Concerns raised over 23-lot subdivision

Aquarion Water Co. still has "serious concerns" about the potential impact of a 23-lot housing subdivision on the Far Mill Reservoir and the public water supply.

In a new letter to the Planning and Zoning Commission, Aquarion said while some concerns have been met by revisions in the applicant's plans, it supports having the city buy all or part of the 22.6-acre property for open space "if feasible."

The city Conservation Commission has recommended the city do just that, but other municipal officials apparently didn't pursue a potential purchase after appraisals were done, most likely because of the cost.

The property is at the intersection of Booth Hill and Waverly roads, in a somewhat rural part of Huntington near the Trumbull border. The Patrick family previously operated a farm on the site.

The applicant, John Paul Development, wants to develop most of the land through a Design Residential Development (DRD) district, a new zoning tool that allows smaller lots in return for setting aside 30% of the land for open space.

Some of the land also would be developed through a conventional subdivision, which requires setting aside 10% of the parcel for open space and, in this part of Shelton, having one-acre lots.

The property includes some wetlands, which could impact how many housing lots are allowed based on action by the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC).

Neighborhood residents packed a recent P&Z meeting to oppose the Booth Hill Estates proposal, with most speakers asking the P&Z to keep in place the one-acre zoning, known as R-1.

Aquarion, in the letter read aloud at the June 12 P&Z meeting, asked that a proposed detention pond to hold water runoff be doubled in size, pre- and post-construction water quality monitoring be done, and the city hire an independent engineer to review the plan's environmental impact.

The water company also suggested having the proposed homeowners association (HOA) establish a fund to maintain the drainage system and that future homeowners "be encouraged to limit use of all associated chemicals for lawn care and salt compounds for winter maintenance."

Aquarion noted it would need access to developed lots in the watershed annually to check for failing septic systems.

Applicant engineer James Swift said enlarging the detention pond is a possibility and P&Z certainly could take steps to require the HOA adequately maintain the drainage system and limit fertilizer use.

While Aquarion "has a good reason to be concerned and to look into this application," Swift said, "I was a little surprised with the tone of their letter." He pointed out the IWC application is pending and Aquarion will have considerable input when the developer seeks a state environmental water discharge permit for the project.

Swift emphasized allowing a DRD on most of the property would lead to more than seven acres of protected land — 6.1 acres of open space, plus 1.6 acres with a conservation easement — compared to less than 2.5 acres if all land is developed as a subdivision.

"This application has a massive amount of conservation area and open space area that won't be touched at all," he said.

P&Z member Mark Widomski said the developer should do more to incorporate Aquarion's suggestions.

"You need to go back to the drawing board," Widomski said. "I know you're trying to sugarcoat this because you want to get going."

Neighbors' concerns

Swift attempted to address the main concerns raised by opponents at the last meeting.

He said when it comes to neighborhood water issues, 150 test holes up to eight feet deep were dug on the property to ensure no problems will occur with septics and foundations. He pointed out the local health district has given preliminary approval to the septic systems, including on the proposed 17 half-acre lots.

As for possibly polluting nearby wells, Swift said the developer is paying to extend water lines on Booth Hill and Waverly roads and nearby homeowners could elect to hook up.

Many neighbors said the cluster-type development would ruin the area's "country setting," but Swift said the developer is making "special efforts" to prevent this by having only one-acre lots at the perimeter on the two existing roads. The smaller lots would be a on a new private dead-end road off Booth Hill.

Swift rejected claims the private road could become a burden for the city. He said a private road would save the city money and a regular subdivision would bring a public road. The DRD requires new roads be private.

The Conservation Commission, an advisory panel, remains opposed to the application because of concerns about having half-acre lots with septics close to a reservoir and how the open space was configured. Neighbors questioned how accessible the new open space would be to the public.

Swift said houses, driveways and septics surely would be built closer to the reservoir with a traditional subdivision on all the land. He has said a conventional subdivision on the entire parcel will be sought if the DRD is rejected.

The public hearing on the application now is closed, although requests for input from the mayor and Board of Aldermen on why the city didn't pursue buying the land can be submitted.

The P&Z is considering two separate applications -- the DRD for 17 smaller lots on 14.6 acres, and a subdivision for six larger R-1 lots on eight acres. Deliberations should begin in July.