Inland Wetlands to schedule public hearing for Shelter Ridge

The city’s Inland Wetlands Commission voted to determine a date for a public hearing to further discuss the application for Towne Center at Shelter Ridge at its Thursday, Jan. 11 meeting.

The “clock has started,” according to Wetlands Administrator John R. Cook who explained that since the commission has officially received the application for the development, it now has 65 days or until March 17 to approve or deny Shelter Ridge.

In order for the commission to schedule a public hearing, Cook said the application needed to meet at least one of the three following criteria: there needs to be sufficient public interest, a proven effect on the property’s or adjacent parcels wetland, or a petition with at least 25 signatures must be submitted opposing the development.

Cook said before the commission has even had a chance to analyze the application, he and Chairman Gary Zahornasky agreed that it met one of the criteria already.

“It’s pretty clear that there’s public interest,” said Cook referencing the well attended public hearings held by the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission last year.

The next step for the commission is to select a date for the public hearing. Cook said in order to do so, he will need to discuss available dates, times and locations with the city’s Town Clerk. He said that Tuesdays and Thursdays are unlikely because the Board of Aldermen and P&Z has its meetings scheduled on those same days and occupy the City Hall auditorium.

“So our regular meeting nights probably won’t work out well for scheduling,” said Cook. “And the fact that P&Z usually has things going on on Tuesdays, I suspect that the public hearing could end up being on a Wednesday.”

Regardless of the date the commission selects for the public hearing Cook said he’s not anticipating hundreds of people to attend the public hearing for Shelter Ridge because Inland Wetlands deals with a much more narrow set of issues.

“My board’s not going to be looking at traffic and land use, but more so water quality, water quantity, and the impacts on whatever wetlands are on or adjacent to the parcel,” said Cook.

There was no presentation given by counsel or the engineers for the project at the Jan. 11 meeting.  Engineer for the development, Jim Swift, was advised by the applicant’s attorney Dominick Thomas, not to come to the meeting to make a presentation, and instead wait until the public hearing.

What happens if Wetlands approves the application?

If Wetlands were to approve the Shelter Ridge application, Cook said the developers would still need to wait for the resolution of the open court case, authorization from P&Z on the final detailed plan and not just the zone change, and the state traffic commission.

“I would suspect that we have a ways to go,” said Cook.

He added that at this time the application is lacking the environmental reports and it could very well be considered incomplete. This lack of information for the commission could affect its ruling on the application, according to Cook.

“That’s a fundamental piece of information the board members would need in order to make a decision,” said Cook. “If it doesn’t come in a timely fashion for the commission’s satisfaction it can make the decision to deny the application without prejudice as an incomplete application. Particularly with an application of this size, this is an important piece of information.”

Chair Zahornasky clarified that the submission of the environmental report would not affect the timeline the commission has to make a decision on the application.

Should the commission require more time to come to a decision, it can be granted one extension period of 65 days. The hearing can last up to 45 days which can be extended one time by a period of an additional 45 days.

After they close the hearing the commission will have 35 days to deliberate by themselves, discuss it and render a decision. There can also be a 35 day extension should the commission require more time.