Inland Wetlands to continue reviewing Shelter Ridge

The city’s Inland Wetlands Commission public hearing for the 121-acre mixed-use development called “Towne Center at Shelter Ridge” will continue.

A date for the next hearing has not been set by the commission, applicant and intervenor yet, but all three parties agreed to announce the schedule when they designate a time that works for everyone.

The city hall auditorium’s availability has recently changed because the Board of Apportionment & Taxation is currently holding budget workshops throughout the week.

The latest public hearing

The engineer and attorney representing the applicant addressed concerns raised by the intervenor at the most recent portion of a public hearing last Thursday, March 29.

Attorney Dominick Thomas opened up the hearing by telling the commission that the “valid suggestions” provided by the intervener during its portion of the previous public hearing were taken into consideration.

The attorney also explained that some of the issues raised by the opposition to the development were not the concerns of the applicant and therefore were not addressed.

“The protection of the ridgeline was the responsibility of the Planning and Zoning Commission,” said Thomas while referencing P&Z approval of the zone change from Light Industrial to a Planned Development District in March 2017.

The community group “Save Our Shelton,” or SOS, currently has an open lawsuit against the city’s P&Z over the zone change, which is still pending in Hartford Superior Court.

Thomas explained that the court’s denial of Shelter Ridge would result in the property being once again zoned for Light Industrial.

“As a result, there would be no public access to the wetlands, no hiking the trail along the property, and no way to achieve that through zoning. The property being zoned as a PDD permitted the P&Z to ask for open space, which it did.”

The intervenor, which is composed primarily of members of SOS, also raised concerns with the applicant’s proposal for the development to include direct water runoff into the Far Mill River and Wells Hollow Brook.

The engineer for the applicant, Jim Swift, said he thinks more research needs to be done to examine the effects of the increased water flow and potential erosion, but he also said he doesn’t anticipate any issues developing from the blasting required to carry out the proposal as it was presented.

“These other developments, like Big Y and Split Rock, didn’t have runoff water issues because they blew up the hills that were a part of all of the properties,” said Swift in reference to the blasting that would be required to build Shelter Ridge.

Addressing the opposition’s concerns

Despite saying he didn’t agree with many of the intervenor’s suggested alternatives for the developer’s proposal, Swift said a barrier would be installed from one end of the property’s existing vernal pool to the other in order to protect neighboring wildlife.

Those opposed to Shelter Ridge voiced concerns that the blasting, cutting down trees, and potential water runoff would affect the site’s vernal pool and its ability to function as one. They also voiced their concern about what the development would mean to the city’s open space, but more specifically the Paugussett Trail, which is considered a Blue Dot Trail because of its scenic views.

The proposal as presented designates 26 acres of open space and also would put the Paugussett Trail’s Blue Dot classification in jeopardy, unless the city chooses to take action, according to the applicant’s attorney.

“If there are those that want the entire ridgeline undeveloped with public access to the vernal pool and wetlands and a scenic trail, they need to attend the Board of Aldermen meetings,” said Thomas.

Board of Aldermen President John Anglace said the city won’t be purchasing the 121-acre piece of land and the developers most likely would not sell the city the piece of land required to preserve the portion of the Paugussett trail that connects to Stratford.

Swift said the developers are committed to moving aspects of the development that raise concerns of the city engineer away from Bridgeport Avenue in order to minimize modifications to the street.

With a date for the next public hearing yet to be confirmed, Thomas said, the applicant is willing to give the commission even more time to make its decision. Thomas added that in the scenario where the applicant’s proposal was approved by the Inland Wetlands Commission, the next step would be to address regulated activity on the site.

Steven Trinkaus, an engineer from Southbury hired by SOS, said he plans to respond to Swift’s and Thomas’s latest comments during the next hearing. The developers will then have the chance to respond to Trinkaus and any other members of the opposition.

After that, Swift will get an opportunity to rebut.