Shelton condo plan called too dense and 'outlandish' by foes

Density, visibility to nearby homes, traffic, and the potential impact on the environment and property values were among the concerns raised by neighbors and other speakers to a proposed 20-unit condominium complex at Shelton Road and Huntington Street in Shelton, near Exit 11 off Route 8.

About 20 people spoke against the proposed Pond Meadow plan during a Nov. 18 public hearing by the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z). Letters and petitions opposing the plan also were submitted to the P&Z.

Shelton’s city engineer, the Shelton Conservation Commission, the town of Trumbull, and other entities also expressed concerns or opposition to the application for a 2.1-acre parcel at 39 Shelton Road. The site is nearly on the Trumbull border.

Fred Barmmer, who owns an abutting piece of property but lives elsewhere in Shelton, called it an “outlandish” proposal that would be “an outright abuse” of the Planned Development District (PDD) process. The plan would put a multi-floor building “three feet from my property” while benefiting “the developer’s bank account,” he said.

Barmmer also said the development would “devalue” nearby properties and “set a precedent for any R-1 zone.”

But Raymond Rizio, attorney for the applicant, said a new PDD would be “a natural extension of the Bridgeport Avenue corridor,” where multiple businesses and some multifamily housing developments are located.

It would “clearly not be a case of spot zoning,” Rizio said.

Resident: 'Density equals devaluation'

John Pinto lives across the street on Shelton Road, and worries about traffic and the wetlands. “If he wants to build [these condo units], let him build them next to his house,” Pinto said of the developer.

Kevin Morey of Golden Hill Street in Trumbull is worried about drainage and wildlife. “Density equals devaluation,” he said of the potential impact on property values.

Many nearby residents spoke about the impact on wildlife. They regularly see deer, wild turkey, foxes, herons, and other animals and birds in their yards.

“Where is that wildlife going to go?” asked Scott Westlund of Lobsterback Road.

The public hearing on the Pond Meadow plan will be continued to Jan. 13.

Four buildings in proposed complex

The land is now zoned Residence-1 (R-1) for one house per acre. Pond Meadow LLC, affiliated with developer John Guedes, wants to change the zone to create a PDD to allow for the condo complex.

The developer has a contingency deal to purchase two parcels that would be combined for the project, and an existing house would be torn down.

The land includes wetlands and a pond. It is next to a 3.4-acre open space parcel owned by the Shelton Land Conservation Trust that is known as the Bushinsky Arboretum.

Pond Meadow would consist of four buildings that would be up to three and a half stories in height. There would be a maximum of 44 bedrooms in the complex.

The property is at the intersection of Shelton Road, Huntington Street, Bridgeport Avenue, and Huntington Road. It has frontage on Shelton Road and Huntington Street.

Shelton Road is the same street as Bridgeport Avenue, south of the Huntington Street/Huntington Road intersection.

The property is close to Lobsterback Road and Tory Lane, as well as Golden Hill Street in Trumbull. It is also close to the Stratford town line.

City engineer’s concerns

City Engineer Robert F. Kulacz opposed the application, saying the parcel lacked the needed frontage to put a driveway near the four-way intersection.

He raised concerns about “traffic conflicts” and whether drivers exiting the proposed complex would use other driveways or roads to turn around once on Shelton Road.

Kulacz also questioned the “intense density” of the plan, the impact of water runoff, the effect on the abutting land trust property, and “the urbanization of the existing pond.”

“The parcel should remain R-1 residential or else be acquired for open space,” Kulacz said.

In its letter, the Conservation Commission said the “high-density” plan would hurt “the integrity” of nearby one-acre residential properties and the land trust site, would harm a wetlands corridor connecting to the Trap Falls Reservoir, and would detract from a key entryway to the city.

Land trust raises objections

Attorney Peter Olson, representing the Shelton Community Land Trust, said the plan would “destroy the viewshed and tranquil nature of the Bushinsky Arboretum” and “sever a significant wildlife corridor.”

The land trust submitted a letter from a biologist, who stated a substantive buffer should be provided around the wetlands and pond on the development site.

Olson also questioned the process. He said a wetlands application must be filed before or at the same time as a zoning application. He said the property can’t be considered for a PDD because it’s not “a transitional zone” due to the surrounding residential property.

The land trust is seeking to become an official intervener in the zoning application process, Olson said, which would give it certain rights.

Bruce Nichols, a land trust member from Shelton, said it appears the developer was trying to use the land trust property “as a front yard. … Somehow that just strikes me as wrong.”

Proponent: ‘A special piece of property’

A PDD can allow for the “creative” development of “a special piece of property,” said Rizio, and the 2.1-acre parcel meets all the minimum requirements for a PDD.

“This is a very attractive use” for this unique parcel, he said, stressing single-family homes would not be appropriate.

Rizio and Guedes pointed to the existence of the nearby Avalon Huntington, a 90-unit rental complex that was approved for a PDD.

Guedes said he expects the new condo units would be attractive to commuters due to the access to Route 8.

The developer’s traffic engineer, David Sullivan, said the development would increase traffic by up to 15 vehicles per peak travel hour. “It’s not a big traffic generator,” said Sullivan, of the firm Milone & MacBroom.

To protect some wetlands and what Guedes called a “man-made” pond, a retaining wall of perhaps five feet in height would be built around these areas to create a barrier.

He downplayed any impact to homes on Lobsterback Road, saying the elevation of that road is 40 feet above the development site and there will be a natural buffer of up to 60 feet on the rear border.

Guedes is seeking conceptual approval for now, which means the final plans would be subject to receiving additional zoning approval. The Inland Wetlands Commission would need to approve the project, with much of the site being within the wetlands regulated area.

Challenges at the intersection

One recent change made in the proposal is to have one driveway on Shelton Road. The initial plan had driveways on both Shelton Road and Huntington Street.

This change was made after informal meetings with city zoning staff, Guedes said, partly because there is considerably less traffic on Shelton Road than on Huntington Street.

Sullivan, the developer’s traffic expert, said he favored having two driveways. “I do like the two-access driveway plan,” he said.

As part of the one-driveway plan, the applicant is proposing that the esplanade on Shelton Road — the south side of the intersection — be extended farther south (toward Trumbull).

The goal would be to create a curved area at the edge of the esplanade to help drivers get in or out of the complex. The extended esplanade would essentially let motorists turn around when coming from, or going to, the north (Bridgeport Avenue), east (Huntington Road in Stratford) or west (Huntington Street) at the intersection.

Opponents questioned whether this would lead to confusion by drivers, and to motorists instead using nearby driveways and roads to turn around.

Brian Frickson of Lobsterback Road called it “laughable” that large trucks — such as moving vans — could get in and out of the condo driveway.

Jason Zacragnini of Huntington Street said traffic on his road is so bad now that he has trouble getting out his driveway, especially at peak times.

Glenn Learnard of Golden Hill Street in Trumbull said he thinks the developer is underestimating the number of cars at the four-way intersection.

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P&Z Chairman Ruth Parkins said she would need “a higher comfort level [the driveway plan] will work.”

P&Z member Nancy Dickal said that intersection already is busy and the proposed changes could create “a real safety issue.”

Rizio said “a well-regarded traffic engineer” such as Sullivan can design a workable plan as the zoning process continues.

Guedes admitted there are traffic challenges. “Traffic is the greatest issue,” he said of his plan.