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Mt Pleasant Road Apartment Proposals Stir Public, First Selectman Opposition



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Newtown Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) continued discussing proposed Mt Pleasant Road apartments at its two recent meetings.

During the November 17 meeting P&Z members present were chair Dennis Bloom, vice chair Roy Meadows, Corrine Cox, Gregory Rich, Brian Leonardi, Connie Widmann, and David Rosen, as well as Land Use Agency Director of Planning George Benson.

Two applications by Farrell Building Company had its continued public hearing. Application 22.25 is for a zone change at 90 Mt Pleasant Road which if approved would change the zone from M-2A — a commercial economic development sector — to R-2, which permits residential development. Application 22.26 is for a special exception also for 90 Mount Pleasant Road, to permit the construction of 220 rental apartments in 11 buildings with associated driveways, parking, and clubhouse. Plans have been revised to 200 rental apartments and 10 buildings.

Representing the applicant was Attorney Robert Hall. With him were engineers from JMC LLC, James Ryan and Paul Dumont. Also attending was certified real estate appraiser Fred Miller, Jr.

Provided Documentation

Hall said, “I would like to start by being sure that we have in the record all of the reports from the staff … first of all from the Inland Wetlands who approved the project on September 14, 2022.”

He then listed off the submitted documents for the project.

Application 22.26 has been approved by Fire Marshal Rich Frampton with the note that the fire department access drive must be 20 feet wide.

The Newtown Health District’s submitted form states it has “no issue with this application.” It does detail, however, “The existing on-site septic system and water supply well shall be properly abandoned as per code and documentation submitted to the health department. The clubhouse pool facilities will require review and approval by the State Department of Public Health.”

Newtown Public Works Director Fred Hurley submitted a document explaining how he performed a site plan review. Areas of concern he investigated were stormwater management, the applicant’s traffic study/needed improvements, fire protection access, sanitary sewer system, and water supply by Aquarion Water Company.

Ultimately, he wrote, “In summary, we do not see any issues with the development of this site from our review.”

Hall then mentioned that in letters he submitted, Mt Pleasant Road is a state highway under the jurisdiction of the State of Connecticut. Therefore, it is overseen by the Office of the State Traffic Administration (OSTA).

Miller Commercial Appraisal did a Restricted Appraisal Report on 90 Mt Pleasant Road in August 2022. The group reviewed rental rates and absorption rates for new/newer construction apartment complexes in Newtown, as well as Fairfield County.

It estimated “100 percent occupancy within 180 days on the market” due to current market conditions, which it says “reflect low inventory of residential properties available for purchase or rent in the town of Newtown.”

On November 17, Miller noted that the proposed project has been modified to 200 apartment units and 10 buildings, but it does not affect the absorption rate.

As for the hydrogeologic assessment for the property, it was done by WSP USA Vice President Thomas P. Cusack.

The report detailed, “The site is about 33.16 acres in size and is rectangular in shape with a portion of the property abutting Mount Pleasant Road. The property was previously developed as a single residential home which has been demolished. The site is mostly wooded with a moderate amount of dense vegetation and brush. The site slopes downward from southeast to the northwest and surface elevation ranges from 630 to about 430 feet.”

Cusack’s conclusion was that the proposed project “will have no discernable impact on the regional aquifer” and “no significant direct or indirect effects (both short term and long term) on the regional bedrock aquifer.”

Ryan brought up that Whippoorwill Hill Road neighbors had concerns regarding the property grading and their wells, but he assured, after receiving WSP USA’s findings, “there will be no impact on their wells.”

Dumont went over the project’s grading, water and sewer, stormwater management, and landscaping plans.

Traffic Study

Mark Petroro, professional traffic operations engineer with JMC LLC, spoke to the traffic study he did with Connecticut Department of Transportation and OSTA.

He observed seven intersections, on Mt Pleasant Road and Hawleyville Road, during the weekday morning and evening hours.

“As part of our analysis when we went through our study, we determined there were a few areas that needed some improvement as far as traffic improvements to the roadway network,” Petroro said.

Improvements include modifying the traffic signal on Mt Pleasant Road and Hawleyville Road, as well as proposing an eastbound left turn lane and a westbound right turn lane on Mt Pleasant Road going into the property. There will be a one lane exit.

Benson noted, “The state cannot give the final approval until we get the P&Z approval.”

Leonardi pointed out the year the traffic study was done in 2021 during COVID is “not representative” of traffic patterns now.

Petroro said it is “standard practice” to use previous application’s traffic studies for their date. They used the information as a base study and “conservatively increased our volumes.”

Concerning speeding issues in the area, Bloom voiced he has seen people go 60 to 70 miles an hour to pass vehicles on Mt Pleasant Road. It has a 45 mile an hour posted speed limit.

Architectural Review

Ray Sullivan of Sullivan Architectural Group spoke to the specifics of the buildings.

Each of the ten buildings will have 20 units, for a total of 200 units. Out of that total, 40 will be one-bedroom 900 square foot apartments and 160 will be two-bedroom 1,200 square foot apartments.

“All the ground floor units will be handicap accessible,” Sullivan said.

There will be covered parking provided and “every single unit will have its own porch or exterior space,” he said.

Hall concluded by noting that the project would be part of the Incentive Housing Overlay Zone (IHOZ) with an affordability plan.

Public Opposition

Newtown resident Pat Napolitano, who was previously denied intervenor status by the commission, submitted a letter that reads in part, “I have been here time and time again trying to defend our home and neighborhood from inappropriate building proposals and uses.”

