Shelton aldermen call for Mohawk Drive apartment plan denial

SHELTON — Development of a 40-unit apartment building on Mohawk Drive will exacerbate the area’s already dangerous traffic situation, residents of the city's Pine Rock neighborhood told zoning officials Wednesday. 

Dozens of Pine Rock residents — among them aldermen John Anglace, Jr., and Cris Balamaci, who represent the ward — attended a Planning and Zoning public hearing at Shelton Intermediate School on the plan for the apartment building on less than an acre near the Pine Rock Park playground. 

“It’s like putting a big hotel in a single-family setting,” said Commissioner Charles Kelly. 

The commission continued the public hearing on the application to a future date. 

“We’ve had it,” said Scott Robinson. “We won’t stand for it. We’ll do anything we can to stop it.” 

Property owners Agim Ismali and Shprza Ismali are seeking approval for a Planned Development District at 2 Mohawk Drive, which would allow for development of a four-story 12,000-square-foot structure with 40 apartments with an outdoor parking lot and indoor parking under the building.  

According to the application, the developers would designate 30 percent of the apartments, 12 units total, as affordable under state statute 8-30g.   

The plans call for only one- and two-bedroom apartments on the site, which is located at the corner of Mohawk Drive and River Road. The property is bounded by Mohawk Drive to the east, a developed, residential area to the west, commercial development to the south, and Algonkin Road to the north. The land sits behind Casa Nova Ristorante, located on River Road. 

According to the application, the location has access to the major transportation arteries and is less than a mile from the Sikorsky Aircraft facility in Stratford. 

More than 600 people signed a petition opposing the plan, and about a dozen spoke during the hearing, citing traffic safety concerns and negative impacts to the character and property values in the Pine Rock hamlet – which is sprinkled with small, single-family homes on narrow streets. 

“This will only compound problems that already exist,” said David Eldridge, a former alderman and mayoral candidate who helped organize the petition. 

Another issue of concern is blasting causing more methane to be released from the nearby capped landfill. According to city officials, the landfill still collects methane gas through an elaborate piping system before burning it off. 

Anglace told the commission that anyone who wants to construct a 40-unit apartment building within 200 yards of the landfill site must be made to do a third party safety study of the landfill site impact and the chemical safety of the 2 Mohawk Drive site. 

Attorney Dominick Thomas, representing the property owners, said this development would not worsen the traffic situation but would help ease a desperate need for affordable housing in the area. 

David Sullivan of SLR International Corp., the developers’ traffic expert, stated that the building with the 40 units and 62 parking spaces would “not be a heavy traffic generator.” Sullivan added that projections show that the site, if developed as proposed, would generate an additional 14 trips in the morning rush hour, with 16 more trips in the afternoon. 

The plan calls for 62 parking spaces — 1.5 per unit — which drew concerns from the commission. Many commissioners asked about overflow parking, considering the narrow roadways around the site do not allow on-street parking. 

Because parking is not allowed, residents said they have to obtain placards from the Shelton Police Department to allow friends to park along the streets for special occasions. Many times, residents stated, people coming to visit their homes were towed.  

Commissioners asked, once the lot is filled, where will visitors go to park. 

“If there is no place to park, people will get creative,” commissioner Jimmy Tickey said. “The issue is there is no on-street parking, and where they decide to go will become a safety issue.” 

Many residents stated that cars already speed through the narrow roads in that area, some of which are single-lane roads through which two cars cannot pass at the same time. 

Thomas said prospective renters go in “with their eyes open” and would probably avoid a development if they felt they needed more spaces for multiple vehicles. 

Commissioner Ruth Parkins said because of high rents – 70 percent of the units in this proposed development are market rate – many units are occupied by multiple people, whether it be couples or two people sharing the space to cut down on costs. 

Thomas said there is no evidence that more than a space per unit is needed. In this proposal, Thomas said each unit would be assigned a parking spot, with other 22 spots being “flex spaces.” 

Discussion of this application followed a separate presentation by Michael Santoro of the Connecticut Department of Housing about affordable housing state statute 8-30g. 

A “set aside development,” such as the one proposed on Mohawk Drive, with at least 30 percent deed restricted as affordable housing allows a developer to appeal any denial, with the burden of proof for the decision shifting to the city. 

State Rep. Jason Perillo, commenting during Santoro's presentation, said each year legislators attempt to change the statute, not because of a desire to stifle creation of affordable housing but because developers abuse the law. 

“Efforts to change the statutes have failed because powerful special interest groups love them,” Perillo said. “The statutes have been used and abused by developers to force the approval of large apartment complexes in residential areas.