River Road retail project: Some work can continue as developer seeks changes

A stop-work order has been lifted by the Shelton Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) on the construction of the retail project at 781-785 River Road (Route 110), across the street from the Sports Center of Connecticut.

The developer now can move forward with footing and foundation work for the 5,800-square-foot structure being built. However, work on some of the excavation and grading will have to wait until the P&Z can act on the developer’s request to modify its previously approved site plan.

A public hearing on the developer’s request has been scheduled for Wednesday, Jan. 22.

The developer is Bishop Management of Shelton, which includes principal Howard Soffan, owner of the Sports Center.

Work at the 1.1-acre site has been controversial because of how close the excavation is to at least one neighbor, whose Turner Road property abuts the development parcel to the north.

The excavation work has created a significant ledge drop-off near this neighbor’s property line.

Richard Schultz, city P&Z administrator, said having the developer put up an eight-foot-high chain-link fence to separate the excavated ledge from the Turner Road property owner’s land is a high priority.

“That’s a safety issue,” Schultz said.

Work was done off-site

A stop-work order was issued by the zoning staff because some of the grading work was taking place on property outside of the approved Planned Development District (PDD) boundaries. This land also was not owned by the developer at the time, but by another neighbor.

“The contractor got a little ahead of himself,” James R. Swift, an engineer representing the developer, said during a recent P&Z meeting. Swift admitted some grading and excavation work was done “without proper authority.”

Bishop Management now wants to expand the PDD coverage area so it covers the property where the excavation work was done without proper approval.

Bishop Management has since acquired ownership of this land in a property swap with a neighbor on Wintergreen Lane (the land in question is near River Road but owned by the Wintergreen Lane resident).

Trying to buy other parcel, too

The developer also is in talks with the homeowner to the north, on Turner Road, about possibly buying that property as well. “We’re not at an impasse, but certainly things have not worked out,” Swift said of negotiations with the Turner Road property owner.

“We don’t have an agreement but we’re still talking,” Swift added.

P&Z Chairman Ruth Parkins said any civil legal action involving the Turner Road property owner and the developer was not the direct concern of the P&Z.

Now wants to slightly shift the site

Swift told P&Z members the developer hadn’t intended to change the project, but with the expanded property boundary due to the land purchase it now makes sense to shift the development about five feet to the north.

If this idea is not viewed favorably by the P&Z, the original footprint could still be followed, he said. “He can build in the original location,” Swift said of the developer.

He emphasized the developer is not asking to increase the building’s size or create more parking space with its new request.

PDD would have to be changed

Parkins stressed that lifting the stop-work order doesn’t give the developer permission to deviate from the previously approved plan. To do this, the PDD must be changed.

Swift said the developer is interested in moving forward with the work as soon as allowed and practical, partly because there are interested tenants in the retail space.

The land previously was zoned for residential use, but the P&Z approved the retail project in March 2013 by creating a PDD. The plan calls for creating 29 parking spaces for the retail building.