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Public Hearings Scheduled For Hunters Ridge Proposal

Published: February 10, 2018

The largest land development of its kind that has been proposed locally is slated for public hearings before two town land use commissions next week, when developer 79 Church Hill Road, LLC’s, mixed-use Hunters Ridge complex will be reviewed.

The Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) is scheduled to hold a public hearing on the applicant’s requested wetlands/watercourses protection permit when the IWC meets at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, February 14, at Newtown Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street.

The Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) is slated to conduct public hearings on three separate applications for the project, at 7:30 pm, on Thursday, February 15, at Edmond Town Hall, 45 Main Street.

The applicant is seeking: a change of zone from Business/Professional Office (BPO) to Incentive Housing-10 (IH-10); a special zoning permit; and certain modifications to the IH-10 zoning regulations concerning building setbacks and parking requirements.

Five other town boards also will be involved in reviewing the project that is proposed for a 35-acre undeveloped site near the Exit 10 interchange ramps for westbound Interstate 84. The rolling, wooded site is bounded on the south by Church Hill Road, on the east by Walnut Tree Hill Road, on the north by seven residential properties along Evergreen Road, and on the west by Exit 10.

Generally, the developer proposes building 224 rental apartments within six buildings at the northeastern section of the site, plus related clubhouse facilities, including an outdoor swimming pool.

Under the terms of the IH-10 zoning regulations, 20 percent of the dwellings or 45 units, would be designated as affordable housing, and would be rented out to income-eligible people at significantly lower rates than the 179 other dwellings, which would be offered at market rate prices.

At the southern section of the site, near Church Hill Road, the developer would construct two, two-story commercial buildings that would enclose more than 55,000 square feet of space. Those buildings are planned to hold a retail center, medical/dental offices, and a restaurant, according to the developer.

Drawings for the project indicate that the 224 rental apartments would include 116 one-bedroom units and 108 two-bedroom units, for a total of 332 bedrooms. There would be a total of 648 parking spaces provided, including 396 residential spaces, 170 spaces for the retail uses, and 82 spaces for the office uses. There would be nine six-vehicle garages for a total of 54 garaged vehicles, and three, eight-vehicle carports for a total of 24 vehicles with carport access.

Vehicles would travel to and from the property via four two-way driveways on Walnut Tree Hill Road. To regulate traffic flow in the area, the developer is asking the state Department of Transportation (DOT) to approve installation of traffic signals at the intersection of Church Hill Road and Walnut Tree Hill Road.

Other town boards to be involved in reviewing the project include: the Water & Sewer Authority (WSA) concerning the provision of sufficient sewage treatment capacity for wastewater discharged by such a complex; the Aquifer Protection Agency (APA) concerning protection of subterranean water along the eastern section of the site, which lies in the town’s Aquifer Protection District (APD); the Police Commission, which is the local traffic authority, concerning traffic flow related to the complex; the Board of Selectmen, which would act on any road work agreement between the town and the developer requiring the developer to improve town roads near the complex; and the Design Advisory Board (DAB), which met on February 5 for an initial review of Hunters Ridge aesthetics.

Also, various town departments make formal comments to the P&Z on the measures that the developer should take to make for a sound project.

The P&Z created the IH-10 zoning regulations in early 2015, before 79 Church Hill Road, LLC, had submitted its initial proposal for developing that site. Confusion over the actual number of dwellings proposed for the site, coupled with the developer’s inability to acquire sufficient sewage treatment capacity for the project from the WSA, resulted in that 2015 proposal falling through. Besides providing sewage treatment capacity, the WSA would need to expand the town’s central sewer district in order to include the land that proposed for construction.

Through IH-10 zoning, a developer creates affordable housing units, which meet the state’s definition of that term. The “incentive” that IH-10 zoning provides to developers is the ability to create commercial development at the site. The town, among other other municipalities, is under a state mandate to increase its stock of affordable housing.

The town created IH-10 zoning as an alternative to its previous Affordable Housing Development (AHD) zoning regulations, and also as an alternative to the state’s so-called “8-30g” process, which also is known as the Affordable Housing Appeals Act (AHAA).

