No P&Z vote yet on Wheelers Farms Road apartment plan
The Planning and Zoning Board is scheduled to discuss and vote on Aug. 4 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall on a proposed 180-unit apartment complex on Wheelers Farms Road.
The board closed the public hearing on July 21, listening to final comments from residents concerned about the potential effect the development will have on their properties, including increased flooding, more traffic, damage from blasting, and the effects of possible oils, contaminants, and pesticides in the soil.
Milford Developers LLC of Chatham, N.J., filed its application for the 26-acre parcel behind the Merritt Crossing office building at 440 Wheelers Farms Road, under the state's affordable housing law, 8-30g, which overrides local zoning regulations.
At its July 15 meeting, the Inland-Wetlands Agency (IWA) unanimously approved the wetlands aspect of the application, attaching 15 conditions to the approval, all of which the developer agreed to meet. These include measures to protect the conservation area, removing debris from the property, and testing stormwater runoff during earth moving operations.
Timothy Hollister, attorney for Milford Developers, shared the IWA approval with the P&Z at the July 21 meeting. Hollister said the proposal has been presented 22 times before various Milford boards and commissions.
Hollister responded to a July 7 letter from Dr. Brian Jones of the University of Connecticut, who is also the state archeologist, regarding the requirements for an archeological survey on the property.
Hollister said the property is not receiving any government subsidies, which would trigger a level of review. He said the topsoil has been scraped away from the ground in the development area.
“He [Jones] said if aerial photos showed a disturbance, there would be no need for an archeological survey,” said Hollister. At previous public hearings, Hollister presented aerial photos over time, showing site changes, primarily those related to earth moving for the office building at 440 Wheelers Farms Road.
In its current form, the project has changed since the original application, including the relocation of proposed buildings on the site with the intent of protecting the conservation area, and a change in one unit from two-bedrooms to one, lowering the bedroom count to 315.
City Planner David B. Sulkis said Fire Marshal Gary R. Baker reviewed and approved the revised project plans.
Residents share concerns
About 25 people attended the hearing for the proposal with 13 speaking in opposition. Most of those who spoke have voiced their opinions at past hearings before the P&Z and other city agencies.
June O'Connell of 102 East Rutland Road said, “These applicants have lied,” adding, “It is almost impossible to follow” all the plan changes and to keep up with the presentations before the various boards.
O'Connell said the plans labeled the sewer easement on East Rutland Road as an emergency access route, but she said fire officials indicated they would never drive a heavy truck on that gravel road. She presented additional signatures against the plan, saying it brings the number in opposition to “just shy of 1,500 against it.” She requested deep soil testing, calling on the testing followed by resubmittal of the plans.
Jane King of 159 Wheelers Farms Road presented a hand drawn map of the area, showing how traffic from the project would heavily impact Wheelers Farms Road.
King said the road is “very busy with traffic” due to three office complexes, Lexington Green, and development north of the Wilbur Cross Parkway. She said the problem would only worsen with this project, a planned addition to Southwick of Milford, and future development on Wolf Harbor Road.
“The developer said the majority of people will not go down Wheelers Farms Road,” said King. She said people using the parkway, or connecting to I-95 North would use the Daniel S. Wasson Connector. However, she said people would drive down Wheelers Farms Road to connect to I-95 South and to shopping on the Boston Post Road.
Mark Weber of 54 Lookout Hill Road said there are “gray areas to explore” within the 8-30g law, and said, “Your hands are not tied.”
Todd Nichols of 25 Chevelle Place urged the board to do “phase two” environmental testing, saying there may be asbestos and lead on the site from its past automotive use.
“What protection do my children have from lead exposure from blasting and construction?” asked Nichols, saying his question also applied to the children who would be living in the apartments. “You have the power to condition. The police denied it. You can deny it.”
Ruth Krasenics of 86 East Rutland Road called for a mandatory archeological survey, saying Indian artifacts have been found on the site and at nearby Baldwin Station. Krasenics said Jones is waiting for the city to send him maps for the area, which Board Chairman Benjamin Gettinger said have been sent.
“He [Jones] believes an archeological survey should be done,” said Krasenics, who asked the board to deny the project for reasons of flooding, safety, traffic, and soil contamination. “In-dians would leave the shore in the winter and go a mile inland. This is the perfect site.”
Retired City Historian Richard Platt of 132 Platt Lane gave an overview of the site's history, saying a pest house for smallpox victims was built in 1774 in the Wheelers Farms and East Rutland Road areas. He said the victims would be buried nearby the pox house, which was built away from the populated center of town.
“I am unable to pinpoint the exact location of the pest house, but an archeological survey of the area is very likely to find it and the burial area as well,” said Platt. “The whole area is one of the prime sites in Milford which should be surveyed by a competent archaeological team.”
Stephen Povroznik of 312 Wheelers Farms Road told the board, “Raise my taxes to fight this or any 8-30g application.” Povroznik said he was opposed to the proposal based on safety, flooding, environmental, and traffic concerns, saying he would prefer an office building.
In his concluding remarks, Hollister said the application is in the best interests of Milford because it provides needed affordable housing for moderate-income workers, and will help Milford achieve a threshold that would give the city a four-year moratorium on further 8-30g applications. He said the one- and two-bedroom units will generate more in taxes than they will cost in city services.
“This application received outright praise from an environmental consultant,” said Hollister. “We are cleaning up somebody else's mess. It's a good site for this kind of development.”
With regard to a potential archeology survey, Hollister said based on the aerial photos showing site disturbance, there is no need to perform a survey. He said the application received approval from every city board, except the Police Commission, which said it could not approve the proposal because it did not conform to the city's parking regulations.
This plan has 1.96 parking spaces per unit, or a total of 352 parking spaces. P&Z requires two parking spaces for one-bedroom units, and three parking spaces for two- or three-bedroom units, resulting in a requirement for 477 parking spaces.