Development near landfill moves closer to approval
ORANGE - A large group of town residents were in attendance last Tuesday night to continue to express their concerns for a proposed settlement between the town and an affordable housing developer that could pave the way for 63 age-restricted units.
Residents led, in part, by Clem Evangeliste raised concern the site of the proposed project is behind the town's transfer station.
"Our concern is it's a landfill and they are building on a landfill. A history of building on landfills is not good. It will be dangerous," Evangeliste said.
Evangeliste was referring, in part, to information obtained after the close of the public hearing on the proposed development that the residents tried unsuccessfully to get read into the record. However Town Plan and Zoning Chairman Walter E. Clark repeatedly told the residents that the public hearing had been closed and they could only make their decision based on information in the record at the time the hearing closed.
That information, found on the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency's Web site, reports on an 11-acre site used from 1920 to 1967 as a municipal landfill in Southington. Subsequently in the 1970s the landfill was sold for residential housing. It is close proximity to a municipal well and is located 1,800 feet from the Quinnipiac River.
In 1989 the well was permanently closed because the groundwater analysis indicated the presence of volatile organic compounds at levels that exceeded state standards.
The site became a superfund site. All buildings on the site had to be removed.
Clean up for the site took years to complete costing in the area of $20 million with the town of Southington's portion being in the range of $5 to $7 million.
The TPZ decided to hold off on voting to either approve or reject the proposed settlement. Earlier this month the wetlands commission unanimously voted to settle the prolonged legal battle with Ravenswood Homes Developer Dean Fiske, of Cheshire, who has been attempting to develop the parcel behind the town's transfer station since 2002.
Fiske has been proposing to construct Lakeside Village, a six-building complex with 72 units with 30 percent, or 22 units, affordable housing. The Inland Wetlands and Town Plan and Zoning commission's both previously denied the project citing health, safety, and welfare concerns.
Recently, Fiske and town officials have been in negotiations to settle the legal dispute, which includes a reduction of nine units.
Clark said members of the commission met in executive session Tuesday night to review the draft agreement. He said the members asked for a final draft, and will likely vote 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 at Town Hall.
Clark said members of the commission want to take their time in reviewing the documents.
"We don't want to forget items. We want to make sure no bases are not covered in the agreement," Clark said.
Clark said a lot of the concerns raised by members of the public are the same concerns shared by commissioners. He said he is concerned that hazard waste could be coming from the dump that once operated there.
"When you have a buried dump site you're not sure what chemicals there are," Clark said. "We don't know what is there."
Evangeliste said residents are concerned that when construction occurs contaminants may be disturbed endangering residents who live nearby. He said residents are speaking out because they want to make sure that anyone that buys an apartment knows what they are getting themselves into. He also acknowledged that it's likely the town will approve the settlement because the developer is using the state's affordable housing statute as leverage.
"We would not take any action that puts the health and safety of Orange residents in danger," Clark said at the meeting.
Typically, courts side with affordable housing developers instead of municipalities in legal disputes unless a community has 10 percent of its housing stock dedicated as affordable under state guidelines.
Fiske said two weeks ago that he was pleased with the wetlands approval and wanted to refrain from further comment until the zoning commission voted. Fiske purchased the land behind the transfer station surrounded by Mallard Lane and Margaret Drive for about $400,000 in 2002.