15 Single Family Homes Proposed For Berkshire Road, Residents Voice Concerns
UPDATE: This article has been updated due to an editing error in the print edition. The land does support amphibians and reptiles. Also, Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) members Craig Ferris, Megan Thorn, Kendall Horch, and Suzanne Guidera were incorrectly identified as P&Z members.
The Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) conducted a special meeting over Zoom on the evening of November 12 for the public hearing of Application #20‐27 by Negreiro & Sons Construction LLC.
The applicant seeks to construct 15 single-family homes and a 1,550-foot road with associated improvements at 203 & 211 Berkshire Road (Route 34).
The 73.2-acre site is a mixture of forest, old fields, and currently farmed fields, according to the Environmental Report, provided by Steven Danzer, soil scientist, senior professional wetland scientist, and arborist, of Steven Danzer, PhD & Associates, LLC.
Danzer attended the meeting to represent the applicant, as did Larry Edwards, civil engineer and land surveyor, J. Edwards & Associates, LLC.
IWC Chair Sharon Salling prefaced the discussion with guidelines for the public and said, “I do want to remind you that we can only deal with issues related to inland wetlands and water forces. We cannot deal with planning and zoning, sanitation, health and safety, other issues, noise — anything like that. Land Use staff can recommend and refer you to the proper agency with questions that may not be related or germane to inland wetlands.”
‘Small Wetlands Crossing’
Edwards started off his presentation by giving more details to the proposal and stated that the applicant wishes to construct 16 lots, which would entail 15 new single-family homes and one renovation to an existing house. He added that the proposed road would be a cul-de-sac.
“We have done soil testing on all the lots and had them reviewed by the health department. They have basically signed off that they are in compliance with the requirements of the health regulations,” Edwards said. “We have designed the road in accordance to the town’s road regulations. So, we basically have a project that meets the town criteria in terms of design.”
He mentioned that the property will need a “small wetlands crossing” that he says will run west to east in the middle of the proposed road, about “1,500 square feet of disturbance to the actual wetlands.”
“We have proposed, for mitigation of that disturbance, to create a wetland that will be along the edge of the existing wetlands,” designed by the firm’s environmental experts, Edwards said.
The property as a whole has a significant amount of wetlands, particularly on the west side; Edwards said “they will be staying away from that.”
Twelve out of the 15 homes have some wetlands on their plots according to the map presented during the meeting.
“There will be a storm water management component, which will be a storm water infiltration basin, which will be located just to the north of that proposed crossing,” Edwards said of the westerly portion of the site. “We have taken, basically, the area that is where the actual crossing takes place, we are basically putting a cross culvert into that crossing, so that we will pass the water that’s in the upper wetland... through the proposed project. The road area will be a conduit, will be direct flow.”
The road drainage will be separate, treated, and directed into the road’s storm water basin.
The application package also includes an erosion control plan, he said.
Salling noted that the wetlands crossing is of significant importance to the commission and asked if the details of the engineering plans have been submitted.
Edwards confirmed they had and that the crossing will be a 24-inch culvert under the road.
IWC Vice Chair Craig Ferris asked if the existing crossing upstream from the proposed new one will be removed.
Edwards answered, “No, we did not plan that. We were going to do as little work as we could. We would have no problem removing that. That’s a good point and we’d be more than happy to consider that as part of our proposal.”
IWC member Megan Thorn then asked where the water flows into. Edwards replied that the water flow will be directed to the large wetland on eastern portion of the site.
Danzer then spoke on behalf of the applicant and gave an overview of the wetland areas.
“There’s three major wetland areas and then one kind of minor group of wetland areas. The first wetland area is... 25 acres [of] forested wetlands with very deep organic soils,” Danzer said, pointing to the eastern side of the property map.
The second wetland, he cited as being on the western side, with 3½ acres where there are shallow mineral soils. The third wetland is the intermittent stream crossing, which he said has two parts: an artificially constructed drainage ditch used to drain farm fields and a steep natural area that discharges into the main wetland system.
He also pointed out two smaller sloped wetlands that have upland vegetation near some proposed houses.
“As far as the mitigation goes,” Danzer said, “basically the wetland disturbance for the stream crossing, Larry [Edwards] said it was about 1,500 square feet. I thought in my report it was about 2,000 square feet. The mitigation area is 4,500 square feet, so that’s a little bit more than [a] 2-to-1 ratio [of] wetland creation to wetland disturbance.”
