P&Z scheduled to vote on rezoning recycling property

The Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) is expected to vote at its Feb. 5 meeting on a proposal to rezone the property at 990 Naugatuck Avenue, and also revise the city’s zoning regulations, which, if approved, would allow for a high-density apartment complex on the site.

The board conducted a two-part public hearing on the proposal, which was supported by residents of Caswell Cove condominiums, located next to the north side of the property, and opposed by Devon Power, which operates a power plant, adjacent to the south side.

The first hearing took place on Dec. 4, with the second one on Jan. 15. The P&Z postponed the vote until Feb. 5 because only six board members attended the Jan. 15 meeting, and at least seven would have to vote in favor of the proposal for the zone change and regulation updates to pass.

The board is considering a proposal to change the zone from the Housatonic Design District (HDD) to Waterfront Design District (WDD) on the eight-acre site, which would match the zone on the adjacent Caswell Cove property, but no longer align with the zone on the adjacent Devon Power property.

There is also a proposal to revise the regulations in the Waterfront Design District (WDD) with regard to height, spacing, building area, and dwelling units.

The proposed regulation change would allow building heights up to four stories or 60 feet, instead of the current 35 feet. The proposal would change the way the minimum distance between buildings is calculated, increasing the building area from a maximum of 30% to a maximum of 80% of habitable floor area, and increasing the density from 10 dwelling units or 22 bedrooms per acre to 26 dwelling units per acre or 42 bedrooms per acre.

Developer John Guedes, president of Primrose Companies of Bridgeport, concluded the presentation at the Jan. 15 hearing by saying the proposal for housing on the property is the only way to prevent a future recycling operation from opening, the only way to resolve litigation with the company Recycling Inc., that has been taking place for 10 years, and is the only way for Caswell Cove to complete its final phase.

Guedes said the only reason the state revoked the license to operate the Recycling Inc. facility on the site was “because of the individual involved,” referring to Gus Curcio of Stratford, who has been battling Milford and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) in an attempt to establish a recycling plant on the parcel.

“Somebody is going to come up with another industrial use,” said Guedes, saying the “costs are prohibitive” for any other use.

Guedes said he has experience with such projects because he has been converting contaminated industrial properties into housing along Canal Street in Shelton for the past 15 years.

“The only thing that is going to happen is if you deny this, I back out and it turns into a continued recycling operation,” said Guedes.

Franklin Pilicy, land use attorney representing both Caswell Cove and Guedes, said Caswell Cove was approved for 280 units, but only 204 were built “due to poor economic conditions.” Pilicy said Guedes plans to build 44 units, instead of the 76 that were approved, on the remaining 5.6 acres of land, but “the proximity to recycling discouraged a lot of opportunities.”

Pilicy said the zone change application must be considered with the city’s Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD). He shared various excerpts from the plan, concluding that it supports the reuse of brownfields and points out a need for housing opportunities.

He said the city has seen a trend toward heavier industrial uses moving closer to the I-95 corridor, and has an ordinance that restricts truck traffic on West Avenue and Naugatuck Avenue.

Pilicy said the proposed regulation change to allow greater density on the site would not be spot zoning, even though the change would only apply to parcels that changed from HDD to WDD.

“The application provides an opportunity to remediate a known environmental contamination and end the recycling use,” said Pilicy.

Pilicy said Guedes knows this is a multi-year project that will be “extremely costly” and said Guedes has experience working with the railroad for access across the tracks.

City Planner David B. Sulkis responded to Pilicy by saying that when Pilicy “got specific about certain locations” in the POCD regarding housing, those sections referred to the corridor districts.

“This is not the corridor district,” said Sulkis, who wrote an analysis of the proposal in which he said he believed the zone change was not in compliance with the POCD.

Jeffrey Gordon, landscape architect and site planner for Codespoti and Associates, is proposing constructing 210 units in the form of 86 one-bedroom units and 124 two-bedroom units in three, four-story buildings on the property at 990 Naugatuck Ave.

Following up on Pilicy’s comment regarding the shift in heavy industrial traffic to the I-95 corridor, and the city ordinance against truck traffic on Naugatuck Avenue, Gordon said, “It seems counterintuitive to maintain industrial use if you have the opportunity to do otherwise.”

Gordon said the proposed regulation change would make properties, such as Heritage Sound condominiums, more conforming to the regulations. He said the apartments by the power plant could be shielded through a berm and by building orientation.

Gordon criticized Devon Power, saying, “The Devon power plant was not always a good neighbor. They were one of the Sooty Six.”

Gordon said the power plant changed from coal-fired to a gas turbine plant that is a peak production plant. He said the chimney stacks for the gas turbines are a quarter mile away from this property.

“Having a set of eyes on them is a good thing,” said Gordon, saying that in urban areas where power plants are located by residential areas, “It requires them to be clean.”

He said Devon Power has said the access to the 990 parcel is only an eight-foot wide easement, but there is actually a 40 foot wide accessway. He said Recycling Inc. also provides an easement across that property to the power plant.

Attorney Kari L. Olson, representing Devon Power, submitted a land survey showing that the company owns 26% of the land within 500 feet of 990 Naugatuck Avenue. Devon Power is opposed to the zone change and its Notice of Protest means that at least seven board members must vote in favor of the zone change for it to become effective.

“Devon is very concerned about a dense residential development so close. Devon needs to have the ability to expand, grow, and change. Their concern is that a high-density use would thwart future growth,” said Olson. She also said the company has no plans to purchase the property because if it was interested, it “would have not waited this long.”

Olson responded to Gordon’s criticism of the operation, saying it is “completely compliant” and no second set of eyes is needed because the plant is “highly regulated.”

Olson said Devon Power has “no objection to the property being developed”, and recommends “an appropriate transitional use” between the power plant and Caswell Cove, and said the company “is not advocating recycling.”