Neighbors continue Seaside Avenue housing battle
Neighbors of a proposed nine-unit housing complex with three affordable units at 214-224 Seaside Avenue faced off again with the project developer in a June 21 public hearing before the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) at City Hall.
About 30 residents attended the hearing, with six speaking in opposition, voicing the same concerns for the revised plans that they expressed at the March 1 public hearing for the original proposal.
The board closed the public hearing and will likely discuss and vote on the proposal at its July 5 meeting at City Hall. The project needs a special permit, coastal management site plan review approval, and site plan review approval.
Jeffrey Gordon, landscape architect, site planner, and president of Codespoti & Associates, presented updated plans on behalf of property owner Eugenia Debowski. Gordon told the board his intent was to address the reasons behind the board’s decision to deny the original plans.
The board unanimously denied those plans on April 5, stating that the sightlines at the project driveway were insufficient for the speed at which people are driving on Seaside Avenue. The denial also included the statement that existing residents have a right to keep their neighborhood as single-family properties.
Gordon said the second reason was not an appropriate reason to deny the project because the plans call for single-family detached homes. He said that zoning is subject to change, and said the Milford zoning regulations contain guidelines for how zones may be changed.
“I want to focus on the sightlines,” Gordon told the board, saying the board made an “erroneous decision” when it denied the project based on this reason.
Gordon said the highway safety manual standards for an intersection or major commercial driveway do not apply to a residential driveway serving nine units.
“Applying that higher standard would be inappropriate,” said Gordon.
In the new plans, the house at 224 Seaside Avenue would be demolished. The two garages originally planned for 214 Seaside Ave. would instead be located at 224 Seaside Avenue. A single-family cottage would be built at 214 Seaside Avenue, along with the seven cottages originally proposed for the rear of the property. The existing house at 214 Seaside Avenue would remain.
The driveway at 214 Seaside Avenue would be used to access the property with the driveway at 224 Seaside Avenue reserved for emergency access only. Motorists entering at 214 Seaside Avenue would head north along the property border to access the parking areas and garages. The exception would be 214 Seaside Avenue, which has its own driveway and garage.
Gordon said based on the speed counts along Seaside Avenue with southbound traffic traveling at an average of 33 mph and northbound traffic traveling at an average of 34 mph, the required sightline to the north at 214 Seaside Avenue is 368 feet and the project has 371 feet. The sightline to the south needs to be at least 379 feet and is “well in excess of 1,000 feet,” he said.
He cautioned the board that it has to focus on the site plan revisions. Gordon said that in a court case, Avalon Bay vs. the town of Orange, the Inland-Wetlands Commission denied a project, and when Avalon Bay addressed the issues of concern, “The commission tried to find new reasons for denial and the judge said you can’t look for new reasons.”
Tracey Casey of 4 Amber Lane said the 19 residents opposed to the initial plan had formed a neighborhood group, and hired Kermit Hua, traffic engineer, to perform a traffic study, which he presented at the March 2 hearing. Casey said they again hired him at their expense to review the new plans.
Casey said the group is not opposed to affordable housing, but had safety concerns with this plan. She said two weeks prior to the hearing, she was prepared to turn left from Amber Lane onto Seaside Avenue when a car came speeding around the bend.
“Had I not slammed on my brakes, there would have been a nasty accident,” said Casey.
Donald DeForge of 17 Meadowside Road said ambulances and private cars use Seaside Avenue to access the emergency center at nearby Milford Hospital. He said he was recently following cars on Seaside Avenue to see how fast they were traveling, and most were traveling at least 35 mph.
Shally Leslie of 234 Seaside Avenue criticized the new driveway arrangement, saying the configuration forces eight residents to drive back and forth in lanes along the front of the property. She said at night that might confuse drivers on Seaside Avenue, seeing traffic parallel to the road.
“Southbound residents have to make a sharp U-turn onto the property,” said Leslie.
Board member Thomas Nichol said when people turn right into the project, they are “8.9 feet from blinding people on that road [Seaside Avenue]. He asked Gordon what would stop the headlights of on-site vehicles from blinding those on Seaside Avenue.
Gordon said in a June 23 email, “That’s a ridiculous question…I can’t address such a question,” commenting that there is no separation between the two lanes of traffic on Seaside Avenue and the internal driveway is 23 feet from the road and separated from the road by shrubs and trees.
Hua and Gordon criticized the methodology of the other’s work in calculating the driveway sightlines.
Hua said he took measurements on June 15, measuring 15 feet back from the curbline. He calculated a sightline to the north of 320 feet, short of the required 368 feet, and a sightline to the south of 500 feet, exceeding the required 379 feet.
Hua said people traveling south on Seaside Avenue have a winding road with a crest approaching the site. He said a review of area accidents show that they can be attributed to the roadway geometry.
“I have seen no improvements to address the roadway deficiencies,” said Hua. “The sight distances looking left will not meet DOT requirements, major driveway or not.”
Hua said the revised plans have the additional safety concern that the driveway is only 130 feet from Meadowside Road, saying people turning onto Seaside Avenue are looking for a break in traffic and would not be looking at a driveway.
“It would not be advisable to put a high volume driveway in that functional area,” said Hua, referring to the intersection of the two roads. He ended his presentation by criticizing the available room for cars to drive on the property.
In his response, Gordon said survey technicians under the supervision of licensed land surveyors did the measurements. He said he was not sure how Hua could have done the measurements by himself, saying it takes two people to measure these distances.
“I still object to Mr. Hua’s use of the term ‘high-volume driveway,’” said Gordon, saying the residential driveway is not required to meet DOT standards for intersections and commercial driveways, but it does.
In his rebuttal, Hua said landscape architects and surveyors are “not expert traffic engineers.” Commenting on Gordon’s figures, Hua said, “They did it at the wrong location.” He said the DOT manual says measurements should be taken 15 feet from the curb and Gordon took his 10 feet from the curb.
Christopher Cody, an attorney working with Gordon, responded to Hua by saying that Hua applied the incorrect higher site distance required by an intersection to this driveway. He said that Hua’s criticism of the on-site parking was irrelevant.
Cody said the traffic engineer hired by the city said, “This is a residential low-volume driveway.” He said that traffic engineer discussed a variety of ways to mitigate the site lines, including traffic control signals, stop signs, and warning signs. The engineer said it was appropriate to use the 10-foot distance, and that sightlines could be improved by removing trees and shrubs.
“There have been no crashes in the last three years due to pulling out of driveways,” said Cody. When the board denied the original project, it needed to show evidence of health and safety concerns, he added.
“The record did not show that,” said Cody.
The 0.46-acre property at 214 Seaside Avenue has a 2,100 square foot home constructed in 1947, while the 0.72-acre lot at 224 Seaside Avenue has an 1,800 square foot home constructed in 1900. The two properties total 1.18 acres.
Gordon said each cottage would be about 1,200 square feet. The cottages would have sprinklers. The project would include 10 garage parking spaces and 12 surface parking spaces.
The plan was filed under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law, which supersedes local zoning regulations. If the P&Z chooses to reject the revised plans, for the court to sustain the denial, the P&Z has to prove the project poses a hazard to public health, safety or welfare, a threat that outweighs the need for affordable housing.