Traffic a concern with new UI site development

Traffic and what kind of stores would fill the retail space were the major concerns raised about a proposed mixed-use development at the former United Illuminating property at 801 Bridgeport Ave.

More development means additional cars and traffic lights on an already busy Bridgeport Avenue, causing more delays, resident Judith Augusta told the Planning and Zoning Commission during a Nov. 29 hearing on the developer's application.

"At rush hour, drivers will find themselves in a parking lot," Augusta said.

P&Z Alternate Nancy Dickal said traffic currently is bad on the commercial thoroughfare, with the congestion and number of traffic lights causing "a continuing backup on that road."

"Looking at it and living it are two different things," Dickal told the developer's traffic engineer during his presentation on how to best handle the additional vehicles the project would bring.

But developer attorney Dominick Thomas said critics' past claims that large retail projects would cause major traffic woes, such as at The Marketplace shopping center with the Big Y supermarket near Nells Rock Road, have not materialized.

Thomas also said the best way to make improvements to traffic flow on Bridgeport Avenue is to get developers to pay for them through "responsible development." Otherwise, he said, "tax dollars" are required and it's unlikely the city or state would be willing to fund the upgrades.

Ten buildings

Fountain Square LLC has proposed a 10-building complex on the 19.1-acre property, with retail (including a large chain pharmacy, bank and coffee shop), three restaurants (one with drive-through service), offices and a 123-room hotel.

The existing UI buildings would be demolished. The overall impervious and building coverage on the land would decline compared to the UI structures and paved areas now on the land.

The property is zoned for light industrial, which allows for offices, restaurants and hotels but not retail uses or drive-through eateries. The developer wants to create a Planned Development District on the parcel, which also abuts Parrott Drive. There would be 667 parking spaces, and driveways on Bridgeport Avenue and Parrott Drive. Bridgeport Avenue is a state road.

The developer has proposed adding a traffic light on Bridgeport Avenue at Parrott Drive. The development's Bridgeport Avenue entrance would not be at the intersection with the light, but instead shifted slightly north from the current UI driveway to line up with the Bertucci's driveway across the road.

At the hearing, the developer's presentation focused on engineering, architecture, traffic, retail viability, and fiscal and economic impact. Representatives said there is a need for more hotel rooms and the local retail market is strong, with both being boosted by all the offices and other businesses in the Bridgeport Avenue corridor.

Thomas emphasized there's no demand for new light industrial space in Shelton, especially with parcels directly on Bridgeport Avenue.

Public comments

Ten individuals spoke during the public comments portion of the meeting. Six spoke in opposition of the project, three in favor, and one offered a mixed view.

Opponents questioned the quality of the retail tenants that would be attracted, and pointed out the retail industry is in peril as online shopping grows in popularity. "The retail will be low-end retail," predicted resident Greg Tetro, who founded the Save Our Shelton group that has been opposing large development projects.

"We need the tax revenue," said resident Nick Searles, adding that more traffic is inevitable and the city can get the developer to make road improvements.

Mitch Heisler, a New Jersey-based developer who is one of the principals of Fountain Square LLC, described the project investors as "great believers of the Shelton market."

The hearing on the application will be continued on Dec. 27.