Seaside Avenue affordable housing hearing focuses on traffic
The Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) deferred any action on a proposed 8-30g affordable housing project at 214-224 Seaside Ave. until its April 5 meeting, which will take place at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall.
During the second and final public hearing on March 15, which lasted two hours before an audience of about 20 people, the board heard testimony from three traffic engineers and the Milford Police Department regarding driving speeds on Seaside Avenue, and sightlines for the project driveway.
Since the public hearing has been closed, residents may listen to the board’s discussion and its expected vote on April 5, but may not offer any further comments on the project.
At the applicant’s expense, the board hired Stephen R. Ulman, traffic engineer, to review the traffic study completed by traffic engineer David Spear, which Spear presented to the board at the March 1 public hearing.
Ulman said he agreed with Spear’s methodology and conclusions with regard to the project’s effect on area traffic flow, including the view that the area has no design problems that would contribute to accidents.
Spear included a “very generous growth factor,” said Ulman, with regard to predicted growth in traffic volume, saying that Spear’s numbers were higher than typical calculations.
Ulman said he was concerned regarding the sightlines at the project driveway, saying visibility is 320 feet to the north, and 360 feet to the south. This means that motorists exiting the driveway have adequate warning if cars from the north are traveling at 20 miles per hour (mph) and cars from the south are traveling at 32 mph. The posted speed limit is 25 mph.
The report did not include the 85th percentile speed, which is the average speed at which 85 percent of area motorists are traveling, said Ulman. He said without this information, calculations are based on someone traveling at 10 mph in excess of the posted limit. This equates to a needed sight distance of 390 feet, said Ulman. He said this situation can be mitigated with signs. Ulman said he was unable to hire a firm to calculate actual speeds because the company he planned to hire had already been hired by Spear for the same purpose.
Following Ulman’s presentation, Sgt. David Chila, head of the Traffic Division for the Milford Police Department, said the department does not have the funding, manpower or technology to complete a traffic study in the manner done by a professional firm.
Commenting on the project, Chila said, “The sightlines are adequate for 25 mph.” When questioned by the board about actual speeds in the area, he commented, “That’s just like any other road. Speeds will always exceed the speed limit.”
Chila agreed with the conclusions of Ulman and Spear regarding accidents, saying, “Our accident history does not show a trend with regard to accidents.” He said he could not comment on the speeds used by emergency vehicles on Seaside Avenue.
Sightlines Labeled Inadequate
The neighbors hired Traffic Engineer Kermit Hua to conduct his own traffic study. Hua started his commentary by criticizing the location of the traffic sensors placed on Seaside Avenue, saying, “I have some problems placing the tubes so close to the intersection [of Meadowside Road]. Hua said the effect is that it “waters down” the speed along the road, saying that people turning left from Meadowside Road are just accelerating.
Hua had concerns regarding the sightlines, agreeing with Ulman that if the standard practice of adding 10 mph to the posted speed limit is used, then the sightlines need to be 390 feet.
“There is no way this site driveway can achieve 390 foot sight distance,” said Hua. “As a consequence, through traffic won’t have enough distance to avoid colliding with cars suddenly emerging from the driveway.”
Hua said the driveway’s location is too close to Amber Lane, which is a private road on the other side of Seaside Avenue. He also criticized the parking layout on the site, saying, “It’s as if the applicant tried to stuff as much parking on the parcel as possible,” said Hua.
With nine units and at peak hours, he said that people would be waiting on Seaside Avenue to enter the site.
Applicant Minimizes Impact
Jeffrey Gordon, landscape architect, site planner, and president of Codespoti & Associates, who designed the plans, wasted no time in criticizing Hua’s analysis, saying, “Hua’s comments regarding the project design standards were misleading. If these are valid concerns, then 12 new peak hour trips will push us over a cliff.”
Gordon criticized Hua’s assertion that the project has a “high volume site driveway.” Gordon said that the project would generate 12 new trips from an existing driveway. By comparison, Gordon said Hua is involved with a project at 122 Wilton Road in Westport that places 48 units with 71 parking spaces on a 1.16-acre parcel on a curved section of a state road.
