Shelter Ridge opponents say hearing violates state statute, decision required

SHELTON — State statutes show that the Inland Wetlands Commission public hearing on Towne Center at Shelter Ridge should have been closed months ago, and now the application is “null,” according to plan opponents.

Steve Trinkaus, a civil engineer advising project opponent Save Our Shelton, told the commission during its Feb. 6 public hearing that, under state statute, the hearing should have closed in May 2018.

While the commission granted the developers’ requests for extensions, the hearing’s statutory closure date is months past, said Trinkaus. A final ruling should have been made by July 2018.

“If you don’t act, the application is null,” said Trinkaus.

Towne Center at Shelter Ridge has proposed a development that calls for 375 apartments and 300,000 square feet of retail space on 121 acres at the intersection of Mill Street and Bridgeport Avenue.

City corporation counsel Fran Teodosio, who was present, said he will check the state statutes and offer an opinion before the commission’s next meeting on Feb. 13. The public hearing on the Shelter Ridge plan was continued to Feb. 27.

The timing complaint came after Mayor Mark Lauretti opened the hearing by offering to hire another engineering firm if commissioners felt unsatisfied with the work of Westport-based LandTech, which was hired by the city for about $16,000.

LandTech was expected to review all the information provided by the developer and offer a "peer review" of all the reports. It was to submit a conclusion to the commission.

LandTech was not the only group studying Shelter Ridge. Save Our Shelton and the city engineer also provided input on the Shelter Ridge project. All reports but the developer’s found problems with the project as proposed.

Commission Chair Gary Zahornasky said he was not interested in bringing on a new firm.

Lauretti said he was “troubled” after LandTech stated that there was not enough information for its study. He said he had attempted to set up a meeting between Towne Center at Shelter Ridge and LandTech.

Thomas Ryder of LandTech told the commission Feb. 6 that the firm felt such a meeting required all principals, not just Towne Center at Shelter Ridge.

“LandTech did not deliver … we paid them $16,000 and they did not deliver,” said Lauretti. “This whole process has gone on way too long.”

In a Facebook post, Save Our Shelton states that “the Wetlands Commission has gone way past the deadlines and need to make a decision. And if there’s a new plan, the applicant has to go back to the P&Z.”

Lauretti said he began corresponding with LandTech representatives in November. LandTech submitted a letter dated Feb. 3 saying that the firm “reviewed all the documents we were provided” in coming to its conclusion.

The letter states that the applicant must submit a revised drainage plan to answer past questions, and added that “promises to revise reports and drawings at some unspecified time in the future is not sufficient to the allow the commission to evaluate the complex project.”

During his comments, Lauretti showed the commission a drone flyover of the areas of the city in which projects similar to Shelter Ridge have been developed in ways that protect neighboring property owners.

Greg Tetro of Save Our Shelton said $16,000 of taxpayer money has been spent on the LandTech study and with now four reports — including Towne Center at Shelter Ridge, the city engineer’s and the one prepared by Save Our Shelton — the time has come to close for a decision.

The Planned Development District for the site was approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission in 2017, but that decision was appealed. That appeal has since been denied.

“The truth is, (Shelter Ridge) should never have gotten this far,” states Save Our Shelton on its Facebook page. “In 2017, the P&Z voted to approve it before the Wetlands Commission made their decision. By state statute, the application doesn’t exist.”