Neighbors petition against 180 apartments on Wheelers Farms Road

UPDATE: Call it reality television — Milford style. On one side was a developer proposing a large apartment complex with an affordable component. Facing off against the plan were nearby residents of single-family home owners.
Milford Developers LLC of Chatham, N.J. presented a plan to the Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) for a 180-unit apartment complex on a 26-acre parcel behind the Merritt Crossing office building at 440 Wheelers Farms Road, and south of the Crown Corporate Campus office buildings at 470 Wheelers Farms Road.
About 100 residents nearly filled the seats in the first floor of the City Hall auditorium on May 19 during the 2.5-hour public hearing before the P&Z. A steady stream of residents stepped to the podium to voice their opposition, citing concerns about traffic safety and density on East Rutland and Wheelers Farms roads. Some residents also expressed concern about storm water runoff from the property.
The application is being filed under 8-30g of the Connecticut General Statues, which overrides local zoning regulations, but not inland-wetlands regulations.
The P&Z hearing will resume on June 16 at 7:30 p.m. in the City Hall auditorium. The board continued the hearing, as it awaits reports and decisions from the Police Commission and the Inland-Wetlands agencies. The public will be able to comment during that hearing, following the applicant presentation.
Two other hearings are also planned on the proposal. The Police Commission will meet on Monday, June 8 at 7 p.m. at police headquarters, 430 Boston Post Road to review the traffic plan for the project.
The Inland-Wetlands hearing will continue on Wednesday, June 3 at 7:30 p.m. in the Board of Education meeting room of the Parsons Government Complex. The IWA has until June 14 to make a decision.
The applicant will present a condensed version of the original wetlands presentation at that meeting so the public may hear that information before having an opportunity to comment. The May 13 meeting was moved from the Parsons building to City Hall, but the room change was not posted, so most members of the public did not hear the initial presentation.
Proposed Zone Change
Attorney Timothy Hollister started the P&Z presentation for Milford Developers, saying the developer had revised the plans based on input from City Planner David B. Sulkis. Hollister also provided the board with a revised plan for the affordable units, using 2015 federal data. In addition, he provided the board with updated traffic counts.
The application has three components: The proposed addition of Article III, Section 3.25 to the zoning regulations calling for a Housing Opportunity District (HOD). These proposed regulations are site specific and therefore would not apply to other land in Milford. Section 3.24 is the city's Open Space Affordable Housing Development Multi-Family District, designed specifi-cally for 8-30g proposals on a minimum lot size of 20 acres.
The second component is a petition for a zone change from DO-25 (Design Office) and R-A (one-acre residential) to the proposed HOD zone. Finally, the applicant asked for approval to construct the rental community.
Hollister said the HOD is modeled on Milford's existing regulations for multi-family housing. He said some 8-30g applications are presented only in the form of a site plan, which he said creates a non-conforming use.
Commenting on the issue of zoning enforcement, Hollister said, “If you don't have clear rules, everyone is at sea.”
Without a specific zone, he said there are no clear regulations to guide the city, the developer, and neighbors about what can legally be built on that property. Hollister said having a designated zone also makes it easier for the developer to obtain financing.
“This is the best policy for everyone involved,” said Hollister.
Discussing input from other boards, Hollister said the Conservation Commission supported the proposed conservation easement of 11.5 acres, but asked for a plan to remove invasive plant species from the property and replant the area with native plant species.
“We are prepared to do that,” said Hollister.
The Police Commission asked Milford Developers to repair the inoperative traffic light for the property at Wheelers Farm Road, which the applicant will do at its own expense. The applicant also agreed with the Police Commission that the sewer easement to East Rutland Road would be used only for emergency access.
“Under no circumstances is that going to be a vehicular access for residents. It will be gated at both ends,” said Hollister. “We welcome that as a condition of approval.”
Previously Clear Cut Property
Project Engineer John Gilmore presented aerial photos of the property, showing changes in the property over time. A 1990 photo showed how the area where the apartments and parking lot will be located was cleared as part of the work done to construct the Merritt Crossing office build-ing.
