vacant, indicating a weak market for such uses in that vicinity.

P&Z member Thomas McGorty agreed. “This isn’t the final frontier,” he said. “There’s still quite a bit of [LIP] property left.”

Supporters also said Hawks Ridge would generate more tax revenue than a light industrial project on the same property, and that an assisted living facility would serve the needs of an aging population and be an economic plus.

Opening the floodgates?

The lone opponent, P&Z Chairman Ruth Parkins, said she worried approval of Hawks Ridge would lead to many other applications to put residential projects on land now zoned for light industrial.

“Are we going to do this for all the parcels on Bridgeport Avenue now?” asked Parkins, predicting similar proposals certainly will be advanced.

But P&Z member Virginia Harger said applications should be judged on “a case by case basis,” not on the possible implications for other projects in the future.

It’s about zoning, not jobs

Parkins said decisions shouldn’t be based on the number of jobs that might be created in the near term, but on what is best for the city in the long term. “This is about a zone change,” she said. “It’s not about putting people back to work.”

Proponents have highlighted the number of jobs that would be created by Hawks Ridge, both during the construction phase and then with the assisted living facility.

Parkins also said zoning decisions shouldn’t be based on the reputation of the developers involved, noting once approval is granted the land potentially could be “flipped” to non-local entities.

Attorney: Pro-economic development

Indicating their support for the application were Nancy Dickal, Virginia Harger, Thomas McGorty, Anthony Pogoda Jr. and Jimmy Tickey. Ruth Parkins said she expects to oppose the project.

Attorney Stephen R. Bellis, who represents the developer, was pleased with the outcome.

“I think people should be proud of the P&Z because they didn’t hide behind the Plan of Conservation and Development, and they want to have economic development in this town,” Bellis said.

The city’s Plan of Conservation and Development — previously known as the master plan — is the basis for the Hawks Ridge property now being zoned for LIP use.

Bellis said while manufacturing “was once the bedrock of this community,” times have changed and its role in Shelton’s future will not be as central to the local economy.

Some possible conditions

During deliberations, P&Z members indicated they opposed having a new through-road connect Long Hill Cross and Beard Sawmill roads, so they may require two roads be built off Long Hill Cross to the residential part of the development.

Members said they have concerns about a proposed second smaller building to be built near the assisted living facility on Beard Sawmill, and the approval could eliminate that structure or set restrictions on how it can be used.

The approval is likely to require a buffer to an abutting property on Long Hill Cross already used for light industrial purposes, so the addition of new homes doesn’t lead to future conflicts with that existing business use.

Another issue that might be addressed in the terms of the approval is the possible need for improvements to nearby roads and intersections that might be impacted by the Hawks Ridge development.