Shelter Ridge plans scrutinized at wetlands hearing

Opponents of the Shelter Ridge project called for wetlands officials to demand a more complete proposal from the developers during the Thursday, Jan. 9, public hearing on the controversial project.

The Inland Wetlands Commission opened the hearing with examination of engineering reports on the plan, which calls for 375 apartments and 300,000 square feet of retail space on 121 acres at the intersection of Mill Street and Bridgeport Avenue. The Planned Development District (PDD) for the site was approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission in 2017, but that decision was appealed. That appeal has since been denied.

“The application should simply be denied and a better application brought forward,” said Steve Trinkaus, a civil engineer advising Save Our Shelton (SOS).

Trinkaus said serious concerns still exist on the development’s environmental impact. He said that underground storage systems for stormwater are largely in bedrock. This has the potential of directing pollutants directly into the area’s groundwater.

“The erosion control plan has been seriously incomplete from day one,” Trinkaus said. “The developer agreed to make changes to it but has not done so.”

In response, Dominick Thomas, attorney for the project’s developer, said that the plan design has undergone two phases of peer review and was the topic of a 900-page traffic study by the state Department of Transportation.

“What came out of that was a better traffic plan for the site,” Thomas said.

At the Jan. 9 meeting, commissioners pointed to the approximately half-dozen lengthy responses to the report by the Westport-based engineering firm LandTech, which examined the project’s environmental impact. Yet those responses have yet to be fully analyzed by the commission as well as others associated with the project. This is expected to keep the proposed mixed-use development front and center of the commission’s agenda for months to come.

Commission Chairman Gary Zahornasky initially proposed adjourning the meeting to a future date, but instead allowed limited comments favoring and opposing the project. But city corporation counsel Francis Teodosio recommended the commission hear the remarks.

“We can hear them tonight and it will give us more time to digest what they have to say,” Teodosio said.

After hearing residents’ comments and examining reports from LandTech, the commission continued the public hearing, but no future date was set. The commission acknowledged that this will be a lengthy public hearing process.

Turning to the LandTech report, Thomas questioned why the firm focused on issues relevant more to zoning than to water-and-wetlands concerns.

“Nothing in the report challenges the [project’s impact on] wetlands, wildlife crossings, stormwater discharge and vernal pools,” Thomas said.

Thomas also questioned why the LandTech report referred to a host of missing information, when in fact the data were all provided by both the project’s engineer and city staff. Project engineer Jim Swift concurred, saying there were no missing details.

“Everything was there,” Swift said, “for LandTech to digest and to use in its opinion [reporting on the project].”

In response, Commissioner Kenneth Nappi suggested inviting LandTech to a future meeting to clarify these issues. “I find it difficult to proceed without some discussion with LandTech,” Nappi said. “They are saying information is missing, while both the applicant and intervener are saying it is there [in the application].”

Such a motion was introduced by Zahornasky, directing city Inland Wetlands staff to reach out to LandTech and schedule a public meeting. That motion was unanimously approved.

In addition, several Shelton residents voiced their concerns about the project. Mill Road resident Joe Bugarchich suggested that both proponents and opponents might be relying on skewed data.

“The analysis of the impact on wetlands was taken during a very dry period,” Bugarchich said.

L’Hermitage Drive resident Jan Girard criticized the way the LandTech report was received. “The whole point of hiring LandTech was to have an independent study,” she said. “Now, we’re being told ‘we don’t like the independent study, we have to find out a better way to do this.’ That’s not how the process is supposed to work.”

Mill Street resident Adrienne Couture was blunt. In her view, “LandTech concurred with SOS. Rule on it.”

“It sounds to me that the points LandTech raises as insufficiencies are not really insufficiencies,” said Teodosio. “The best way to resolve this is to have LandTech come here.”

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the Inland Wetlands Commission will take place at City Hall on Feb. 13 at 7 p.m., the second Thursday of the month. Any additional special meeting that is scheduled will be announced.