Opposition to Bic Drive apartments focuses on traffic, safety and congestion

About 60 people attended a Feb. 3 Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) public hearing, with 16 people voicing their opposition to a proposed 257-unit apartment building with an affordable component at 460 Bic Drive, at the corner of Naugatuck Avenue.

The four-story 204,096-square-foot building would be 55 feet tall above the average grade on the 7.69-acre property. The parcel is located in an Office District (OD), which only allows one single-family homes, and limits any building to 35 feet in height.

Garden Homes Residential of Stamford submitted the plan under the state's affordable housing regulations, Connecticut General Statute 8-30g, which overrides local zoning regulations.

Under the state law, 30% of the units have to be set aside for a 40-year period to be rented at below-market rates to people in two income bands: 60% or less of the area's median income, and greater than 60% to 80% of the area's median income. There will be 20 studio apartments, and 58 one-bedroom units designated as affordable.

The first hearing on Jan. 20 was dominated by presentations by various experts for Garden Homes. They followed up at the Feb. 3 meeting with answers to questions raised at the Jan. 20 meeting. The final public hearing will be on Tuesday, Feb. 17 at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.

Joseph Coci, managing director of Mountain Development Corp, requested time for his staff to analyze the proposal, and to prepare more detailed comments. The company owns the 625,000-square-foot industrial complex on the adjacent property at 500 Bic Drive.

The proposal

The proposed H-shaped, four-story apartment building will have 194 one-bedroom apartments and 63 studio apartments. The building would have 322 parking spaces, averaging 1.25 spaces per unit, and Garden Homes could add 42 more parking spaces if needed.

Attorney Thomas Lynch, who represents Garden Homes, said there were four issues raised at the Jan. 20 public hearing: Proximity of the building to the Iroquois gas pipeline, water pressure in the area, sidewalks along the property line, and traffic counts for Schoolhouse Road at Rt. 1.

In response to the questions about the gas pipeline, Lynch said, “We do not feel this is a zoning concern,” saying the building will not be constructed over the pipeline, only the parking area will be over the pipeline, and any construction would be done under the supervision of Iroquois.

Following discussion with representatives from the South Central Regional Water Authority (RWA), Lynch said the apartment plans have been amended to include water pressure pumps. He said the RWA indicated there is sufficient water in the street mains, and the booster pumps will be used if there is any issue with water pressure.

At the Jan. 20 meeting, Professional Engineer Steven Trinkaus, who designed the plans for Garden Homes, said the topography of the site, combined with the water detention system, would prohibit installation of sidewalks along Naugatuck Avenue.

At the Feb. 3 hearing, Lynch said Trinkhaus has revised the plans to include sidewalks along both Naugatuck Avenue and Bic Drive, commenting, “We have conceded that issue.” Lynch said the applicant is also willing to modify the landscaping plans to include a wider variety of trees, as recommended by the Milford Tree Commission.

Traffic counts

Traffic Engineer Bruce Hillson presented traffic counts for the junction of Schoolhouse Road with Rt. 1, saying the level of service during the morning times of 7 to 9 a.m. was Level B, and during the afternoon times of 4 to 6 p.m. was Level D on a A to F scale where A is best.

If the apartment is not built, Hillson predicts traffic volume will increase by 1.5% per year. He said the intersection would continue to operate at the same level of service.

If the apartment is built, he estimates about 21 trips from the apartments would use the Rt. 1 intersection during the highest volume hour in the morning. He said about 27 cars associated with the apartment would use the intersection during the afternoon peak hour. These trips would be from all possible directions.

Hillson engaged in a back and forth discussion with board member Jim Quish, who raised the concern about that intersection at both the Jan. 20 and Feb. 3 meetings. Quish questioned Hillson's calculations that 143 trips would leave the apartments during the morning peak hour, and there would be 174 trips during the afternoon peak hour, about two-thirds of those returning.

“That number seems a bit low,” said Quish, further commenting, “It seems the likelihood that more than 20 cars per hour will hit the Post Road.”

In response, Hillson said, “The numbers at Rt. 1 are considerably lower because of other opportunities to turn off, including I-95.” He said when he has conducted traffic counts following construction of a project, the numbers are close to the predicted counts.

Quish said there are times he has sat through two to three cycles of the light while waiting on Schoolhouse Road to turn onto Rt. 1.

Hillson said there are 300 cars traveling southbound on Schoolhouse to Rt. 1 in the peak hour. He estimates the apartment will add 17 more cars.

“Everything has been submitted to the state Department of Transportation (DOT) for their review. They have agreed with our analysis,” said Hillson.