Napolitano listed points of concern: the stormwater protection system, soil study, potential blasting, and requested an up-to-date property survey be done.

Newtown resident Michael Ricciardi expressed multiple concerns, as well, including about safety, increased traffic/deliveries, and the burden it would be on the town’s roads, sewer, and school system.

Shari Birmingham, also of Newtown, said traffic in town is already “a nightmare” and will be increased by this project.

On the topic of the zone change element of the application, Gary Tannenbaum of Newtown voiced that it should stay an industrial zone. He also estimated that with 200 units, there could be 500 people living in this one complex.

Newtown resident Terry Sagedy agreed with previous comments made about traffic and safety concerns.

“The reality is, it’s really dangerous there … it is a really bad area,” Sagedy said.

Newtown resident Mark D’Amico said, “To arbitrarily change and add one piece of property to this IHOZ, it’s purely for the benefit of the developer to allow this development to occur.”

Ryan responded to some of the comments saying an A2 survey has been submitted and there will be no blasting.

December Meeting

The hearing continued on December 1, with commissioners Bloom, Meadows, Rich, Leonardi, and Rosen present, as well as Land Use Officer Steve Maguire, discussing Applications 22.25 and 22.26.

First Selectman Dan Rosenthal’s November 16 letter in opposition to the zone change was read into the record.

It stated, in part, “Newtown has limited areas remaining that are designated for industrial development. The 2014 and, at least, the prior Plan of Conservation and Development identifies the Hawleyville area of Newtown, which includes 90 Mount Pleasant Road, as ideal for industrial development. The area is proximate to Route 6 and 25 and most importantly Interstate 84 and is intended to contribute to the Town’s economic base ‘providing local tax benefits and employment’ meeting the purpose of Industrial Zones and the PCOD. Additionally, the intent of the Industrial Zones is to promote ‘sustainable economic development’ and are intended to be separate from residential and commercial neighborhoods. In order to facilitate said development goals, the Town of Newtown made substantial investment in water and sewer infrastructure in the Hawleyville area. With all due respect to the parties involved, I believe that there is no sound justification for changing the zone in this case as it would be inconsistent with our long-term plan of development for this area.”

Hall responded by interpreting Rosenthal’s statement as it is better to have an “undeveloped property than it is to have a tax paying development.”

Hall said vehicles of those residing in the apartments will be taxed and benefit the town, too.

“I don’t think we are going to see industrial use of the property in my lifetime,” he said.

Hall presented an affidavit by Farrell Building Company Executive Vice President of Multifamily Development Stephen Zagoren.

Tax Analysis

Miller gave a tax analysis for the project based on real estate. He listed apartment complexes in Newtown and the dollar per square feet they pay for taxes, as well as what taxes would be for hypothetical warehouses on the property. In his analysis, apartments bring more money in taxes per square feet than the hypothetical warehouses.

Ryan then spoke to engineering for the project and reiterated that it would not affect nearby wells.

Petroro went over traffic concerns that were brought up at the last meeting, saying they conducted a new speed study. For that, they tracked the speeds of vehicles traveling on Mt Pleasant Road using a radar gun.

“We use that data to calculate the site distance,” Petroro said.

He said that when looking left, or east, out of the property’s driveway the site distance is mandatory to be 585 feet but based on their analysis and field observations, they exceed it with a site line of 685 feet. The opposite direction requires a site line of 625 feet, and they found 700 feet is available for the site line.

Based on the travel speeds, they are proposing to widen Mt Pleasant Road to create a right turn lane into the property.

‘A Significant Risk’

Bloom brought up that school buses in Newtown will not go on private property, so it would have to stop on Mt Pleasant Road to pick up/drop off children.

“I can just imagine what it would be like on that road there … I don’t want to see a child get hurt,” he said.

Sullivan went over what the project is going to look like and mentioned details, such as the color scheme, will be addressed with the Design Advisory Board at an upcoming meeting.

Regarding previous comments by Land Use Agency Deputy Director of Planning Rob Sibley that the landscaping, lighting, and photometry plans “do not appear to be in accordance with the state or town regulations,” the applicants said they are changing the height of the outdoor lighting.

Multiple residents continued to voice concerns about the project’s negative impact on traffic, safety, the school system, and lighting, as well as the accuracy of the traffic study.

D’Amico returned to comment on the roadway changes and that it is already a highly accident-prone area.

“What’s really concerning is that left-hand turning lane that just so happens to be in the left lane ... there is a high probability that if there is a car stopped in the dead center of the road to take a left, they are at a significant risk — as are the people that come up the hill,” he said.

D’Amico formally requested there be a third-party review of the traffic study and updated A2 survey.

Hall responded, “The argument on the A2 survey, that does not hold water, because we have submitted A2s and I’m sure they are accurate as the surveyor is accurate.”

The public hearing will continue to P&Z’s next regularly scheduled meeting, scheduled for Thursday, December 15, at 7 pm, at Newtown Municipal Center.

Reporter Alissa Silber can be reached at alissa@thebee.com.

WSP USA provided a site plan of a proposed apartment complex for 90 Mt Pleasant Road, which the Planning and Zoning Commission has been reviewing the last few months. This figure shows 11 buildings, but it has been modified to 10. The project is titled “Newtown Commons” in submitted documents.
This image, titled Figure Three by WSP USA, shows the property lines for the roughly 33 acres of wooded land on Mt Pleasant Road.
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