P&Z indicates new Bridgeport Avenue project is too dense

A majority of Shelton Planning and Zoning Commission members indicated they think a proposed mixed-use development for Bridgeport Avenue near Long Hill Cross Road is too dense for the 17.7-acre site.

In remarks made March 22, during the third night of a public hearing on the project, members also said the apartments and an automotive/tire shop should be dropped from the plan.

"I'm not in favor of the residential component ... I don't think it fits in this location," P&Z Chairman Ruth Parkins said.

"Residential should be completely off the table with this land," agreed commissioner Jimmy Tickey, adding that the plan was "not well thought out."

Commissioner Virginia Harger said the project "is too dense" and member Charles Kelly said it's "totally too congested," and their remarks were echoed by member Anthony Pogoda.

Commissioner Elaine Matto said she favored replacing a tall retaining wall in the rear of the project site with a graded slope, as suggested by an opposing engineer, noting this would essentially eliminate the proposed apartments from the plan.

The proposal, Parkins said, "really needs to be revised."

The P&Z members' comments were not made during formal deliberations, but toward the end of a night filled with more presentations from the developer's representatives, public comments mostly opposing the project, and remarks by attorneys against the plan.

An undisclosed developer has proposed building retail stores, a 112-room hotel, restaurants and apartment buildings on the site owned by the Wells family. The application seeks to create a Planned Development District on property now zoned mostly for light industrial use.

The developer is represented by attorney Dominick Thomas, who is listed as "trustee" for the applicant in paperwork submitted to the city.

'Where is the developer?'

"Where is the developer?" opposing resident Greg Tetro asked, noting developers usually sit in the front of the room during presentations to the P&Z. "To me that's a telling sign."

The proposal was scaled back a bit at the March 22 meeting, reducing the number of apartments from 143 units in three buildings to 126 units in two buildings.

One restaurant structure was eliminated and another possible stand-alone restaurant was replaced by a bank, plus the location of some buildings were moved farther away from Long Hill Cross Road.

In addition, some paved parking spaces were turned into reserve "green" spaces, meaning they would be on a grassy lawn.

The P&Z kept the public hearing on the application open, but only to hear from an opposing attorney representing the Save Our Shelton citizens group and a final rebuttal by Thomas on behalf of the developer. This will take place on April 26.

Joel Green, the SOS lawyer, pushed the P&Z to keep the application's public hearing open so he could offer input on the newest version of the project, unveiled at that night's meeting.

It's uncertain if the developer will decide to make major alterations in the proposal, or possibly even withdraw it for now based on the P&Z members' comments, before the commission would vote on the application.

Nearby business is concerned

Attorney William J. Ryan, representing OEM Controls founder Brian Simons, said OEM Controls -- a company located on a street off Long Hill Cross Road -- wants to increase its workforce but is unlikely to do so if this project is approved.

Ryan said the development would worsen already bad traffic congestion in the vicinity, increasing driving commute times for frustrated employees.

Simons, who spoke briefly after his attorney at the hearing, said all the recent and planned development in the area is "a disaster" and would hurt the ability to recruit businesses like OEM Controls to Shelton.

Public speakers mostly focused their remarks on the project's density, the potential visibility of the apartment structures, and the potential traffic impact on Long Hill Cross Road and Bridgeport Avenue.

Several speakers, picking up on a comment made earlier by Thomas, suggested the city buy the land and turn it into a municipal park. Some P&Z members said they liked that idea, although whether it's a realistic option is not known.

Nearby resident Ingrid Waters opposed the plan, saying "serious consideration needs to be given to the existing neighborhood."

A.J. Grasso, developer of the Hawk's Ridge housing development on the other side of Long Hill Cross Road, spoke against the project. He said it would have "a tremendous negative impact" on Shelton and on Hawk's Ridge, which is still in its early construction stages.

Grasso said the proposal had inadequate setbacks and buffers, and the apartment driveway should be on Bridgeport Avenue and not on Long Hill Cross Road near a Hawk's Ridge entrance.

"This application is so dense and poorly planned," he said.

Thomas said the proposal, even before the latest revisions, was "well in line with what's been approved along Bridgeport Avenue in the last 30 years." He denied the developer was trying to "cram" too much onto the site, saying the impervious coverage was less than that of some other nearby developments.

The developer's representatives said a comprehensive drainage system and landscaping buffer would protect Wells Hollow Brook, which flows close to Bridgeport Avenue on the property. They also emphasized the tax benefits to the city, road improvements the developer would make, and the need for more residential units close to all the workplaces in Shelton's Bridgeport Avenue corridor.

The proposal

The property is located north of the Long Hill Cross intersection with Bridgeport Avenue, toward the Crown Point Center that includes the Wild Kanji restaurant.

The developer of Crown Point, James Botti, was in the audience at the March 22 P&Z meeting and was seen speaking with Thomas after the meeting. Botti spent time in federal prison for his role in a zoning-related corruption scandal in Shelton.

The project site uses a legal address of 48 Long Hill Cross Road and is technically two separate land parcels. The property slopes down toward Bridgeport Avenue, and now consists of hayfields and some forested areas plus a house on Long Hill Cross Road.

A large retaining wall would be built in the back of the parcel, near an abutting property with a commercial building on Long Hill Cross Road. The tallest buildings would be 4- and 3.5-stories high. About two-thirds of the property would be covered by impervious surfaces. The parcel has about 2,200 feet of frontage on Bridgeport Avenue.

The Wells family has been selling off large tracts of land in recent years, including for the Hawk's Ridge residential development and the just-approved Shelter Ridge mixed-use development.