Toll Brothers to plant more trees at Shelton Cove development site

Toll Brothers has submitted a new landscaping plan for its Shelton Cove development on River Road that includes planting 114 more new trees than in the original plan.

The revised plan was approved last week by the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC), which also gave the go-ahead for the national development company to begin work on three more multi-unit townhouse structures on the property.

Toll Brothers has done some tree-clearing and related site work on the riverfront property that raised concerns, including from Shelton Conservation Commission members.

The updated landscaping plan was created to rectify the situation, and was finalized after a survey was done of tree and shrub work conducted at the site.

'Starting almost immediately'

“We anticipate starting the planting almost immediately,” said Jeffrey R. Meinke, Toll Brothers project manager.

That appeared to be the answer IWC members were hoping to hear.

“I’d like to see some plants soon,” said IWC Chairman Gary Zahornasky.

Ken Nappi, IWC member, said he expects increased oversight of what takes place on the 12.4-acre property in the aftermath of what occurred. “I’m sure the state will closely monitor [the situation],” Nappi said.

Shelton Cove will include 36 townhouse condominiums at 560 River Road (the legal address has been changed from 550 River Road). In addition to bordering the Housatonic River, the property includes Ivy Brook, Butternut Hollow Brook and various wetlands.

‘Enforceable options’

The IWC vote follows some back-and-forth between city officials and Toll Brothers representatives, with the company essentially conceding its tree and shrub work may have gone too far in certain environmentally sensitive areas.

According to an April 30 letter from city wetlands coordinator John Cook to Keith Diorio of Toll Brothers, work at the site appears to have involved “excessive trimming and pruning of trees” and the “unnecessary removal of specimens exceeding 2-inches in diameter.”

Cook wrote that Diorio, the company’s land development manager, “concurred there was excessive work.”

The city’s legal counsel concluded the IWC “has enforceable options available to it as to treating the work as violation of regulation and/or conservation restriction,” according to Cook.

Cook said that “excessive limbing or pruning of evergreens may make them more susceptible to wind damage … or fungus attack,” and also could impact wildlife.

Exceeding the regulations?

Toll Brothers had the right to remove some trees “due to hazard concerns,” he wrote, but “there are more stumps than the pictures of record seem to indicate as hazards.”

During an interview, Cook said some tree removal was necessary to create a driveway crossing over Ivy Brook in particular, but the issue is “the degree they went, exceeding in terms of the regulations and the conservation restriction.”

A Jan. 16 letter from Cook to Diorio had said it would be “overly aggressive” of Toll Brothers to want an unobstructed view “from every window, deck, doorway, patio, planting bed, or driveway.”

Conservation discussion

At a recent meeting of the Conservation Commission, members discussed the issues at Shelton Cove.

They concluded that the “conservation restriction” included in the project’s zoning approval was not as strong as a “conservation easement” would have been, especially for work done near the stream bank.

“They have a conservation easement that let’s them do just about anything,” said member Teresa Gallagher.

This led to a discussion on how to get adequate wording included in future zoning approvals.

More enforcement staff needed?

Member Jim Tate questioned whether more wetlands enforcement staff is needed. “There’s no oversight,” he said. “There’s no monitoring.”

Some of the problems may relate to Cook being out on medical leave earlier in the year.

Tate said staff should have monitored what was occurring better, while Gallagher said the problems seem to have more to do with the wording of the zoning approval than with staff issues.

Chairman Tom Harbinson said something should have been done, pointing out he would drive by the site and see “a chipper 10 feet from the Housatonic River chipping trees.”

Harbinson said now he doesn’t like to even drive by the property. “It’s awful,” he said.