Sewer line questions pose hurdle for proposed Mill Hill seniors' complex
Hunter Gregory Realty Group in Westport wants to build a three-story, 92,000-square-foot building on land where a motel and restaurant had been proposed about 30 years ago. The senior living facility, to be known as Maplewood at Southport, would specialize in serving people with Alzheimer's disease and would be built on land encompassing 917 and 845 Mill Hill Terrace and 130 and 156 Pease Ave.
The town's Inland Wetlands Commission held a public hearing on the proposed development Thursday and continued the hearing to 7:30 p.m. Feb. 5 in Osborn Hill School. About a dozen residents turned out, but David Sprague of Pease Avenue said 30 neighbors contacted him and said they couldn't attend because of a conflict with a concert at Mill Hill School taking place at the same time.
During Thursday's hearing, Annette Jacobson, administrator of the town's Conservation Department, said the property had only an 8-inch sewer line and that the commission should know whether that was adequate or if a larger sewer line had to be installed before voting on the application. If the sewer line is not adequate, sewage will go into wetlands on the property, and if the line has to be replaced with a larger line, disturbance of more land regulated by the commission could take place, she said.
"I believe the information on a sanitary sewer line is critical information," she said. "I don't believe you have a project if you don't have a place for the sewage to go."
Jacobson and Kathryn Braun, a lawyer representing Fairfielders Protecting Land and Neighborhoods, said the commission required Blackrock Realty, LLC, developer of the Fairfield Metro Center, to provide information related to the capacity of an existing sewer line by its property before deciding whether to approve Blackrock's request to convert a planned retail building into an apartment building.
"It's the same type of information," Jacobson said.
But John Fallon, the lawyer representing Hunter Gregory Realty Group, said if the proposed senior living facility doesn't meet standards of the town's Water Pollution Control Authority, it won't go forward. "We expect to go to the WPCA in the next few months," Fallon said.
Joseph Michelangelo, director of the town's Department of Public Works, said in a Dec. 16 document that information needed by the WPCA included the proposed flow increase, a downstream analysis of the sewer system to determine capacity and improvements if the senior living facility will overburden the system. Michelangelo also checked a box on the document that says, "The plans and specification submitted for our review have been inspected and they appear to be inconsistent with our concern for the area and the activities proposed. Approval is not recommended at this time for the following reasons:" after which Michelangelo wrote, "Incomplete."
Fallon said, "He says at this point in time you have to go through a process. That is really a matter in their jurisdiction."
Fallon described the proposed development as "low impact," "low scale" and "high quality." He said the Town Plan and Zoning Commission about 14 years ago created a regulation to permit assisted living facilities in residential zones but none had been built from scratch since then.
Access to the senior living facility would be solely from a 1,300-foot-long access road off Mill Hill Terrace, though a driveway off Pease Avenue would be created for emergency vehicles, according to Pete Romano, a principal at Landtech in Westport and consultant for the applicant.
Romano said about 13 acres would be set aside in perpetuity as a conservation easement, though commission members later said nearly all of that property, which includes a pond, is either wetlands or within setbacks to wetlands. Fallon said he was "not necessarily averse" to having more uplands in the conservation easement.
Romano said only 125 square feet of wetlands would be disturbed for the project so a crossing over wetlands could be replaced. He said the amount of water that flowed off the site wouldn't be increased because a sub-surface detention system would be installed. Fallon said the town's Engineering Department had approved the project's drainage system.
Romano said the quality of water that flowed off the site would be improved by the creation of "rain gardens," or depressions with vegetation.
Jacobson said the applicant should do a "Phase 2" environmental study on the property due to untested fill that was dumped on the property over the past five decades, "multiple oil barrels and oil tanks," and construction debris. "You need to take actual tests. That's what a Phase 2 report means," she said. "I have an expectation it is contaminated."
But Lloyd Jones from Hygenix, Inc. in Stamford, a consultant for the applicant who did a Phase 1 environmental report of the site, said he didn't believe the more extensive Phase 2 investigation is warranted.
But Michael Repko, who's lived across the street from the property for 59 years, said he saw dumping of debris and garbage on that property many times in the past 50 years. Repko said he'd like water and soil tests done to determine if the wetlands are polluted since the town didn't have a Conservation Department when the dumping and filling in of wetlands took place. "They want to add a few acres of pavement to a polluted and already-compromised wetlands. Please vote `No,' " he said to the commission.
Joy Shaw, a longtime local environmental advocate, said she also saw dumping take place on the property in the past and that the commission should know what was dumped there. "It's not just something that should be covered over or blasted through," she said.
Braun also supported a "Phase 2" environmental investigation of the site. "This commission should know what was dumped there," she said.
Kevin Gumpper, chairman of the Inland Wetlands Commission, asked, "If it is contaminated, is the applicant going to make the situation worse?"
Jacobson said evidence from the surface indicated contamination and if contamination exists, it should be addressed. She said wetlands are "immediately adjacent" to the fill areas. "It's directly related to your review areas," she said to the commission. "I think it's reasonable to conduct the testing."
At another point, Fallon objected to the Conservation Department suggesting "feasible and prudent alternatives" to the proposed development. He said he didn't think his client needs to provide them unless the commission decides the proposed development would have a significant impact on wetlands and watercourses, and Fallon said he does not think it would.
But Fallon said his client had made a "good-faith effort" to address concerns of the Conservation Department. "We would have much preferred to have a two-story building here, but that would have meant a larger footprint so we have a three-story building," he said. He added that the shape of the building was a reaction to the department's concerns about its impact on land regulated by the commission.
Fallon said construction debris and invasive species of plants would be removed from the property and that his client would submit a long-term habitat management plan.
Sprague and David E. Rosenstein of Acorn Lane have filed "environmental interventions" on the project, which require the Inland Wetlands Commission to determine if the project "involves conduct which has, or which is reasonably likely to have, the effect of unreasonably polluting, impairing or destroying the public trust in the air, water or other natural resources of the state."
Sprague and Rosenstein are expected to make their presentation on Feb. 5.
Braun said FairPLAN wasn't opposed to a senior living facility on the site but supports the commission being fully informed. Jacobson said the proposed development lacks necessary data and, at this time, should be denied. "A project can be approved there, but, right now, we don't have the details," Jacobson said. "I just would like to get the proper information and a reasonable development that protects the wetlands and watercourses."