Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) members last week unanimously approved the wetlands/watercourses protection aspects of a proposed 42-lot cluster-style residential subdivision on a 158-acre site in Sandy Hook.
The project would be the largest residential subdivision locally in more than a decade.
Following an October 23 executive session during which IWC members privately discussed plans for the proposed Sherman Woods complex, they approved the project. Sherman Woods has been the subject of a court appeal by the developer since October 2009.
The IWC approval will now be reviewed by a Superior Court judge. If the judge endorses that approval, the application would be submitted to the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) for review and action.
The complex is proposed for generally rolling, open and forested land in the area surrounded by Sherman Street, Still Hill Road, Toddy Hill Road, and Sugarloaf Road. Much of the property has been used for cattle grazing. Vehicle access would be provided at Toddy Hill Road.
Developer William H. Joyce of Newtown recently submitted revised plans for the project that provide significantly more open space on the 158-acre site than the initial Sherman Woods proposal that the IWC unanimously rejected in October 2009.
About 67 percent of the 158-acre site, or 107 acres, would be preserved as open space, well more than double the amount of open space than would have been preserved in the initial version of the project. There would be a five-vehicle parking lot along Sherman Street for public open space access.
The redesigned project would “cluster” single-family houses on the site to maximize the amount of public open space land that would be preserved.
In October 2009, based on their environmental concerns, IWC members unanimously rejected the earlier version of the project. At that time, Sherman Woods was configured as a conventional large-lot 38-house residential subdivision.
Because the revised project was submitted under the terms of the town’s “open space conservation subdivision” (OSCS) regulations, a ten percent “density bonus” is provided to the developer, thus increasing the house-lot number from 38 to 42. The project includes two existing houses.
In their motion approving the revised version of Sherman Woods, IWC members decided that the current proposal significantly reduces the potential for environmental damage to wetlands/watercourses by shifting proposed development farther away from wetlands/watercourses; the drainage and stormwater control plans have been improved; specific environmentally sensitive areas previously proposed for construction would not be developed under the revised plans; and the proposed open space at the site would be more than double the open space shown in the initial plans, thus creating a larger and significant environmental buffer area.
IWC members placed numerous technical conditions on their Sherman Woods approval.
In a response to a question at the October 23 IWC session, civil engineer Larry Edwards, representing the developer, said that the Sherman Woods project likely would have two or three 20,000-gallon underground water storage tanks installed, which would be used as a water supply for firefighting. The developer would discuss those specifics with the fire marshal.
George Benson, town director of planning and land use, said October 24 that if the Sherman Woods site is going to be residentially developed, it is a place perfectly suited for such development under the terms of the OSCS regulations, which require that a minimum of 50 percent of a site be reserved as undeveloped open space.
Sherman Woods is the first application to be submitted under the terms of the OSCS rules whose initial version the P&Z approved in August 2004. The OSCS rules are intended to reduce “suburban sprawl” by providing a developmental alternative to conventional “large lot” subdivisions. Building lots in OSCS development are smaller than in conventional subdivisions, thus allowing for relatively larger amounts of open space on a site.
Mr Benson said that town land use officials would use the proposed Sherman Woods project as a “model” on how a significant amount of open space conservation could be preserved in a subdivision.
“If [a site] has to be developed, this is the way to do it,” Mr Benson said.
Town land use officials have said they believe the housing market has changed and that home buyers want smaller building lots than were created in conventional subdivisions in the past.
The 2009 Sherman Woods proposal was the subject of seven IWC public hearings. It drew strong opposition from nearby residents who warned that such development would have adverse environmental effects on that area and adversely affect its rustic character.