Residents chime in on 2017 POCD update

Residents raised concerns about all the development taking place in Shelton and indicated they want to see balanced growth during a recent hearing on the city’s proposed new master plan.

Some worried about the creation of Mixed-Use Economic Growth Areas (MUEGAs) in the plan to identify specific sites with development potential.

Caitlin Augusta said MUEGAs may just be “a tool” for the Planning and Zoning Commission to “wedge” developments in inappropriate locations. She said this could lead to spot zoning and represents a threat to all Shelton property owners.

“It gives the P&Z too much power,” Augusta told the P&Z at the April 26 meeting.

Maureen Magner said the new draft plan is “too much in favor of developers. I think we’ve reached a tipping point. The city is changing so much.”

“Let’s not go crazy worrying about economic development all the time,” said Magner, insisting it’s OK if people pay slightly more taxes to preserve a good quality of life.

Richard Widowski said it “looks like the grand list is more of a concern than community character.”

The draft plan identifies five MUEGAs — the Shelter Ridge, Wells Hollow and United Illuminating sites on Bridgeport Avenue, and the Mas property and Bures farm where a new Constitution Boulevard section might be built to connect Bridgeport Avenue to Shelton Avenue (Route 108).

The draft plan describes MUEGAs as “substantially vacant or under-utilized” properties that can be developed through Planned Development Districts (PDDs) to expand the tax base with a minimal burden on city services. Potential uses include offices, light industrial, hospitality (hotels and restaurants), multi-family residential, and senior citizen facilities.

P&Z member Jimmy Tickey said he and alternate Frank Osak, who headed the P&Z’s POCD subcommittee, worry that like PDDs, the MUEGAs may encourage high-density development — including residential and retail — in the wrong locations. “It might just be a different name with the same issue,” he said.

“I don’t want to see developments that don’t get us to balanced growth,” Tickey said.

P&Z Chairman Ruth Parkins responded that development proposals are evolving because “market demands have changed.”

Resident Tom Harbinson said land along the Bridgeport Avenue corridor shouldn’t be for high-density residential projects by creating PDDs.

Once a decade

The city is in the process of updating its Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), or master plan, which must be done every 10 years by state law.

P&Z Administrator Rick Schultz went over the draft plan at the meeting, and people were encouraged to offer input. About 10 people made comments.

The POCD public hearing will be continued in late May at a P&Z meeting, when the public may make additional remarks. The P&Z is the sole entity that will vote on the POCD, which is an advisory document meant to guide the city’s future development.

Some speakers spoke in favor of a Board of Aldermen recommendation that a limit be put on the number of new apartment units allowed along the Bridgeport Avenue corridor because of congestion issues.

They were pleased the P&Z has amended its regulations to prohibit the use of PDDs in residential zones.

Many speakers spoke in favor of increasing the open space requirement for developers from 10% to 15%. Developers also may pay a fee instead of setting aside 10% of the land for open space when city officials conclude it’s more desirable to get money than the excess land. The funds then are used to buy prioritized open space.

Judith Augusta wants the city to do more to purchase open space as a way “to protect the few areas that are still wild.” She supports saving and renovating historic buildings.

Speakers also mentioned the importance of promoting downtown development, preventing too much development along the Housatonic River coastline, and preserving trees, ridgelines, farms, and other natural resources.

Too much retail, housing

Terry Gallagher said remaining large parcels along the Bridgeport Avenue corridor should be used for corporate offices and light-industrial operations, not retail or housing. He said the city doesn’t need “a Taco Bell, Dunkin’ Donuts or another doctor’s office on Bridgeport Avenue.”

Gallagher said the city should “steer more development off Bridgeport Avenue to downtown,” encourage eco-tourism and support farms, and build sidewalks in more locations.

Greg Tetro, who has been involved in fighting recent large developments, said the city needs to improve roads and expand sewer and water lines to more neighborhoods. Regis Dognin agreed that sewer lines should be extended, noting that some septic systems now are failing in Huntington.

Joseph Bienkowski suggested creating a maritime zone along the Housatonic River to highlight the recreational potential of an “under-utilized” asset. He wants more river greenways and perhaps a railroad passenger spur line from Derby,