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A conceptual map submitted to the town’s Land Use Agency by local developer David French depicts a 192-unit multifamily residential complex known as Rochambeau Woods at a 29-acre site at 41, 43, 45, and 47 Mt Pleasant Road (Route 25) as an alternative development scheme to a controversial 29-unit condominium complex, for which Mr French received Borough Zoning Commission (BZC) approval in February 2017.
The conceptual map, labeled “preliminary site plan,” which does not constitute a development application, depicts almost seven times the number of multifamily units that were approved for the site by the BZC. It is unclear if the envisioned 192 dwellings would be rental apartments or condos.
The site has about 450 feet of frontage on the environmentally sensitive Taunton Lake. It has 8.1 acres of wetlands. Twenty-five buildings would hold the 192 dwellings. There would be a total of 473 parking spaces. The building nearest to Taunton Lake would lie about 900 feet away from the shoreline.
The map produced by J. Edwards & Associates, LLC, an Easton engineering firm, depicts the site with a housing complex that includes some affordable housing units. When considering that affordable housing would be included in such a complex, the project would be subject to the state’s Affordable Housing Appeals Act (AHAA), a law that provides developers with legal leverage in gaining local development approvals for projects through court actions, after those projects are initially rejected by local land use agencies.
In February 2017, adjacent property owner Dr Robert Grossman of 49 Mt Pleasant Road brought a lawsuit against The BZC and Hunter Ridge LLC, in seeking to stop the 29-unit condo complex from being built. Mr French does business under the Hunter Ridge LLC name. Dr Grossman had sold that 29-acre site to Mr French in 2003. The lawsuit is pending in Connecticut Superior Court in Danbury.
In the administrative appeal, Dr Grossman alleges that the BZC’s actions in approving the development proposal were “illegal, unlawful, arbitrary, and/or capricious, and in abuse of the powers vested in the BZC.”
The legal papers list numerous ways in which the BZC allegedly erred in approving Rochambeau Woods, charging that the applicant did not produce sufficient evidence to show that the proposal met applicable regulations; the application did not conform to the standards listed in the zoning regulations; and the decision to approve the project and the accompanying conditions of approval are vague, defective, unenforceable, unclear, and incomplete; among many other complaints.
The site has a long history of proposals for residential development. More than a decade ago, the property was proposed as the site for a 14-lot residential subdivision where 13 single-family houses would be built, plus a lot reserved for open space land. A decade-long court case, which challenged the proposed subdivision on environmental grounds, eventually was resolved by the Connecticut Supreme Court. Mr French later gained a residential subdivision development endorsement from the Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z).
Mr French, however, did not pursue constructing that subdivision, but then sought and gained BZC approval for the 29 condos, which would be built in the form of 29 individual closely spaced buildings under the terms of the BZC’s “residential open space development” (ROSD) zoning regulations. The ROSD regulations are keyed to maximizing the undeveloped open space on a site. The BZC approved a project that would cluster the 29 dwellings on land situated near Mt Pleasant Road, with about 70 percent of the site, which lies nearer to Taunton Lake, remaining undeveloped.
After gaining the BZC development approval, Hunter Ridge LLC had planned to sell the property and the rights to construct the 29 condos to another firm, possibly Toll Brothers, Inc.
Of the conceptual map, George Benson, town planning director, said. “We get a lot of conceptual stuff, all the time.” Mr Benson said the Rochambeau Woods map amounts to a “planning exercise” in terms of potential residential development at the site, other than that which was approved by the BZC last February.
Carol French, who is David French’s wife, said that in the 29-unit condo complex application, Hunter Ridge LLC, met all of the applicable land use regulations and thus gained approval for the project from the BZC. It is unclear why Dr Grossman filed the lawsuit challenging that approval, Ms French said.
Asked about the submission of the conceptual map, Ms French responded,”It’s actually the first step…It’s a preliminary first step.”
“Someone’s going to develop this property,” Ms French said of the 29-acre site. Of the pending lawsuit, she said, “I wish this would go away.”
Asked to comment on his lawsuit, Dr Grossman said,”Do you want 29 houses next to your property?”
In buying the land from him in 2003, Mr French had said he planned to construct 11 typical houses, Dr Grossman said. “Eleven houses is not 29 units,” Dr Grossman added,
“I don’t like the 29 condos,” he said, adding, “This is an area of the town that has a lot of nice houses.” Dr Grossman said he does not want any new houses constructed at the Rochambeau Woods site.
Of the ongoing conflict over developing the Rochambeau Woods site, Dr Grossman said, “It’s a difficult issue because there’s so many people involved.”
Asked to comment on the situation, Kevin Kohn, president of the Taunton Lake Association, said, “The Taunton Lake Association is dedicated to maintaining the environmental integrity of Taunton Lake. The lake is a beautiful and quite serene slice of Newtown.”
Mr Kohn added, “All possible efforts must be made to ensure that it remains as such. The prospect of building 192 units on the lake is unacceptable.
“We strongly encourage the parties involved to pause and reflect on the consequences that their actions will have on the lake for the decades to come,” Mr Kohn said in a statement.
The association comprises the homeowners whose properties surround the lake.
The 29-unit Rochambeau Woods was the largest residential project approved for the borough in many years. Applicant Hunter Ridge, LLC, gained a wetlands/watercourses protection permit from the Inland Wetlands Commission in May 2016. The BZC held public hearings on the application in November and December of 2016, drawing numerous complaints from nearby residents.
At those two hearings Dr Grossman strongly criticized the proposal. His concerns included the prospect of teenage residents of the complex and their friends having parties near the lake involving loud music and beer drinking. Also, the presence of the condo complex would result in traffic problems in the area, he has charged.
Additionally, the complex would be out of architectural character with the area, according to Dr Grossman.
Such a complex would not have age restrictions for its residents, but would be open to people of all ages.