The developer of a proposed major residential subdivision, which has been the subject of a court battle for the past four years, has submitted for town review a modified version of the project that would “cluster” single-family houses on the Sandy Hook site to maximize the amount of public open space land that would be preserved.
The project, known as Sherman Woods, is the largest residential subdivision proposed for town since 2000. The site is in the Pootatuck River watershed.
Developer William H. Joyce has submitted revised plans for the 42-lot Sherman Woods on 158 acres to the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) for review.
In October 2009, based on their environmental concerns, IWC members unanimously rejected the project, which was then configured as a conventional 38-lot residential subdivision.
The construction project 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.
The 2009 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. Public opposition largely focused on the potential for environmental damage to the area, especially to wetlands and watercourses, caused by terrain changes and new uses of the property. Some people mentioned adverse changes to the area’s rustic character as a reason for their opposition.
The previous 38-lot project, which was submitted under the terms of the town’s conventional subdivision regulations, proposed that house lots be spread out across a wide area on the 158-acre site, allowing about 47 acres of the site to remain as undeveloped open space land.
By contrast, the current 42-lot proposal, which was submitted under the terms of the town’s “open space conservation subdivision” (OSCS) regulations, would “cluster” houses on the site, allowing about 107 acres to remain as undeveloped open space. A public parking area would be provided for open space access.
In both proposals, two existing houses on the site are included in the overall lot count.
The current Sherman Woods proposal marks the first time that a developer has sought residential subdivision approval under the terms of the OSCS rules.
In November 2011, Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) members revised the OSCS rules to make it simpler and more straightforward for developers to apply for a cluster-housing project. The P&Z had approved an original version of the OSCS rules in August 2004, but no developer had ever pursued a project under those regulations, prompting the P&Z to make the rule changes in November 2011.
The OSCS rules are intended to limit “suburban sprawl.” OSCS development may be sought for new residential subdivisions in R-1, R-2, and R-3 zones. The minimum building-lot size in an OSCS project is 35,000 square feet, or four-fifths of an acre. Each lot must comply with applicable town and state regulations concerning septic waste disposal and water wells.
Town land use officials have said they believe the housing market is changing and that home buyers want smaller building lots than were created in conventional subdivisions in the past.
In seeking to preserve large amounts of open space land at a subdivision site, the OSCS rules allow houses to be clustered on lots that are smaller than allowed in a conventional subdivision. The OSCS rules provide a ten percent “density bonus” to a developer as an incentive, resulting in the current Sherman Woods proposal having 42 lots, compared to the previous version’s 38 lots.
In 2009, town land use officials had encouraged Mr Joyce to submit a cluster-style version of the proposed subdivision for review, but he did not, opting to submit a conventional design for the project, which was eventually rejected by the IWC.
That rejection largely stemmed from the IWC’s concerns about the project’s potential adverse environmental effects on a wetlands/watercourses corridor on the eastern side of the site. In the current version of the project, development would occur to the west of that environmentally sensitive area, protecting the wetlands/watercourses corridor.
After the 2009 IWC rejection, the developer filed an appeal in Danbury Superior Court, in seeking to overturn the IWC’s decision.
George Benson, town director of planning and land use, said this week that the revised application for Sherman Woods submitted by Mr Joyce, in practical terms, amounts to a proposed settlement of the court appeal.
On October 9, the IWC is scheduled to meet to consider approving the court settlement. Public comment would be allowed at the IWC session. If the IWC endorses the settlement, that endorsement would be submitted to a judge for review.
The 2009 version of Sherman Woods was never submitted for review by the P&Z. If the IWC approves the current version of the project and the judge endorses it, the project would then be submitted for P&Z review and action.
Mr Benson noted that the current version of Sherman Woods is designed to suitably protect environmentally sensitive areas of the site.
“I think it’s a great compromise,” Mr Benson said, adding that town officials have long sought to have single-family houses clustered in subdivisions to preserve large amounts of open space.
“It’s not the same [proposed] subdivision as it was…It’s a lot better,” Mr Benson said.
The 42-lot version of Sherman Woods would have conventional vehicle access at Toddy Hill Road, north of its intersection with Still Hill Road. A secondary emergency-vehicle access to the site would be provided at Still Hill Road.
In the 2009 plans, both streets would have provided conventional vehicle access to the site. The current proposal calls for the construction of about 3,600 linear feet of new roadways on the site.