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Residents Form Group To Monitor Hunters Ridge Development Proposal



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A group of residents, who are concerned about the developmental implications of a major mixed-use project proposed for 79 Church Hill Road, have formed a group known as Responsible Development in Newtown (RDN). The group plans to monitor the town's review of that proposal to ensure that if the site is developed, it is done so "responsibly, within the character of the neighborhood."Reviews And HearingsThe Plan

A Trumbull-based limited liability company known as 79 Church Hill Road, LLC, has proposed the mixed-use project known as Hunters Ridge at the 35-acre 79 Church Hill Road site under the terms of the Planning and Zoning Commission's Incentive Housing-10 (IH-10) zoning regulations. The P&Z approved those zoning rules in early 2015 as a regulatory mechanism to foster local "affordable housing" under the state's definition of that term. Affordable housing is rented to income-eligible tenants at rates substantially lower than the prices charged for market-rate units.

Generally, the developers propose 224 rental apartments, 45 units of which would be "affordable," medical/dental offices, a shopping center, and a restaurant. The project would be the largest development of its kind in town.

(The project's name, "Hunters Ridge," has no connection to "Hunter Ridge, LLC," the firm that has gained a Borough Zoning Commission (BZC) approval for the proposed 29-unit Rochambeau Woods multifamily complex at Mt Pleasant Road. That BZC approval is now being challenged in Superior Court).

The 79 Church Hill Road site lies across Walnut Tree Hill Road from Walnut Tree Village, a 212-unit age-restricted condominium complex, which gained initial town development approvals in the mid-1990s.

The roughly triangular 79 Church Hill Road site is bordered by Church Hill Road on the south, Walnut Tree Hill Road on the east, the rear lots of seven residential properties on Evergreen Road on the north, and westbound Interstate 84's Exit 10 interchange ramps on the west.

RDN member Linda Jones of 16 Walnut Tree Hill Road said January 31 that the neighborhood-based group formed recently in response to the development proposal. The group's membership includes "many, many concerned citizens" from among the 274 property owners who have holdings within 500 feet of the development site, she said.

Ms Jones said the group's purpose is to ensure that if the large, highly visible property that lies along Walnut Tree Hill Road and Exit 10 is developed, it is developed in a responsible manner, within the character of its neighborhood. The historical neighborhood has evolved during the past 250 years, she noted.

If the site is developed, the group wants to make sure that the development occurs in a manner that enhances the best qualities of the neighborhood and Newtown in general, Ms Jones said.

"We understand that some development of the parcel is reasonable, but the design must be in harmony with its surroundings and respectful of its context," she said. Ms Jones said she passionately cares about Newtown and the neighborhood.

"A very large crowd of interested neighbors" recently attended a RDN meeting on the development proposal, she said. The group has hired an attorney to represent its interests, she added.

Ms Jones said RDN members will be attending upcoming public meetings on the development proposal.

Ms Jones was one of many Walnut Tree Hill Road area residents who monitored past development proposals for 79 Church Hill Road. Those proposals, none of which ever materialized, included a cellular telecommunications tower, a 100-unit condominium complex, and a 400-unit multifamily complex, she said.

Asked whether RDN would potentially challenge town approvals for the Hunters Ridge proposal through in court appeals, Ms Jones responded, "That's a decision that we would make at the time, and if necessary. Our hope and expectation is that the various town land use agencies will do the right thing."

Ms Jones said RDN members consider environmental quality, construction density, and traffic congestion to be significant issues stemming from the proposed mixed-use development.

"Our concerns are based on the impact the development could have on our quality of life in our neighborhood and in the town we love. We do not oppose development per se, but we are committed to doing what we can to ensure reasonable, thoughtful, and positive development at 79 Church Hill Road for everyone," she said.

The architectural and landscape architecture aspects of the Hunters Ridge proposal are scheduled for review by the town's Design Advisory Board (DAB) when it meets at 6 pm on Monday, February 5, at Newtown Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street. The DAB makes recommendations to the P&Z on aesthetics.

The Water & Sewer Authority (WSA) is scheduled to meet at 7 pm on Thursday, February 8, at the sewage treatment plant office building at 24 Commerce Road to discuss the central municipal sewer system's remaining sewage treatment capacity and how that treatment capacity may be used for future wastewater disposal.  A project as intensive as the Hunters Ridge proposal would need a significant amount of sewage treatment capacity to function.

The Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) is scheduled to hold a public hearing on a requested wetlands/watercourses protection permit for Hunters Ridge on February 14.

At some point, the Aquifer Protection Agency (APA), which is comprised of IWC members, is expected to review aquifer-related issues and make a recommendation to the P&Z.

On February 15, the P&Z is slated to review three applications from 79 Church Hill Road - a special zoning permit, a change of zone from Business/Professional Office (BPO) to IH-10, and requested IH-10 zoning regulation changes concerning parking and lot setbacks.

Also, the Police Commission, in its role as the traffic authority, is expected to review traffic-related issues stemming from the project.

In an application to the state Department of Transportation (DOT), 79 Church Hill Road is seeking approval to install a set of traffic signals at the intersection of Church Hill Road and Walnut Tree Hill Road. Turning lanes also are proposed for that intersection. The proposed signals would be coordinated with existing nearby signals at the intersection of Church Hill Road and westbound I-84's Exit 10 ramps.

The applicant proposes creating four two-way driveways on the west side of Walnut Tree Hill Road for the mixed-use complex. Two driveways would serve the commercial area at the southern end of the site, and the other two driveways would serve the multifamily residential area at the northeastern section of the property. Left turns and right turns would be permitted for vehicles exiting the southernmost driveway. The developer, however, proposes prohibiting left turns by the vehicles exiting the three other driveways.

A traffic report prepared for the developer states the proposed Hunters Ridge development is estimated to generate 193, 292, and 322 "new" vehicle trips during the weekday morning, weekday afternoon, and Saturday midday peak hours, respectively.

Drawings for the project indicate that the 224 rental apartments would include 116 one-bedroom units and 108 two-bedroom units, for a total of 332 bedrooms. There would be a total of 648 parking spaces provided, including 396 residential spaces, 170 spaces for the retail uses, and 82 spaces for the office uses. There would be nine six-vehicle garages for a total of 54 garaged vehicles, and three eight-vehicle carports for a total of 24 vehicles with carport access.

The six multistory residential buildings at the northeastern section of the property would be constructed on slopes, with three residential levels shown at their facades, and four levels at the rear, where there would be walkout basements. Four residential buildings would have 42 dwellings each, and the two smaller residential buildings would have 28 dwellings each. The multigabled structures with pitched roofs would have balconies.

As amenities, the Hunters Ridge complex would have a clubhouse, outdoor swimming pool, fitness center, playground, community gardens, and trails, among other features.

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