Lynch then joined the discussion by saying, “Think about what could be built on that property.” He said zoning would allow a 96,000-square-foot office building, hotel or motel with 385 parking spaces.

“What we are proposing is less of a traffic imposition than we could build by right in the zone,” said Lynch.

Business Opposition

Starting the public comment period was Attorney Diane Whitney, who represented Northeast Electronics, which is located across the street at 454 Bic Drive. Whitney praised the sidewalk plan saying, “We applaud that addition” and said the board should make sure the sidewalks meet city standards.

Whitney raised concern about water pressure, saying Northeast has 22 pound per square inch (psi), “which is not enough to flush the toilets” without the additional pumps the company uses.

“Our largest remaining concern is access and traffic. There is only one driveway in and out,” said Whitney. “Is only one driveway adequate for safety and fire protection?” She also said, “There is a lot of heavy, industrial traffic on Bic Drive.”

Joseph Coci, managing director of Mountain Development Corp, which owns the industrial complex at 500 Bic Drive, said fire is his biggest concern.

Coci said a 400-unit Avalon Bay apartment complex in New Jersey recently burned to the ground, despite the fact that it had full sprinklers. He said 500 firefighters in 50 response vehicles were unable to stop the fire.

Coci said truss construction buildings, such as the one proposed by Garden Homes, typically have their sprinklers installed below the truss system, allowing fire to spread above them.

“These apartment complexes can become death traps,” said Coci.

Coci said 500 Bic Drive is a major employer in the city of Milford, including tenants such as Sikorsky Aircraft, FedEx and Bic.

“We cannot tolerate interruption of our operations,” said Coci.

Public Opposition

At the end of Bic Drive is the 204-unit Caswell Cove condominiums, a residential island amidst a sea of industrial development. Dorothy Bateman, president of the Caswell Cove Association, said pulling out of the condominium driveway is difficult due to the trucks on Oronoque Road.

“We are on the same level. I can't imagine pulling out of the site and not being able to see a truck coming,” said Bateman, in reference to the slope on Bic Drive in front of the Garden Homes property. “They don't talk about the double trucks. We have tractor trailer trucks coming up and down Bic Drive all day long.”

Emily Mones of Caswell Cove said, “Traffic on Naugatuck Avenue and Bic Drive gets a little congested right now.” With more traffic, she said there would be a severe safety issue, mentioning there are many trucks on Bic Drive.

John Maccone of 1251 Naugatuck Avenue asked, “Where is the booster pump going to take pressure from? We have water pressure problems in a 15-year-old house.” Maccone also said, “Traffic is a huge problem.”

Cheryl Dato of Willey Street, a dead end street off Naugatuck Avenue near Bic Drive, also said she has had water pressure issues in her 20 years in her house, noting she may have 23 psi.

Dato also expressed concern about traffic, saying Bic Drive has a sharp incline and has “massive industrial trucks zipping up and back all day long.” Commenting on the building's height, Dato said, “Being up so high, it's just too much of a project.”

Chet Scholyen, vice president at Audubon Condominiums, located on Naugatuck Avenue at Grinnell Street, said, “There is a lot of traffic on Naugatuck Avenue going over to Plains Road, to Exit 36, and to Rt. 1.” Expressing opposition to the apartments, he said, “There is a lot of traffic that could be added onto Rt. 1.”

Retired City Historian Richard Platt spoke about the Greek Revival 1850s farmhouse, formerly known as Caswell Spring Farm.

“Is it just going to be swept away? I have a scrapbook of Milford's lost houses. I don't want to keep adding to this. We really have to do something before we lose all of our historic buildings.”

Response to concerns

In response to all the concerns, Lynch said, “The traffic generated for this application will not have an adverse impact on this area.” Commenting on Quish's concerns about Schoolhouse Road at Rt. 1, Lynch said the traffic would dissipate through I-95 and other roads, saying, “It will not be an infringement on the area.”

Lynch said the Milford Fire Department indicated water flow is adequate in the area and the booster pumps will address the pressure issue. Further, he said the gas pipeline is not a zoning issue.

Commenting on the house, Lynch said, “The fire department asked if we could donate the house for training. It will be destroyed. If someone wants the building, we would be happy to donate it.”

Joseph Versteeg, an industrial fire safety code consultant, spoke on behalf of Garden Homes, saying a single site access driveway is permitted by the Connecticut Fire Safety Code.

Coci asked for additional time to review the plans and prepare a response. The board has to close the public hearing by Feb. 24, unless Garden Homes agreed to grant an extension.

Lynch said Garden Homes met the requirements for public hearing notification, which included signs on the property and public notices in the newspaper. He said the public had two opportunities to speak.

“After consultation with my client, we would not be agreeable to an extension,” said Lynch.