Residents: No residential in commercial hub

Huntington residents indicated they oppose the idea of allowing any residential development in the neighborhood’s commercial area during a meeting last week.

“What we agree on is we don’t want more residential,” one woman in the audience said to loud applause.

Shelton Planning and Zoning Administrator Rick Schultz, who conducted the public informational meeting, indicated the message was getting through. “OK, keep the zoning as it is,” he said.

Schultz organized the event to get community input for a P&Z study being done on the future of Huntington Center, the neighborhood hub that’s home to stores, restaurants and offices.

Close to 90 residents attended, and all were encouraged to fill out a short questionnaire that still is available in the P&Z office at City Hall and may be put on the city website.

The Huntington Center study, being conducted by staff for the P&Z Commission, is focusing on issues such as where new buildings might be built, re-use of existing structures, parking, sidewalks, landscaping and trash dumpster locations.

The idea of changing the existing zoning to allow some limited residential use — maybe a small apartment or condominium building, perhaps combined with ground-floor retail — is one of the possibilities being considered. Current zoning doesn’t allow multifamily housing in Huntington Center.

The idea for the study was generated in part by a developer’s interest in pursuing residential in the center, Schultz said.

Joe Pereira of Shelton-based Pereira Engineering has assisted city staff with some initial work on the study.

Huntington Center remains economically strong but is somewhat of a hodgepodge, with small shopping centers abutting each other and sometimes sharing driveways and parking areas.

The main parcels are Huntington Plaza, Huntington Shopping Center, Huntington Village and the Montenaro properties, accessed from Huntington Street, Shelton Avenue or Old Shelton Road.

Schultz told the audience the meeting wasn’t intended to discuss traffic issues, which are a major concern in the neighborhood. Backups tend to happen in the center area due to the traffic lights, merging roads and all the nearby office buildings.

“That will require another meeting all by itself,” he said, acknowledging the issue is critical and noting the police chief — who acts as Shelton’s traffic authority — would need to be in attendance.

Schultz said he also couldn’t discuss a proposal for cluster residential development in the rear of the Huntington Congregational Church property, off Ripton Road. The P&Z will hold a public hearing on the application in the future.

Mostly built-out

The three major shopping centers in Huntington Center are all built out, with little room for new buildings, according to Schultz. It’s unlikely existing one-story buildings could be turned into multi-story due to how they were constructed, he said.

More parking is needed. Sidewalks could be added to help people reach the center — including from nearby hiking trails — and an internal sidewalk system might be beneficial.

Schultz said the future of two vacant bank buildings in Huntington Center is important, and he expects to receive applications soon to develop them. This could involve restaurant uses with drive-thru service, causing concerns about traffic flow, parking and landscaping.

He said a comprehensive trash dumpster plan is needed to protect Means Brook behind the shopping centers, near where many trash containers now are located.

Huntington Center has seen improvements, with the former Beechwood Market becoming Common Bond Market and the use of more uniform store signage.

“We want to keep going that way,” Schultz said. “There’s a lot of competition out there.”

Questions were asked about who would pay for new sidewalks and whether they would get much use, if bicycle lanes could be added, whether Huntington Green was a protected historic landmark (it’s not), and if Constitution Boulevard would be extended from Bridgeport Avenue to Shelton Avenue.

Some frustration was expressed about people showing up to oppose applications at P&Z meetings only to see projects get approved anyway.

The P&Z, an elected board, will make the decisions about what zoning-related changes might make sense in Huntington Center. “We need your input,” Schultz said.