“We are adding nine-tenths of one percent to peak hour trips,” said Gordon. “He said the parking is unrealistic. We exceed city standards. A small parking lot hardly constitutes a high volume driveway.”
Commenting on the speed tube placement, Gordon said, “They are not right at the intersection. They are right next to the driveway for our parking area.” Gordon said there has been only one request for a stop sign on Seaside Avenue at Meadowside Road in 31 years, and requests for traffic lights have been denied at the state and local levels.
Gordon said that having a curved geometry to the road has a traffic calming effect, as does his plan to build a garage 10 feet from the road. Gordon said speed calming devices could include a stop sign or a sign with flashing lights.
Spear presented the results of the speed counts, saying the northbound 85th percentile speed is 34 mph and the southbound speed is 33 mph. He said the 50th percentile northbound speed is 29 mph, while the southbound speed is 28 mph.
If the sightline is calculated from 10 feet off the travel lane versus off the curb, Spear said this results in better sight lines. At 34 mph, the project needs a sightline of 379 feet and has 360 feet. At 33 mph, the project needs 368 feet and has 320 feet.
“We are very close to meeting the 85th percentile for distance,” said Spear. “Signage will slow traffic and heighten awareness of the driveway.”
Attorney Christopher Cody said the board has been offered the option to mitigate the sightline concerns. Cody said the existing two houses already generate trips, so “these are not all new trips.”
Commenting on all the presentations, Ulman said, “I can see all sides of this,” saying he viewed this as “a residential low volume driveway.” He said the discussion was now at the point of talking mitigation of the sightlines. He said that sight lines could be mitigated by slowing down traffic, or through the use of signs.
In response to the presentation from Gordon and Spear, Hua said, “They also acknowledge the sight line is still deficient and there are safety concerns. I have never heard anyone say just because it’s a residential driveway, the standards don’t apply. The same design standards should apply here and they just can’t meet it.”
Neighbors Oppose Project
Seven neighbors commented on the traffic studies.Tracy Casey of 4 Amber Lane said this project has one driveway that services eight houses, while Amber Lane is a private street servicing five houses. Casey said case law has stated that the zoning commission has the right to impose conditions.
Martin Casey said the proposed project “adversely affects the mental health of the city” and asked board members, “Do any of you want flashing lights in front of your house?”
Responding to Gordon’s remarks, Walter Ortoleva of 244 Seaside Ave. said, “He is just coming up with excuses. He has every work around except perhaps turning this development into a smaller project that would be safer.”
Donald DeForge of 17 Meadowside Rd. said, “People go through signs all the time.” DeForge said he petitioned for a light and was told people would still go through it at high speeds.
“The sight lines are still not adequate,” said DeForge.
Tara Rizzo of 208 Seaside Ave. said there is already a stop sign on Seaside Avenue, and commented, “Cars fly through there all the time.” Rizzo said cars also pass school buses with flashing lights.
Eugenia Debowski of Acworth, Georgia, owns the two adjacent lots with existing single-family homes on Seaside Avenue, just north of Meadowside Road. The properties are zoned R-12.5, requiring lot sizes to be at least 12,500 sq. ft. for one single-family home.
The 0.46-acre property at 214 Seaside Ave. has a 2,100 sq. ft. home constructed in 1947, while the 0.72-acre lot at 224 Seaside Ave. has an 1,800 sq. ft. home constructed in 1900. The two properties total 1.18 acres.
The plan has been filed under the state’s 8-30g affordable housing law, which supersedes local zoning regulations. Should the P&Z deny the project, it would have to prove the project poses a hazard to public health, safety or welfare, a threat that outweighs the need for affordable housing.
The plan calls for adding seven two-bedroom cottages to the rear of the existing properties at 214-224 Seaside Ave. Gordon said each would be about 1,200 sq. ft. and built around a center courtyard. The cottages would have sprinklers.
The project would include 10 garage parking spaces and 12 surface parking spaces. The property would have a driveway and parking lot between the two existing houses.