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The town’s ongoing review of Hunters Ridge, a mixed-use complex combining 224 rental apartments and more than 55,000 square feet of commercial space that is proposed for a 35-acre site at 79 Church Hill Road, is scheduled for discussion by town land use regulators at three public meetings next week.
The controversial proposal from developer 79 Church Hill Road, LLC, is scheduled for review by the Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) and the Aquifer Protection Agency (APA) on Wednesday, March 14.
The IWC will hold a public hearing on the subject at 7:30 pm at the Newtown High School lecture hall at 12 Berkshire Road. The IWC’s hearing on Hunters Ridge started last month. The APA, which comprises the same membership as the IWC, is scheduled to convene a public meeting on the Hunters Ridge project immediately following the IWC session, at the same location.
On Thursday, March 15, the P&Z will hold a public hearing on Hunters Ridge at 7:30 pm at Newtown Municipal Center at 3 Primrose Street. That public hearing started last month.
On Monday, March 5, the Board of Selectmen unanimously recommended against the Water & Sewer Authority (WSA) providing municipal sanitary sewer service for the Hunters Ridge project. The WSA was scheduled to discuss that recommendation when it reviewed 79 Church Hill Road, LLC’s, request for sewer service at a WSA meeting scheduled for the night of Thursday, March 8, after the deadline for the March 9 print edition of The Newtown Bee.
The vacant, wooded, hilly 79 Church Hill Road site is bounded on the south by Church Hill Road, on the east by Walnut Tree Hill Road, on the north by residential properties on Evergreen Road, and on the west by the Exit 10 interchange ramps for westbound Interstate 84.
At the initial IWC hearing on Hunters Ridge on February 14, residents concerned about the potential negative effects of such development explained to IWC members their environmental concerns about the project. About 60 residents attended that session.
The IWC’s basic role in such regulatory reviews is the environmental protection of surface waters, including wetlands and watercourses. The site contains three wetlands.
At the February 14 session, IWC members and town staff members requested additional technical information from the developer concerning groundwater quality, stormwater drainage, and soil conditions.
Topics raised by residents included soil testing, hydrology, whether blasting would be needed for construction, the project’s effects on area wildlife, and whether nearby domestic water wells would be damaged due to construction.
The applicant is seeking a wetlands/watercourses protection permit from the IWC.
When the APA convenes its public meeting immediately after the IWC hearing, APA members are scheduled to consider whether the construction proposal would adversely affect the subterranean Pootatuck Aquifer. The aquifer, which has been designated as the town’s “sole source aquifer,” is the source of two public water supplies and thousands of local domestic water wells.
The developer has had an aquifer protection analysis performed by hydrogeological research firm. The APA makes recommendation to the P&Z on aquifer protection issues.
Planning & Zoning
On March 15, the P&Z is slated to resume the public hearing that it began on February 15. That lengthy session drew approximately 150 people, representing the heaviest attendance at a P&Z hearing in many years. The Hunters Ridge proposal drew heavy opposition from the public at that meeting.
Residents’ concerns about the project included traffic congestion, light pollution, commercial development in a residential area, access to the site, water pollution, a lack of engineering data, the local quality of life, and property values.
The applicant is seeking a change of zone from Business/Professional Office (BPO) to Incentive Housing-10 (IH-10) for the site, a special zoning permit, and zoning regulation changes that would reduce minimum building setback distances and also vehicle parking requirements.
A petition that has been circulated by opponents of the project lists reasons why its signers oppose the Hunters Ridge proposal. Among those points, the opponents contend that such development would pose contamination hazards to the nearby Pootatuck Aquifer; would adversely affect existing domestic water wells; and would create traffic hazards for pedestrians and motorists in a heavily traveled area. Also, the petition signers call for the town regulatory commissions reviewing the application to have independent technical studies performed on the proposal, rather than solely relying on information provided by the developer.
The project would contain 224 rental apartments, including 45 dwellings designated as affordable housing, plus a clubhouse and an outdoor swimming pool. The complex also would hold more than 55,000 square feet of adjacent commercial space, which would contain a retail center, professional offices, and a restaurant. As proposed, the project would contain 648 parking spaces.
The town, among other municipalities, is under a state mandate to increase its stock of affordable housing, as defined by state law.
When considering that the traffic aspects of the development proposal represent a key element of the project, the P&Z decided that the project will need a “peer review” performed on its voluminous traffic report. Frederick P. Clark Associates, Inc, of Fairfield prepared the traffic study for the developer.
Public interest in the project is so high that the situation warrants having another traffic engineering firm formally review the Clark traffic study, according to the P&Z.
The developer plans to seek state Department of Transportation (DOT) approval for traffic signal installation at the intersection of Church Hill Road and Walnut Tree Hill Road. Currently, motorists on Church Hill Road have the right of way, with the southern end of Walnut Tree Hill Road controlled by a stop sign.
The proposed traffic signal would be located about 100 yards east of an existing traffic signal positioned at the intersection of Church Hill Road and westbound Interstate 84’s Exit 10 ramps. The proposed traffic signal would be phase-coordinated with the existing signal, according to the developer.
Access to the development site would be provided by four two-way driveways on Walnut Tree Hill Road.