City’s revised master plan approved unanimously

The approval of the city's new master plan led to a discussion about the impact of continued development in Shelton, especially dense residential and retail uses along the Bridgeport Avenue corridor.

Concerns were raised about including language stating that multi-family units should be considered at times in five large undeveloped parcels, called Mixed-Use Economic Growth Areas (MUEGA).

A possible use in MUEGA sites, according to the master plan, "may, after careful scrutiny and economic analysis, include limited high-quality, controlled multi-family residential apartments."

The new master plan -- officially called the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) -- states that other desirable MUEGA uses include senior citizen services and facilities, light industrial, certain commercial, corporate offices, hotels and restaurants.

The P&Z believes allowing housing as part of larger mixed-use plans may be necessary to encourage private development of larger parcels, many of which will need major investment in infrastructure such as roads.

Resident Adrienne Couture called MUEGAs "a carte blanche" for developers, with the P&Z placing no apparent restrictions or limitations on what could happen there. "That's really, really frightening," she said, calling it "a Pandora's box."

P&Z Chairman Ruth Parkins disagreed  "We're not going to give a carte blanche to anyone," Parkins said.

Resident Greg Tetro said the MUEGA language is so open-ended it could lead to large, tall buildings being allowed close to single-family homes that people purchased with expectations of living in an area with similar housing.

Tetro said while a growing tax base is good and Shelton remains a beautiful place, he fears it's "getting overdeveloped" and therefore "ugly."

"How big do we have to be?" asked Tetro, saying the massive Shelter Ridge project that was approved "hit us like a brick."

He also said P&Z members should do more to make residents a part of the zoning process, especially when large projects are proposed.

Three of five MUEGA properties are on Bridgeport Avenue -- Shelter Ridge, Wells Hollow and the former United Illuminating site. The other two -- the former Mas parcel and the Bures family farm-- are just off Bridgeport Avenue on a possible new section of Constitution Boulevard connecting to Shelton Avenue (Route 108).

'Opens the door'

P&Z member Jimmy Tickey said the new language "really opens the door" to future high-density residential development. He said he's fine with encouraging "mixed use" but not dense housing on large, still-undeveloped parcels.

Tickey said the city needs to consider the potential impact on the schools, traffic, property values and overall quality of life.

His comments led to a minor tiff with Chairman Ruth Parkins, who said Tickey hadn't raised such concerns during POCD workshops.

Tickey said he's been consistent on the issue and had emphasized it during the Shelton Ridge application, which he opposed.

"This shouldn't come as a surprise," he said.

Parkins said she was referring to the POCD process and what properties might be designated as MUEGAs.

Planning consultant Tony Panico said the MUEGA concept isn't new, having essentially been in the last POCD when they were called Future Economic Development Areas.

Panico said these parcels have "cost factors" that scare off developers unless they can recoup their investment. "Sometimes you have to have something to sweeten the pot," such as allowing multi-family as a component in a large retail or office development, he said.

Many light industrial zones may have to be changed to allow for retail due to changing economic needs, Panico said.

A guide

The POCD, which must be updated every 10 years, is essentially a guide to how the city should be developed. It is an advisory document. The new POCD was approved 5-0 by the P&Z at its May 24 meeting.

P&Z Administrator Rick Schultz said some suggestions made by residents at a previous public hearing, such as the potential importance of the rail line through downtown, were incorporated into the final POCD.

The new POCD notes that while Shelton has long benefitted form corporate office development,  there's been "a dramatic change" toward upscale and luxury multi-family housing and retail developments in recent years.

The new POCD makes references to limiting bedroom counts so schools don't become strained, encouraging development downtown, and adapting to marketplace trends.

Tickey suggested recognizing Frank Osak, who just resigned as a P&Z alternate, in the POCD document. Osak chaired the POCD subcommittee and is one of those credited with helping Shelton become a corporate hub once the Route 8 highway was built.