Water and Sewer Authority (WSA) Chairman Richard Zang explained this week that a public hearing, started on March 21, was the first step in a long review process for a local developer’s proposal for a cluster housing complex off Castle Hill Road.
Mr Zang referred to GLT Development Corporation’s proposal to construct up to 136 cluster-style individual single-family houses at a 136-acre site at #20 and #60 Castle Hill Road.
GLT is seeking to buy the land from the Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocesan Corporation.
In response to the housing proposal, the Newtown Forest Association (NFA), a private, nonprofit land trust, is seeking to acquire the land to protect it as designated open space, which would remain undeveloped. The NFA has been conducting a fundraising campaign in seeking to acquire the property.
The real estate has an appraised value of $3.66 million, according to town assessment records.
Mr Zang said that GLT’s request that the central sanitary sewer system’s boundary be extended to include the area where the proposed cluster housing would be built is subject to review by the WSA, whose members would consider whether such a sewer service area expansion is in the town’s best interests.
Mr Zang stressed that the 136 acres is still owned by the church.
GLT would need to present the WSA with a document from the church stating that GLT has the church’s endorsement to seek sewers for the site before the WSA would formally consider expanding the sewer service area.
Mr Zang stressed that the WSA does not regulate land use through zoning, noting that development proposals such as cluster housing are subject to review by the applicable zoning agency.
Because the site lies largely in the borough, the zoning aspects of the project would be subject to review and approval by the Borough Zoning Commission (BZC). The Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z), which serves as the borough’s planning agency, would formally comment on the planning aspects of the project.
Also, the Inland Wetlands Commission would regulate environmental protection aspects of the project relating to wetlands and watercourses.
For such projects, the WSA oversees water pollution control and groundwater quality protection.
Open Space Development
In May 2102, the BZC created a set of land use rules, known as Residential Open Space Development (ROSD) zoning, in response to the prospect of the diocese property, as well as two other large undeveloped properties in the borough, eventually being developed residentially.
ROSD zoning provides an alternative to conventional residential subdivisions. Such zoning requires that houses be clustered to preserve large amounts of open space on a site. The ROSD rules also require residences to have sanitary sewer service in view of high construction densities where individual septic systems would not be workable for wastewater disposal.
GLT proposes clustering the house construction on upland areas of #20 and #60 Castle Hill Road site to keep the development well away from the environmentally sensitive Taunton Lake.
The forest association, however, considers the elevated tracts of the land to be so environmentally and scenically valuable that it should not be developed, but preserved.
Public Works Director Fred Hurley said that a GLT cluster housing proposal could be subject to many changes as it passes through the local land use review process.
Such changes could include a reduction in the number of proposed houses.
NFA President Bob Eckenrode said, “This issue is very important to quite a few people who would be affected by this.”
The NFA and other groups are seeking to formulate a counteroffer to the church to buy the property, he said. Allowing the project to be built “could affect Newtown in a fairly negative way,” according to Mr Eckenrode.
Mr Zang said the WSA hearing on GLT’s request for a sewer district expansion would resume on April 11.
Following the WSA hearing on the GLT request, Mr Eckenrode said of the NFA’s efforts to acquire the land from the church in view of the proposed GLT construction project, “This is either a miracle waiting to happen or a disaster waiting to happen.”
Mr Eckenrode the said that NFA representatives would be meeting with church officials on March 22 to discuss the NFA’s desire to buy the 136 acres.
He said that he feels good about having raised public awareness about the environmental value of the property.
If the funds attracted by the NFA, as well as the funds generated three other groups with which the NFA has allied itself, are all counted, then the NFA fundraising drive is about two-thirds of the way to its goal, Mr Eckenrode said.
The other groups are the Aquarion Water Company, the Newtown Hook & Ladder Volunteer Fire Company, and The Animal Center/Catherine V. Hubbard Animal Sanctuary.
It would be a positive effort for the church to cooperate with the NFA, rather than selling the land to the highest bidder, Mr Eckenrode said.