Shelton Planning and Zoning commissioners did not take a vote to approve or deny a zone change to pave the way for a 120-acre development Thursday.
Instead, they asked their staff for more information about the proposal — in particular the traffic that would come with it — as well as a “favorable” resolution to discuss at their next meeting, scheduled for Feb. 14.
In real world language — that means the controversial development is probably going to get a green light, despite public opposition.
Before the meeting about a dozen protestors gathered outside City Hall urging the commission to reject the project, and held up signs throughout Thursday’s discussion.
Several also liveblogged the meeting on the “SOS/Save Our Shelton” Facebook page, where opposition to the project has coalesced.
Though no vote was taken, a majority of zoners present — Elaine Matto, Virginia Harger, Ned Miller — nodded when Chair Ruth Parkins asked at the end of Thursday’s meeting whether they’d be prepared to discuss approving the project next month.
They also seemed comfortable with approving 375 apartments for the property.
Two others — Anthony Pogoda and Jimmy Tickey — seemed less inclined to approve the zone change proposal.
An almost philosophical discussion among the zoners ensued, a marked contrast to the more than an hour of mostly technical discussion about the proposal that preceded it.
The proposal, called “Towne Center at Shelter Ridge,” is the largest development application Shelton has seen in years.
It calls for roughly 400 apartments and more than 300,000 square feet of retail space on the property, which fronts Bridgeport Avenue opposite Long Hill Cross Road and is bisected diagonally by power wires and a natural gas line.
The proposal at this point is only to change the zoning on the property from light industrial to a “planned development district.” The fine details of the project would be ironed out as the property is developed, with the developer required to come before the commission again for specific site plans to be OK’d.
The property also borders Buddington Road, Mill Street, two city-owned open space properties, and several private properties.
The developer is Sirjohn Papageorge of Trumbull. The Wells family, who have extensive holdings in Shelton, have owned the land since the 1700s.
The overwhelming majority of residents who have spoken at public hearings on the project have asked zoners to reject the application. They’ve also pointed out that while Bridgeport Avenue is packed with stores and offices — the area in question acts as a buffer between the Bridgeport Avenue sprawl and a more rural-like residential setting.
They’ve cited a number of issues like loss of open space and pollution.
But by far the most frequently expressed concern was how much traffic the development could add to Shelton’s already congested streets — especially Bridgeport Avenue.
Pogoda, who participated in the meeting via telephone from Florida, said he’s also concerned about traffic.
He noted the Big Y recently opened near the intersection of Bridgeport Avenue and Nell’s Rock Road has added congestion to the area even when most of the stores in the complex are still empty.
He also expressed concern about putting more residential development on Bridgeport Avenue, and wondered whether trends identified in a marketing report submitted by the applicant would prove to be true.
He cited a recent report that Macy’s plans to close several stores. Parkins responded by noting that Aeropostale is planning a massive expansion.
Tickey agreed with Pogoda, saying he feared the marketing study painted too rosy a picture.
Parkins noted that city officials have said they’re not interested in buying the parcel for open space. Bridgeport Avenue is where the city — for decades — has prioritized development.
“Something’s going to be developed there,” she said.
Tickey agreed, but noted the development would go beyond just space fronting Bridgeport Avenue.
“I think this wildly goes beyond what I consider appropriate development on Bridgeport Ave.,” he said.
Virginia Harger noted the land is currently zoned industrial. The property owner could clear-cut it or blast away clearing rock without having to come before the PZC for approval.
Tickey said the commission shouldn’t just approve an “excessive” development out of fear.
Elaine Matto said the concern is understandable, but that leaving the property as it is isn’t an option — unless city officials change their mind about buying it.
“I don’t think that’s our job here,” she said.
Parkins said she thinks most people want to see the development happen — it’s just those who are opposed that have shown up.
“There’s 36,000 people that live in this city. So I think there’s a silent majority out there that’s been just a little too silent on their preference,” Parkins said. “So if they don’t really care one way or the other, they don’t mind seeing it once it happens, they just have not come and been outspoken. I can certainly appreciate why.”
Dominick Thomas, the lawyer representing the applicant, said immediately after the meeting that he needed to discuss all of the commissioners’ comments and concerns with his client, but seemed confident about the proposal being approved eventually.