CT Supreme Court upholds Shelter Ridge development in Shelton

Photo of Brian Gioiele

SHELTON — The state Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s decision on the Planning and Zoning Commission’s 2017 approval of the Shelter Ridge development.

The development includes 375 one- and two-bedroom apartments plus retail space and 3,000 parking spots on a 121-acre site at the intersection of Mill Street and Bridgeport Ave.

In 2019, a Hartford Superior Court judge, in the case of John Tillman and Judith Tillman vs. The Shelton Planning & Zoning Commission, dismissed the Tillmans’ appeal, stating that the “plaintiffs have failed to establish that the decision was illegal or contrary to law, the commission acted arbitrarily or in abuse of discretion, or that the decision was not supported by substantial evidence.”

The Tillmans then appealed that verdict in the state Supreme Court, which rendered its decision upholding the lower court’s ruling earlier this week.

“I am very pleased with the decision,” attorney Dominick Thomas, representing the Towne at Shelter Ridge developers, said. “It removes the cloud of the appeal over the Shelter Ridge project.”

The group Save Our Shelton, which formed in 2016 in response to the proposal, had done extensive fundraising to support the appeal.

Greg Tetro, a founder of the group, was not immediately available for comment.

Commission chair Virginia Harger, who had voted in favor of the plan in 2017, said the dismissal confirmed that P&Z’s “conditional approval of the Initial Development Concept Plans and adoption of a Planned Development District zone for this particular parcel was appropriate.”

The project remains in limbo though, as the developers pulled their application from the Inland Wetlands Commission in October 2020, two weeks after Civil 1 — a Shelton-based engineering firm hired by the city to review all plans and perform its own analysis of the project — presented its review highlighting several areas deemed incomplete.

Thomas, in a letter to Gary Zahornasky, who was the commission chair at the time, said the developers intend to refile after meeting with Civil 1 engineers to discuss the firm’s findings.

The withdrawal does not affect the P&Z approval of a Planned Development District (PDD) for the project, according to Thomas. The Planned Development District would allow an apartment building six stories high facing Bridgeport Ave. and three stories facing Buddington Road, based on the topography. The district also would allow for more than 300,000 square feet of retail space.

“My client is working on the revised plan for submission to wetlands and we hope to proceed as soon as possible,” Thomas said.

Thomas said, on a larger scale, this decision reaffirms that “the PDD concept of zoning is the most suitable zoning vehicle for flexibility that includes economic development, market adaptation and environmental considerations.

The Planned Design District also allowed for development while maintaining more open space than would have been the case under a light industrial approval.

The Shelter Ridge Planned Design District will include more than 25 acres of dedicated open space, plus additional green space within the develpment, Thomas said.

“PDDs are also what has been the foundation of the downtown development. I’m sure that, with this decision, more communities will now follow Shelton’s example.”

This ruling is the latest step in a process that began more than three years ago. After six public hearings, with hundreds of people voicing opposition, the Planning & Zoning Commission approved the PDD and zone change for the Towne Center at Shelter Ridge development at its March 7, 2017 meeting. The commission approved the plan by a 4-2 vote, with commissioners Harger, Elaine Matto, Ned Miller and Ruth Parkins voting in favor and Anthony Pogoda, Jr., and Jimmy Tickey against.

Residents had voiced concerns about the possible negative effects of the plan, saying that the development and zone change would result in an increase in the volume of traffic the city currently experiences, increase an already high density of rental housing, result in blasting and construction for up to 10 years, and pollute the Mill River and local wildlife habitat.