Beacon Falls commission closes hearings on housing project

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By Andreas Yilma, Staff Writer

Stephen Bellis, a principal with Hopp Brook Developers, and Manuel Silva, a civil engineer with Rose Tiso & Co, left, present plans for a proposed housing development in Beacon Falls during a hearing Sept. 29 at the firehouse in Beacon Falls. –ANDREAS YILMA

BEACON FALLS — The Planning and Zoning Commission’s hands were tied last week when members closed hearings on two applications for a controversial proposed housing development.

The commission Sept. 30 closed the hearings after Stephen Bellis, a lawyer with The Pellegrino Law Firm and a principal with Hopp Brook Developers, denied the commission’s request to extend the hearings to review more information.

Hopp Brook Developers, which is based in Shelton, is seeking to build 109 three-bedroom homes on a 135-acre parcel of undeveloped land off Oakwood Drive near the Bethany border. The proposal sets aside 30% of the homes for people who earn 80% or 60% of the median income in the surrounding area.

The firm has applied for a text amendment to create a “Hopp Brook Village District” section in the zoning regulations and to change the zone of the land from Residential 1 to “Hopp Brook Village District.”

The commission requested Bellis grant an extension for the hearings and submit additional information, including a letter of intent or design from Aquarion Water Company for the proposed 250,000-gallon water tank, and an outline of the watershed area where the proposed septic systems would be installed.

A letter from the South Central Connecticut Regional Water Authority to the commission stated the agency reviewed the application and determined 64 septic systems would be on the public water supply’s watershed. In addition, storm water will flow to four planned retention basins, three of which are located on the watershed, the letter states.

“We are concerned with the lack of information in the site plan regarding septic systems,” commission Chairman Donald Molleur read from the letter.

Bellis said the commission doesn’t make decisions on storm water management and that the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission already approved the applications. The Naugatuck Valley Health District will have to approve septic systems for the homes, he noted.

The commission has 65 days from the close of the hearings to vote on the applications.

Molleur said after the hearings that he extended an “olive branch” to give the firm more time to provide additional information and for the commission to review all of the material.

“We will have to base our decisions on what we have,” Molleur said.

Vincent Marino, an attorney that represents the town on land use issues, presented his own text amendment for proposed planned residential development regulations that would cover affordable housing. The proposal would require that the sites for such developments be no smaller than 30 acres and no larger than 50 acres, and that each housing unit would be connected to public sewers and water.

Marino requested Bellis adhere to this proposed amendment for the project. Bellis declined.

In February, the Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously denied an application for a zone change for the project. This application was to amend a legal notice from 2017, when the then-Planning and Zoning Commission approved changing the zone but the notice announcing the change incorrectly stated the area for the change.

Bellis reapplied, only this time the proposal included the affordable housing portion.

Beacon Falls Planning and Zoning Commission Chairman Donald Molleur, center, speaks during a hearing on a proposed housing development as commission members Harry Roscoe, left, and Howard Leeper listen Sept. 29 at the firehouse in Beacon Falls. –ANDREAS YILMA

The project has faced strong opposition from residents, who continued to speak out against it last week.

Paul Grammer, who lives on Hockanum Glen Road, said he’s concerned about how the new homes could impact the town’s education costs if more families move into town and about safety in the area.

“I’ve seen several accidents on Blackberry Road where trucks come down that road, lost their brakes and tipped over in my neighbor’s yard,” Grammer said. “My major concern is what is the safety in that area and when you increase in traffic, how will the roads be able to handle it.”

Andrea Waxler, who lives on Fieldstone Lane, said the proposed Miller Road extension comes very close to her property and asked for a full survey on the extension.

Bellis said it wasn’t his obligation under the application to do a survey of the property, but added the project will not disturb the Chatfield Farms area.

Chris Kopjanski, who lives on Felspar Avenue, said there’s health, safety and environmental issues with the project, which he argued could be legitimate reasons to deny it.

“In my opinion, the health via the septic water issue is a big deal,” Kopjanski said. “The regional water authority had a lot of negative things to say about what this project could do for public health.”

Bellis said after the hearings he thinks the commission heard the evidence and will do the right thing.

“There’s an opportunity, even if they deny the project, where I could do a modification if I want to or I can go to court,” Bellis said. “It’s not over yet.”

Bellis has appealed the decision made by the commission in February in Superior Court. The appeal is moving ahead simultaneously with the pending applications.

Molleur said the project will have an enormous impact to the town.

“As a commission chairman, I just want to make sure we get it right so that we do serve the best interest of the town,” Molleur said.