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Adapting to there being a much smaller area at 79 Church Hill Road lying within the central municipal sanitary sewer district than was previously thought, a development firm is now proposing that it construct one six-story building on the site near Church Hill Road that would hold 141 rental apartments, 43 of which would be designated as affordable housing.
Attorney Christopher Smith, representing 79 Church Hill Road LLC, on June 6 asked Water & Sewer Authority (WSA) members to confirm that 20,868 gallons of daily sewage treatment capacity for the proposed 141 dwellings on a 0.75-acre plot would be reserved for the Hunters Ridge project at the town sewage treatment plant. The town has approximately 33,000 gallons of unallocated sewage treatment capacity remaining at the plant.
The latest submission represents the fifth proposal that the developer has made to the town for the controversial project, which would be built near westbound Interstate 84’s Exit 10 interchange ramps. The initial version of the project submitted last December, which specified 224 rental apartments in multiple buildings and more than 55,000 square feet of commercial space on a 35-acre site, drew strong opposition from people living in the area. They charged that such growth would amount to the overdevelopment of that area.
Unlike the first version of the project, which was submitted under the terms of the Planning and Zoning Commission’s (P&Z) Incentive Housing-10 (IH-10) zoning regulations, the current version of the project would fall under the terms of the state’s Affordable Housing Appeals Act (AHAA), also known by its legal citation “8-30g,” according to Mr Smith.
Initially, the developer had sought to have the WSA expand the sewer district to include all 35 acres of the property in the sewer district. But the WSA rejected that proposal. Later, the developer proposed that 141 dwellings be constructed in two buildings on 3.8 acres, which were then thought to be within the sewer district. But the town later informed the applicant that only 0.75 acres at 79 Church Hill Road are actually in the sewer district.
Consequently, the developer is now proposing a single tall building to contain those 141 units on a 0.75-acre site. Some of the proposed parking for the complex would be in the sewer district, but most parking would lie outside the sewer district. Vehicular access to the property would be at Walnut Tree Hill Road. Based on mapping provided to the WSA, the Iroquois Gas Transmission Company’s existing cross-country natural gas pipeline would pass below the parking lots, but not below the proposed building.
Mr Smith told WSA members that the developer would need WSA confirmation that 20,858 gallons of sewage treatment capacity is available to it so that it could then prepare a P&Z application for the latest version of the project.
Mr Smith said the current development proposal would involve construction of a single rental apartment house with the dimension of 80 feet by 160 feet. A typical floor would contain about 24 dwellings. The structure would hold about 76,800 square feet of enclosed space.
Because such a zoning application would be submitted under the state’s AHAA provisions, the specifics of the project would not need to conform with the P&Z’s IH-10 zoning regulations, Mr Smith said. Typically, after such an application is rejected by a municipality’s zoning commission, the developer appeals that decision in Superior Court under the AHAA law. If the court rules in favor of the developer, the developer then creates a set of unique zoning regulations that apply only to the construction proposal at issue. The project is then built under the terms of those zoning regulations, with the zoning commission ordered by the court to endorse the project.
The town went through a similar process nearly a decade ago, when a court ruled against the P&Z and the WSA in two lawsuits brought against them by Dauti Construction. That court victory led to the construction of Edona Commons, a 26-unit condominium complex containing eight affordable dwellings at 95 & 99 Church Hill Road in Sandy Hook Center.
Newtown, among other municipalities, is under a state mandate to increase its stock of affordable housing. The AHAA process is a means by which that state mandate is implemented.
Fred Hurley, town public works director, urged that WSA members seek a legal opinion from Town Attorney David Grogins on whether 79 Church Hill Road LLC’s, sewer service submission is legally valid, or whether it must submit a new sewer application. Mr Smith said there is no need for a new application in urging that the WSA commit to providing sewer capacity for the project.
“I think the (WSA) does need guidance from David Grogins,” Mr Hurley said.
WSA members are expected to discuss Mr Grogins’ advice at their July 12 meeting.
The 45-acre site at 79 Church Hill Road is bordered 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.