Shelter Ridge potential water runoff raises concerns of Inland Wetlands

Conflicting views of how the massive Shelter Ridge project on Bridgeport Avenue would impact the environment were presented Feb. 22 to the Shelton Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC).

Developer representatives said the proposal has been designed to minimize the negative effect on wetlands, slopes, animal species, and nearby watercourses. They said the land could be more intensely developed if used for light industrial purposes, as it was zoned before a Planned Development District was approved for Shelter Ridge.

With light industrial, “none of this green exists. The open space to a great deal disappears,” said attorney Dominick Thomas, noting the applicant’s plan would preserve almost 26 acres of open space on the 121-acre property.

But attorney Keith Ainsworth, representing Save Our Shelton (SOS), a citizens group opposed to the project, said there’s “a lot of natural vegetation on this site that will be gone and replaced with impervious” buildings, parking lots and roads.

Steven Trinkaus, an engineer for SOS, said the development plan essentially involves replacing a forest with asphalt. He’s concerned about all the water runoff and whether it would be properly handled on-site before being released into the ground and waterways.

The developer is “underestimating the rate and volume” of water coming off the site, Trinkaus said.

On Feb. 22, the commission heard from lawyers and experts for the developer and SOS, which is a legal intervener in the wetlands process. Public comments will be heard at the March 15 meeting, and representatives from both sides will be back on March 22.

“I intend to give everyone enough time” to make their case, IWC Chairman Gary Zahornasky said.

Also on March 15, the developer is expected to respond to City Engineer Robert Kulacz’s concerns about the plan, including runoff possibly flooding Mill Street properties and if the state will approve a retaining wall to widen Bridgeport Avenue. The wetlands plan contains “major deficiencies and flaws,” Kulacz said.

City Wetlands Coordinator John Cook said Shelter Ridge “is likely the largest single site plan development applied for [in] Shelton history, and the runoff from this site to regulated areas is considerable.”

Thomas, referring to the input from city staff and other commissions, said some comments contain “misconceptions and misinformation” that will be addressed at future meetings.

The Towne Center at Shelter Ridge is considered one of the largest private developments ever in Fairfield County. It would include retail, medical, commercial, professional, and restaurant space as well as a 375-unit apartment building and parking garage.

The property rises as much as 277 feet from Bridgeport Avenue and Mill Street up a hill, and has natural gas and power lines running through it. The parcel also borders Buddington Road and is near Old Kings Highway.

A four-lane road off Bridgeport Avenue would be part of an internal on-site road system. A gated, emergency-only entrance would be on Buddington.

Storm water runoff would go through multiple underground infiltration systems to be installed, either being released into the ground or piped into the Far Mill River, across Mill Street, and Wells Hollow Brook, across Bridgeport Avenue.

Wetlands, vernal pool

The site includes about 3.6 acres of wetlands in five different areas, a vernal pool, an intermittent waterway, and additional regulated land near wetlands. The plan calls for eliminating 2,500 square feet of wetlands.

To balance that, a 4,500-square-foot mitigation area — in essence, new wetlands — would be created in one corner of the site.

The developer’s wetlands scientist, Matthew Popp, said the vernal pool has spotted salamanders and wood frogs, and spotted turtles exist nearby. No development activity would take place within 100 feet of the vernal pool, and a stone wall would be built to create a barrier around it.

Developer engineer James Swift said the project uses many retaining walls to minimize on-site grading. Swales, grasses and rain gardens would help naturally drain and clean water in locations.

Swift discussed in detail the below-ground infiltrators that would be used to control runoff flow and make sure water warmed by all the impervious surfaces cooled before entering waterways or the ground. “Temperature is a big deal,” he said.

He said state permission will be needed for improvements to Bridgeport Avenue. He also said he’s found some “flaws” in his plan that he’ll correct when submitting updated plans.

Ainsworth, the SOS attorney, said the developer’s plan would “box in” some of the wetland areas with buildings, pavement and retaining walls. “You’ve isolated and destroyed the functions of a lot of these wetlands,” he said.

He said vegetation being lost currently provides “the infiltration system” for water runoff.

Trinkaus said the water runoff volume from such a massive development  is “huge,” questioning whether the infiltration systems would work. He said some of the data presented was based on ideal conditions in a lab and “is irrelevant to what happens in the real world,” such as when runoff leaves a parking lot that has been “baking” in the sun for a few weeks.

Kulacz, in his written remarks, said the plan doesn’t offer details on widening Bridgeport Avenue near Wells Hollow Brook for 2,000 linear feet. He noted state approval is needed to construct a proposed extended retaining wall along the road near the brook.

He suggested widening Bridgeport Avenue on the project side of the road rather than the brook side, a recommendation also made by Cook.

Kulucz found deficiencies in the developer’s calculations on where some storm water would drain, warning that a major storm potentially could flood Mill Street, the Far Mill River and back yards at 77, 79, 91, and 97 Mill Street.

“The entire storm water management calculations document must be revised and corrected,” he wrote.