Opposition Mounts Over Proposed South Main Apartment Building
Newtown Planning & Zoning Commission (P&Z) continued its public hearing for three applications pertaining to a three-story apartment building at 35 South Main Street, on January 6. The property is located across the street from Modzelewski’s Towing & Recovery Inc and next to Chintz-N-Prints.
The applicant Robert Sherwood seeks to have the apartment building include 13 one-bedroom, 12 two-bedroom, and 2 three-bedroom apartments.
At the previous public hearing, on December 2, many residents came out to express concerns over the apartment proposal. Concerns included its impact on traffic, drainage issues, light pollution, and its lack of appropriateness for the area.
On January 6, P&Z Chairman Dennis Bloom started off the meeting by letting everyone know that since two commissioners were absent, alternate members Connie Widmann and Brian Leonardi would be taking their place.
The applications by Sherwood for the 35 South Main Street property being discussed that evening were:
Application 21.28 to change the zone from R-1/2 to South Main Village Design District #11 (SMVDD11);
Application 21.29 for a text amendment to the Newtown Zoning Regulations for a new South Main Village Design District (SMVDD11) located at 35 South Main Street to permit the construction of a three-story residential building for apartments; and
Application 21.30 for a site development plan to permit apartments located within the South Main Village Design District.
Sherwood said that there were essentially three major items that he needed to address after hearing the feedback from the commission and residents last month.
He said that based on what he understood from the previous meeting, some townspeople wanted to know if there was a need for an apartment in this area.
“There definitely is a need,” Sherwood said. He felt that people want different types of housing in Newtown, not just single-family homes.
The second item he touched upon was drainage concerns.
“All of the storm water is dedicated to go towards South Main Street,” he said.
Sherwood then said that to address the traffic concerns, a traffic study was recently done. He let Michael Galante present his findings from that study.
“It’s a busy road, without a doubt,” Galante said.
With background information about the area, including an accident history and site lines analysis, he reported that “Our recommendation would be to have a stop sign at the driveway exit.”
Leonardi inquired, “What is the threshold for which a stop sign is acceptable versus a stoplight?”
Galante said that “it doesn’t meet the criteria for a traffic signal,” because in general it would need 75 vehicles for an eight-hour period coming out of the driveway and the apartment building’s volume of cars would not be close to that in his opinion.
Bloom offered his thoughts on the one proposed entrance and emergency access to Borough Lane.
“I know when I go down to different shopping centers or different places on South Main Street that only have one [driveway] it is almost impossible to get out of. Almost impossible,” he said.
Bloom went on to say that, ultimately, his biggest concern is the height of the building.
“Three stories, in my personal feeling, is a lot to ask right in that section of town … I’d like to see if you could make it a two-story, or whatever it may be,” he said.
Other commissioners added that they are also concerned with the proposed building height.
Sherwood said that he feels the height is “appropriate” to help transition going from a residential neighborhood to commercial area. He added that there would be evergreens planted, and he would make sure the lighting is not a problem for neighboring residents.
“Three-story buildings have been approved in town for apartments,” he added.
Bloom also asked, “As far as people who are handicapped, is there an elevator?”
Sherwood said the building would have an elevator, as well as two sets of stairs.
The first resident to speak up during the public participation portion was Gary Sheehan of Queen Street, who had multiple items to address.
He expressed that he and other residents in his neighborhood are “very concerned” over these applications and that “This directly impacts the nearby residents.”
Sheehan took the time to go to the Municipal Center to review the applications’ documents. When inquiring to staff there about what other buildings in town were similar, being 39 feet tall, he said he could not get an exact answer.
He also noticed that there are 27 apartments but only 54 apartment spaces, which raised multiple questions how that would work for families with multiple vehicles or when people visit those residents.
Sheehan added that he is concerned over the impact it would have on traffic.
“The problem is Borough Lane is certainly not built for that type of traffic and the other side, Queen Street, has its own traffic problems … we have five speed tables to control speed,” he said.
Sheehan went on to say, “What are the financial benefits to the town for this project? Has anyone determined what the property tax will be on this project? What about the cost to the town, to the citizens, and services — fire, police, ambulance, school enrollments? How about its effects on sewer … They say there is a need in Newtown for rental apartments. Well, we have 300 apartments coming up in Hawleyville and apartments that have been approved in Fairfield Hills.”
Next to speak was Marlene Danko, of Borough Lane, who said her 1700’s home next door would be most affected, including to its resale value.
“I don’t understand why it is still being considered … it’s a well-designed building, but it doesn’t belong there,” she said.
Blanca Sheehan of Queen Street said that in recent years, “Traffic has become a nightmare on South Main Street and Queen Street” and that it is “impossible to make a left-hand turn either way onto South Main Street.”
She added that she believes there will be many more cars going in and out from the apartment building than what was estimated in the traffic study.
Priscilla Jones, of Meadow Road, piggybacked on her sentiments about the apartment’s negative impact on traffic. She also said that she is concerned for the many walkers who utilize the sidewalks that would need to be extremely cautious in the area.
Longtime Newtown resident Lindon Thomas, of Juniper Road, said the town is going through a period of development and there is more traffic than when he first moved to town.
Richard McCandless, of Concord Ridge Road, said he has lived in Newtown for a few months and previously lived in an area where the infrastructure could not withstand the population density.
“No one saw it coming,” he said. People, including his family, wound up moving away because it was unlivable.
McCandless added that it is a “slippery slope” when approving certain projects. He does not want what happened where he previously lived to happen here in Newtown.
Former P&Z member Jim Swift, of Cedar Ridge Trail, said he does not think this style of building is currently allowed in Newtown’s regulations, but they are doing it through the special development district. Doing so would mean it is “so outstanding,” modifications to the regulations are needed.
When speaking to the commission, he said, “If you think this is so outstanding that we can put something that is not allowed in our regulations, then you should vote for it. I don’t think it belongs in this town. It’s not outstanding. If it was outstanding, why are we planting all those trees to hide it, so we don’t have to look at it?”
Douglas Nelson, of the Boulevard, discussed several topics, including the different zones in town and the correlating acres needed for housing. He inquired how these application proposals fit with South Main Street.
“The parcel in question, if it was outside of the South Main Village Design District, what would we be talking about? Would there be an application? Think about that. I don’t know, I’m not on the commission,” he said.
Following his public comments was Elizabeth Lincoln, of Echo Valley Road, who said, “We have to really be careful. If we make mistakes, the town is going to lose its character and its desirability for people to live here. Right now, I don’t think this project is suitable for that property.”
She added that she has concerns for its impact on the traffic, lights, sound, and school buses in the area.
Former P&Z Chairman Don Mitchell, of Budd Drive, spoke next and noted that there has been no discussion here about the structure that currently exists on the property.
He said that he does not know the history of it, but that due to its character he thinks “it’s worth preserving.”
The public hearings for applications 21.28, 21.29, and 21.30 were closed that evening and no vote was taken.
“What I’d like to do is give the commission the chance to think about this, and we’ll bring it up at the next meeting,” Bloom said.
The next regularly scheduled meeting is January 20, but the commission did briefly deliberate if they should hold a special meeting.
For more information about Newtown Planning and Zoning Commission and upcoming meetings, visit newtown-ct.gov/planning-zoning-commission.
Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.