A 2004 aerial picture showed the area with plants growing, which he said are invasive plant species. Another view showed the proposed apartment buildings and parking lots with an overlay of an office building and parking lot that would have been somewhat smaller than the footprint of the current proposal.
A graphic of the apartment plans on the aerial view show the buildings and parking lot tightly bounded on the west by the Daniel S. Wasson Connector, on the north by the parking lot for the Crown Corporate Campus, on the east by the band of wetlands cutting through the middle of the property, and on the south by the powerline right of way.
The apartments would be built in nine buildings totaling 180 units in the rear portion of the site. There would be seven buildings for detached garages, plus a clubhouse with related in-ground pool and patio. There will be 62 one-bedroom units, 100 two-bedroom units, and 17 three-bedroom units.
There will be 352 parking spaces, comprised of 290 surface parking spaces, and the rest in garages. This equates to 1.9 parking spaces per unit, said Gilmore. Total building coverage is 2.1 acres, while the parking lots and access road will add another 5.5 acres of impervious surface, said Gilmore.
The wood frame apartments will have sprinkler systems and full utilities, including natural gas and sanitary sewers. The parking lots will have 53 freestanding light poles that are 14 feet high.
“There will be no residual light emanating from the site,” said Gilmore.
Gilmore said the plans call for a conservation easement on 11.5 of the parcel's 26 acres, which includes a 1.5-acre existing easement for high-tension power-lines that cross the property.
Gilmore said the storm water management system consists of basins that will collect and detain water before slowly discharging the water into the wetlands. He said there would be no filling of wetlands or other direct impacts to the wetlands. A rain garden will collect water from a 100-foot section of the sewer easement that would be paved on a steep slope near the building. The rest of the sewer easement would re-main as a gravel road.
Gilmore said some excavation would take place with 17,000 cubic yards of rocks and dirt to be cut and moved within the site to achieve the desired grading. He said an additional 8,300 cubic yards of fill would be brought to the site for the same purpose. He said that equates to 550 dump truck loads over a 12-month period or an average of three truck trips per day.
Traffic and Parking Data
Traffic Engineer David Sullivan said traffic evaluations started in 2013 and he did another traffic study in March 2015 to update the data.
“The findings are essentially the same,” said Sullivan.
Area intersections have “generally a good level of service.” Sullivan said there is no pattern of accidents. He said the site will not add to any safety concerns and that the area roadways can handle the traffic generated by the apartments. He estimates the apartments will generate 95 trips in the peak morning hour and 115 trips in the peak afternoon hour.
Sullivan said the Police Commission tabled the proposal for three reasons: Concern over access to East Rutland Road, the status of the traffic light on Wheelers Farms Road, and the number of proposed parking spaces.
Commenting on the East Rutland Road access, Sullivan said, “Clearly that will be emergency access only.” Sullivan gave a history of the traffic light, saying it went from a full light, to a blink-ing light, to one that was shorted out by an electrical fire. He said it could cost up to $100,000 to put it back into service.
With regard to parking, Sullivan said he has been collecting data back to 2000 to help determine the right amount of parking for multi-family housing. The study covered 20 sites in suburban towns, including the two Avalon properties in Milford. He said the range was 1.2 to 1.5 parking spaces per unit, which is “significantly lower” than the 1.95 spaces proposed in this plan.
Architect James Riviello said the seven three-story buildings will be 35 feet in height with pitched roofs, dormers, gable ends, and double hung windows. There will be brick on the first floor of the front façades. Two buildings will have first-level parking units above them.
Holister said the one-bedroom units will range from 658 to 902 square feet, the two-bedroom units will range from 1,028 to 1,529 square feet, and the three-bedroom units will be 1,350 square feet.
Rents for the units will be grouped into three categories, market rate, and an affordable rate for 54 of the units for those making up to 60% of the area's median income and those making between 60 and 80% of the median income. The affordable rents will be in effect for 40 years.