He said they found an area bordering the existing wetland that would benefit from wetland creation and cause the least amount of disturbance to create it.
Ferris asked if the construction of the project will not significantly alter the hydrology that feeds the wetlands, specifically relating to the large wetland “where all the houses are along the edge,” to which Danzer said he stands by his report that the development will not impact the vales of the wetlands corridor.
IWC member Kendall Horch inquired about the soil testing, asking how far below the surface they hit ground water.
Edward said groundwater or “restrictive layers” were found 24 to 36 inches below the surface and that fill will likely be involved for almost all the septics.
Thorn followed by asking, “When you talk about the environmental, you never mention the animals… you talk about the plants and the trees, but nothing is really said about the animal part of the wildlife. Is there anything that can be said about them?”
Danzer responded saying, “I didn’t really look at it. Frankly, no one really asked me.”
He added that there were no vernal pools within the area he assessed. There are areas that support amphibians and reptiles.
He said there were no hits on the site in the Natural Diversity Database for reported endangered species.
Steve Hnatuk, land use officer, asked Danzer, “I was wondering if you could speak to if you suspect there would be any significant impact to the wetlands from any storm water that would be possibly reaching that eastern wetland from the detention basin during high flow events or through ground water.”
Danzer could not speak to the efficacy of the basin but said that the intermittent water course’s principle function is mainly hydrological and not necessarily ecological.
“Any water that’s coming from the detention basin here, assuming that it’s been treated and is clean, I don’t see what the negative impact would be,” he added.
IWC member Suzanne Guidera later asked how many trees would be removed and if removing significant number of trees increases the water flow to the wetlands or run-off to neighboring properties.
Danzer said he did not note every individual tree. He added, “You are correct, when you remove trees you are going to increase the amount of water. Some will be mitigated by the storm water design… but what it breaks down to is getting the development off the slopes, which has been more or less accomplished.”
More than half a dozen residents spoke during the public participation portion to voice concerns over the proposed project.
Topics brought up by multiple speakers included concern for wildlife, impact on wells, disturbance to the wetlands, and water run-off.
Karen Pierce was the first to speak and asked how the new lots will impact the water table, aquifer, and wells, to which Salling said that is not part of the IWC discussion.
Pierce was informed that she should contact the Land Use Agency and the health department to be directed to the right channel.
Michael Wilmot echoed concerns for wells in the area and mentioned some of his neighbors’ wells have run dry.
He then inquired, “Has the wetlands commission done their own wetlands analysis with an expert and do you plan on doing one, or are you just going to go off the advice of the experts hired by the developer?”
Salling responded, “It is not customary for the commission to pay, to have the town pay, to have another expert. Individuals like Dr Danzer are well qualified and well known and unless there is some reason to feel that there are some issues that are overlooked, we typically do not hire another expert.”
Chandravir Ahuja, who lives across from the proposed Lot 1, brought up multiple areas of concern, including traffic flow on Route 34 and repercussions for his property if the Lot 1 wetlands became flooded in the springtime.
Danzer said it would not impact Ahuja’s property, because the wetlands in question are six feet lower than Berkshire Road. He added that he reviewed the area multiple times from August to the end of October.
Dennis Casey, whose property borders the proposed project’s wetlands, says the water table in the area is “fragile.”
“Any disturbance of the wetlands is a concern for us. If the Inland Wetlands Commission doesn’t address it and the Health Department has already signed off on all of Larry’s plans for wells already, where does the public have a chance to address their concerns regarding wells and water run-off?”
Salling said they are “precluded to having any discussion about wells... we have no jurisdiction over this.”
The commission will continue the public hearing at its next regularly scheduled meeting on December 9 at 7:30 pm. The public is invited to join via Zoom at https://zoom.us/j/98330638274 or to call in at 646-558‐8656 with the meeting ID: 983-3063-8274.
To access the video from the November 12 meeting, e-mail clerk Dawn Fried at email@example.com.
The proposed application and related documents are on file and available to the public in the Land Use Department at the Municipal Center, 3 Primrose Street. Hnatuk said if the public has concerns with COVID-19, the files can be sent to them electronically.
For more information about upcoming Inland Wetlands Commission meetings, visit newtown-ct.gov/inland-wetlands-commission.