Should town assume responsibility for detention basins in exchange for 1.5 acres of open space?

ORANGE - At the recent Inland Wetlands and Water Course Commission's public hearing on the proposed development of the Norma Treat property by Pennsylvania-based developer Toll Brothers, a new proposal was presented that could have extensive implications for the Town of Orange.

Attorney Bernard Pelligrino asked First Selectman Mitchell Goldblatt to present a proposal to IWC that would give the Town of Orange approximately 1.5 acres of land (which would include two detention basins) in exchange for the Town of Orange assuming the responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of those two basins.

This proposal is on the agenda for the Board of Selectmen meeting to be held Wednesday, August 8, at 7:30 p.m. at the Town Hall. The land the Town would receive is Lot 19 which contains the largest stormwater detention basin and the bottom portion of Lot 1 which contains a smaller detention basin and abutts Grassy Hill Road.

According to site plans, the larger basin will be 150 feet by 300 feet and accommodate over 700,000 gallons of runoff that will then drain from the basin. The public is welcome to attend this meeting and share their thoughts and suggestions on the issue. The developer felt that a proposed greenway, that is under consideration for town-owned property adjacent to the Treat property, could then be extended along Grassy Hill Road.

The application before IWC is to build 25 homes on 39 acres of sloping property that have been in the Treat family since the 1600s. The property is bordered by Grassy Hill Road, Meeting House Lane Ext, and Ridge Road.

Responsibility for the maintenance of the three detention basins planned for this development has been a matter of concern to both the Commission and to the Wepawaug Shores Homeowners Association.

Commission members have been questioning Pelligrino at the public hearing regarding who has liability for the basins if they become clogged or malfunction. The original plan set forth by Toll Brothers allowed for responsibility to fall to a homeowners association made up of the owners of the twenty-five homes they wish to build. The owners would pay dues to the association to finance the on-going work necessary to keep the detention basins working properly.

Goldblatt said, "After listening to the first public hearing, I felt that there might be some way to alleviate the concerns of the people of the Wepawaug Shores Association by working out an agreement with the developer and that agreement would detail the Town accepting responsibility of two of the detention basins, putting the fears of the Wepawaug Shores Association members to rest. In return, the townspeople would be receiving additional acreage of open space that would be adjacent to the already town-owned Wright property; and, in addition, the developer would provide the Town with a monetary settlement that would allow the Town to maintain the basins on a perpetual basis."

The Wepawaug Shores Association is comprised of the 33 homeowners that are responsible for Lake Wepawaug. Lake Wepawaug is part of the Wepawaug River and the Treat property is part of the watershed for the Wepawaug River.

"The Lake Association is concerned about the ability of the new homeowners association to adequately clean the detention ponds on a regular basis," said Atty. Ed Cantor who is a member of the Wepawaug Shores Association.

"From our point of view, we would prefer that the Town perform that task. But it is essential that the town be paid by the developer for assuming a liability that would either belong to the developer or the new homeowners association."

The Lake Association hired Professional Engineer Donald T. Ballou to review the proposed construction of the detention basins. At the public hearing Ballou explained that these retention basins are essentially dams and should meet standards set forth by the CT Department of Environmental Protection.

In his written report, Ballou recommended that the detention basin hydraulics, hydrology, and the physical attributes of the basins be reviewed by the DEP Dam Safety Unit. He maintained that, as currently set forth, the proposal is not in accordance with DEP standards.

Selectwoman Dorothy Berger, who has attended the two public hearings held by the IWC said she was amazed by Goldblatt's actions.

"I was surprised he got involved in discussions that were between the IWC Commission and the public," she said. When asked how she felt about the Town adding the two basins to its current work load, Berger said she didn't have enough information to answer.

"We (the Board of Selectmen) will need to review the ramifications of the Town getting involved and answer such questions as what our liability will be and how that might impact the Town."

The continuation of the Inland Wetlands and Water Course Commission public hearing to discuss the Orange Estates Subdivision is scheduled for Tuesday, August 14, at 8 p.m. at the Orange Town Hall.