Under the AHAA process, after a developer’s proposal for a multifamily housing complex, which includes some affordable housing units, is rejected by a municipality, that developer may file an appeal with a special state housing court. That court may then rule in favor of the developer, allowing the construction of the housing complex, under the premise that creating new affordable housing is necessary.

It was through the AHAA process that Danbury developer Guri Dauti gained court backing in 2009 to build the 26-unit Edona Commons condo complex on a 4.5-acre site on Church Hill Road in Sandy Hook Center. Mr Dauti, doing business as Dauti Construction, LLC, won two court appeals that he filed against the P&Z and the WSA in 2007 over their rejections of his project. The P&Z’s relevant AHD zoning rules would have not allowed Mr Dauti to construct as many as 26 dwellings.

Design Advisory Board

Trumbull developer Sirjohn Papageorge, managing partner of 79 Church Hill Road, LLC, and other company representatives met with members of the town’s Design Advisory Board (DAB) on February 5, for a preliminary review of Hunters Ridge’s aesthetics. Architect Erik Zambell of Granoff Architects of Greenwich presented drawings and renderings of the project.

DAB Chairman Phil Clark headed the review. DAB members Peter Cloudas, Kathy Geckle, and Frank Caico also took part. The DAB makes formal recommendations to the P&Z on aesthetics.

Mr Papageorge told DAB members, “We tried to make this [complex] as equestrian-looking as possible to [aesthetically] fit with the town.” The developer added, “The aesthetics are really important to us.”

Mr Caico asked that the applicant provide the DAB with true scale cross-sectional drawings of the site to help DAB members gauge how the site would appear to observers after the proposed structures are built. The apartment houses’ average height would be 45 feet, with building heights ranging from 30 to 55 feet.

Mr Caico suggested that the developer create vegetative buffers to visually break up the massing of the six apartment buildings. The developer proposes constructing the buildings on terraces on the sloping site.

Mr Papageorge pointed out that if he were to pursue an apartment complex construction project through the state’s AHAA process, the site could hold about 340 dwellings.

Mr Cloudas said it would be good to maintain the “forested” aspect of the town at the development site.
“We have the obligation to make sure it’s aesthetically pleasing,” Mr Clark said.

Ms Geckle suggested that the developer eliminate some of the proposed buildings from the project.
Mr Papageorge responded that significantly reducing the number of dwellings proposed would result in “no project.”
As an alternative to the plans presented to the DAB, Mr Caico suggested that the developer instead construct smaller apartment buildings.

In response, Mr Papageorge said the development firm has been working on the project for three and one-half years.
“We’ve invested a tremendous amount of money,” he added. “We’ve come down a number of units for the town,” he said, referring to the current proposal having fewer units than was previously proposed.

Mr Cloudas observed that the proposed construction has a nice appearance, adding that the project would be positive for the town. The complex would be built in a good location, he said.

Public Comment

DAB members solicited public comment at the session.

Ken Chimileski of 22 Walnut Tree Hill Road urged DAB members to consider how such a project would appear when observed from the residential Walnut Tree Hill Road. “This design would not fit the neighborhood,” he said.
Mr Chimileski asked why there would be no vehicle access to the site from Church Hill Road. An engineer for the developer responded that the DOT would not approve such access.

Sharon Hoyt of Walnut Tree Village asked “why such an ugly thing” should be built in Newtown, in reference to Hunters Ridge. Walnut Tree Village is a 212-unit age-restricted condo complex that lies across Walnut Tree Hill Road from the development site.

Linda Jones of 16 Walnut Tree Hill Road said, “This [Hunters Ridge] isn’t Newtown. This is not what we look like… Really, look at this [proposal] and look hard.”

The proposed development would look more like “Danbury” than “Newtown,” Ms Jones said.

Ms Jones said February 7 that a residents’ group known as Responsible Development in Newtown (RDN) has started an online petition in opposition to the Hunters Ridge proposal.

Mr Caico then suggested some changes to the proposed site design, which he said would improve the project’s appearance.

It is expected that DAB members will revisit Hunters Ridge’s aesthetics at an upcoming session.

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