Following a Sept. 21 public hearing, the Inland Wetlands Agency (IWA) approved its portion of a plan to construct a 342-unit apartment complex at 553 West Avenue. The project will be presented to the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) at a date to be determined.

The board voted 5-2 to grant Grillo Services a wetlands permit to construct two buildings with 342 total units and two parking garages with 512 spaces, plus an additional 12 surface parking spaces, with associated access drives and grading with work in and within 150 feet of the Beaver Brook watershed. The project is called The Preserve at Beaver Brook.

The motion to approve cited the project’s benefits to the area, stating that it would have “a minimal adverse environmental impact” and would improve conditions in an on-site detention pond.

The approval comes with a long list of conditions, outlining the steps that must take place during construction, and the monitoring that will take place after the project is completed.

This includes a detailed relocation plan for the on-site box turtles, a plan to control invasive plant species in the developed area of the property, and a maintenance plan with a cleaning schedule for the stormwater system. The use of pesticides and herbicides will be limited on the property. Apartment dwellers will not be permitted to wash cars or let pets roam freely.

Speaking in favor of the project, agency member Philip W. Zetye said, “I never heard of a development improving water quality,” commenting that the stormwater detention system is “a really impressive plan.”

Also supporting the project was agency member Kenneth W. Cowden who said oil, gasoline, garbage, and silt from I-95 end up in a pond by the highway. Cowden said the project would clean up the pond water, saying, “The water right now is in poor condition.” He said the relocation project also helps the turtles.

Agency member Daniel Schopick said what people think about the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law “is not pertinent and not something we are considering here.” Schopick said the developers have a right to use the property.

Agency members Lily Flannigan and David DeFlumeri voted against the project. Flannigan said she believed this was a better project than Grillo’s previous plan for a composting operation at the site, but expressed concern about the project size and said she wanted the swimming pool removed from the plans.

“I still think it’s a little intense. It uses every inch,” said Flannigan.

Commenting on the question of the pool, wetlands officer MaryRose Palumbo said the pool is more than 150 feet from the wetlands, and the agency has allowed pools 15 to 20 feet from the wetlands.

DeFlumeri said he was concerned about the long-term viability of the wetland area that will be created on the property that will replace an existing natural wetland that will be filled for the project’s driveway.

“I don’t think we should be trading off a viable natural wetland for ones that are made,” said DeFlumeri. “I would like to see a long-term study of created wetlands.”

Flannigan made a failed amendment to the motion to remove 52 units from the proposal, saying she wanted to remove the units closest to the wetlands border. She was the only agency member who voted in favor of the amendment.

Speaking against the amendment, agency member James D. Connors said, “The number [of apartments] on the project are important,” commenting that the 52 units are not affecting the wetlands.

“They are cleaning up the rotten water coming off I-95,” said Connors.

The initial presentation and public hearing took place on Sept. 7 at which eight residents spoke in opposition to the overall proposal, citing its effect on wildlife, including turtles, and the natural environment. No one spoke in favor of the plan.

Trail Use Discussed

The Sept. 21 hearing was focused on answering questions raised at the Sept. 7 hearing, plus allowing for public comment on the new information, and board feedback on the plans. About 25 residents were present on Sept. 21.

One resident spoke against the plans, expressing concern about the potential for erosion and dumping along the proposed walking trail. Another asked if an archeological survey had been done on the site.

Project engineer Alfred J. Mascia said the walking trail would be blocked by bollards, a barrier that would prevent anyone from driving onto the site and dumping trash, but would allow for fire department emergency access.

Landscape architect Eric Stolis said the more people who use the trail, the less likely dumping would take place and the more opportunities there would be for people to take care of the trail.

In response to the second question, agency chair Cathleen A. Collins said that archeological surveys was not a question for the IWA, and perhaps it could be raised at the P&Z.

Mascia presented his response to a project review letter from the city engineer, which included updates to the storm water management system. Mascia said six pipes from that system will feed into the wetlands, and a change in the design of the pipe outlet means water will flow at 1.5 cubic feet per second, which is less than the maximum recommended flow of 2.5 cubic feet per second.

Mascia said the engineer indicated an enhanced spill protection plan might be required. Mascia said he would create this when the project moves to P&Z. He said firefighters would normally use potable water to fight fires in the wood frame construction, and said that any water would be contained within the project’s drainage system. He also said the final landscaping plan would be created when the project went to P&Z.

Mascia said the storm water system is designed to handle water from storms of up to 100 years in intensity. He said most of the parking is covered on the lower levels of the garage. The upper, open level of the garage will feed into the stormwater system. By state regulations, the lower levels of the garage will have their drains feed into the sanitary sewer system.

Snow along the project roadways will be plowed onto the snow shelves along the side, as they would be on any city street, said Mascia. He said that snow from the top level of the garage would either be dumped in an approved area, or melted and drained into the storm drains.

Biologist Dr. Michael W. Klemens said the pond along I-95 has impaired water quality as indicated by the presence of bacteria that infected tadpoles. Klemens said this bacteria is “very virulent” and could spread.

Commenting on the turtle relocation plan, Klemens said the survey was comprehensive enough that he believes they counted most of the turtles, which was five. He said they could have missed a few turtles, but there is not likely to be 10 to 15 more turtles. He said the new area of 6 acres is comparable in size and better in habitat quality than the existing 7-acre site.

“In my professional opinion, six acres is more than enough to sustain them,” said Klemens, saying the turtles could live to be 125 years old.

The apartment plan is being submitted under the state’s affordable housing law, 8-30g, which requires setting aside 30 percent of the units for rent at rates below market rates to people earning 80% and 60% or less of the area’s median income. The law does not affect the wetlands review process, but does override local zoning regulations.

Grillo has a contract to purchase the 57.33-acre property from Kingdom Life Christian Church, pending project approval by the P&Z.