Maximum rents for the one-bedroom affordable units are $822 and $1,028 for those in the 60% and 80% category respectively. For the two-bedroom affordable units, the maximum rents are $1,016 and $1,307; for the three-bedroom affordable units, the maximum rents are $1,198 and $1,647, said Hollister. Market rate rents are $1,700, $2,200 and $2,400 for the one-, two-, and three-bedroom units respectively.
Hollister said the project would generate enough “points” under the 8-30g statute that Milford would qualify for a four-year moratorium against further 8-30g applications. Milford needs 118 to qualify for the moratorium and this project would generate 126 points.
In response to questions from the board about how many children the apartments would have, Hollister said, “one and two-bedroom units generate very low numbers of school-age children.” He said that three-bedroom units would have children.
Hollister estimated the total site would have 25 children. With regard to activities for children, Hollister said the site has a clubhouse and pool, and, if needed, the developer could add a tot lot. In response to residents' concerns at the meeting, he said the developer could also build a school bus shelter on Wheelers Farms Road with an access walkway from the apartments.
Residents' Concerns
A total of 22 residents ex-pressed opposition to the project, asking the board to deny the applications. When each speaker concluded his or her remarks, there was applause from those in the audience, and sometimes cheering.
June O'Connell of 102 East Rutland Road presented a petition that she said had 500 signatures in opposition. O'Connell said the signatures were gathered in three to four days by standing near a sign on East Rutland Road, and two days at Xpect Discounts.
“The traffic is terrible and extremely dangerous. East Rutland Road cannot stand any more traffic. My stone wall has been repeatedly knocked down,” said O'Connell, who also said she has had pets struck by cars. She also expressed concern about existing stormwater runoff, which she said would increase with this project.
John Richardson of 103 East Rutland Road said the access road is to the right of his house. Richardson said East Rutland Road is so narrow that a large fire truck could not make the turn onto the access road.
Ruth Krasenics of 86 East Rutland Road said that East Rutland and Wheelers Farms Roads “were not intended for multi-family housing.” Krasenics said people would use East Rutland Road to access the site, saying her driveway is opposite the access road. She said the area is already too busy with traffic headed to Cornerstone Christian Center, Filanowski Farm, South-wick of Milford, and the office buildings.
“People are moving away from Milford due to overcrowding, not due to a lack of affordable housing,” said Krasenics.
Edmund Ramos of 139 Pine Knob Terrace said he moved to Milford in 1939 and lived in a house on Wheelers Farms Road. Ramos said there are 33 houses on the road between the connector and the Wilbur Cross Park-way.
“By approval of this zone, you will not only double the population, you will triple and quadruple it. You tell me there is not a traffic problem when there is a traffic problem today,” said Ramos.
Alderman Greta Stanford (D) of 32 Spice Bush Lane said, “If they need a zone change, maybe they shouldn't build it.” Stanford said she believed the estimates of how many schoolchildren would live in the apartments was low.
“I think 60 is too low. Two-bedroom and three-bedroom homes are built for kids,” said Stanford.
Lisa Iaffaldanodiprato of 166 East Rutland Road said she collected more than 150 signatures against the proposal while sitting at a table in front of her house in only two days. She said the school district agreed to move her son's bus stop in front of her house because there were no sidewalks to allow him to walk safely to the previous stop at Lexington Green South.
Rocco Frank of 44 Lexington Way North said, “One of the things I have been concerned about is how an unelected judge can trump the power of an elected board…Who controls our town? Is it you [the P&Z] or the state of Connecticut?”
Douglas Labrecque of 311 West Rutland Road said this was his second appearance before the board because he previously spoke against an 8-30g proposal for 257 apartments at 460 Bic Drive, which the board denied and the developer appealed to court. He said the two plans mean he would be living between more than 400 units.
“There will be serious traffic because of that,” said Labrecque.
Ruth Telep of 41 East Rutland Road, who said she lives 14 feet from the access road, said her fence has been taken down six times by motor vehicle accidents.
“Big money throws a big shadow,” said Telep. “They should donate the property if they really want to help Milford.”