April 27: P&Z meet to discuss 121-acre property plan
One of the largest plans in Fairfield County
More than 100 residents packed into City Hall’s auditorium last week for an informal presentation of a large mixed-use development plan that is going to be brought before the Planning and Zoning Commission at its April 27 meeting.
The applicants are currently proposing the construction of a 450-unit, nine-story apartment building on the 121-acre site located on Bridgeport Avenue, Mill Street, and Buddington, including 20 three-bedroom apartments and more than 300,000 square feet of retail space across from Long Hill Cross Road. The plan is one of the largest in Fairfield County.
Attorney for the applicants, Dominick Thomas said the property would be called “Towne Center at Shelter Ridge.”
President of the Board of Aldermen John Anglace expressed at the beginning of the meeting the importance of residents taking the opportunity to have their voices heard public meetings, versus during Planning and Zoning meetings, which are primarily between the developers and the commission.
Anglace said he was happy to see one of the largest turnouts of residents he recalls in his time as an aldermen.
No leases on the property have been signed and the meeting was solely for the residents to have their questions about the property answered by the site developers.
The project is 5 million square feet in total and would be divided into five parcels.
The parcels would include retail space, a 200-unit assisted living facility, “upscale” rental apartments, professional offices and commercial space, and a two-story medical building.
Attorney Thomas said that at this time the enrollment rate of children in schools is declining, but there could be plans to include a day care center on the property as well as plans to incorporate a bus route to accommodate new students.
Proposal considered overdevelopment by residents
Residents weren’t pleased with the proposal, to say the least.
With the recent announcement of Big Y opening in October and the probability of back roads being used as a more frequent path to Bridgeport Avenue as a result of the development, traffic was residents’ biggest concern.
A traffic engineer at the meeting said a study had already been conducted and tried to reassure residents that back roads and Bridgeport Avenue would be able to handle the flow of cars on any given day or time.
Residents firmly disagreed and said traffic reports didn’t take into consideration the role of Buddington Road or the increase in traffic from Big Y. Many residents also said projected rates of traffic are unreliable, as Big Y hasn’t opened yet.
Residents demanded a second traffic study to analyze the flow of cars at peak times on weekdays/weekends, with the inclusion of traffic on back roads.
The current project plan also includes access to Bridgeport Avenue from the already dreaded roadway, Buddington Road. Developers described a “boulevard” that would act as a newly formed connection from Buddington, through the development, leading to Bridgeport Avenue.
The project’s representatives said they’ll be mandated by the state Department of Transportation to reduce the amount of traffic along Bridgeport Avenue, which could mean adding turning lanes and other improvements to the already traffic-heavy street.
Peter Squitieri of Shelton said he moved to the city from New York several years ago to escape the hectic environment. Squitieri said as more developments have taken place over the years, he sees similarities to the environment he tried to leave behind.
“When I commute home from New York as a teacher, when I come home, that’s my peace of mind,” said Squitieri. “When I drive along the Merritt and see more and more trees coming down, it bothers me. I’ve lived in Shelton for four years now and can see how much it has turned around from a place that is desired by many people to a place that I’m ready to get the hell out of.”
In order to make the “Towne Center at Shelter Ridge” a reality, the applicants first need the Planning and Zoning Commission to grant a zone change. That’s one of the subjects that will be addressed in the April 27 public hearing.
As of now, the 121 acres is zoned for light industrial, with a small section zoned for residential.
The applicants want the zoning changed to a “planned development district” (PDD) because it would give more flexibility to the developers and city planners when proposing and reviewing development projects.
Attorney Thomas said the city’s industrial regulations give the property owner the right to develop a different project with an increase in floor space and more parking. He also said switching the zoning to a PDD would grant the city more control over what goes on the property.
Residents opposed the zoning change and said the applicants are just trying to make a profit at their expense.
Shelton resident David Gidwani said he is in favor of the project because of the tax revenue it could generate for the city, but is opposed to the idea of the developer building the nine-story apartment building.
“We have plenty of condos going up on Bridgeport Avenue. We need to cut down the residential. If the commercial property comes in, and we make improvements to Buddington [and] Bridgeport Avenue, I think our taxes are going to be lowered,” Gidwani said.
The majority of the other residents in attendance opposed Gidwani’s suggestion, saying the tax cut wasn’t worth the increase in traffic and possible decrease in open space. A woman who moved from Bridgeport to Shelton said she is willing to pay the difference in taxes but is not in favor of further development along Bridgeport Avenue because of the traffic that comes at various times.
“Bridgeport Avenue is nothing like Route 1; Route 8 is our Route 1,” said the resident. “That’s a huge jump you’re making there. On top of that, do you know how many bus stops there are on that back road?”
The resident suggested that a traffic study be conducted at lunchtime with the consideration of traffic leaving businesses as well as school buses making drop-offs.
Site developer Sirjohn Papageorge suggested to residents that the development would be convenient for the people of Shelton because the plan would offer retail that they would otherwise have to travel out of the city to find.
Residents opposed Papageorge’s reasoning, saying they don’t mind taking 10- or 15-minute rides to Milford, they just don’t want Bridgeport Avenue to be comparable to their Post Road.
Caitlin Augusta of Mill Street said the traffic study that has been conducted wasn’t accurate and conditions would worsen with school schedules constantly changing.
Augusta said she and others near her residence are also concerned about being able to see seven of the nine stories in the proposed apartment building from their properties and about possible pipeline leaks that could result from blasting.
“This would be a proposed alteration of our vistas, so this would be proposed change to our scenic status,” said Augusta.
Thomas said residents’ input will be taken into consideration by the developers and the plan could change before appearing in front of the Planning and Zoning Commission. The official public hearing for Shelter Ridge is scheduled for April 27 at Shelton City Hall at 7 p.m.