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160-Acre proposal draws overflow crowd

10/2/2009

N. STONINGTON - In a marathon, four-hour session that was moved to the elementary school gym to handle the overflow crowd, the Planning and Zoning Commission heard mostly from developers, architects and engineers about their master plan for Milltown Commons.

The commons project as currently proposed would be a mixeduse development with 275 housing units, more than a dozen different businesses, and various community and open spaces that would be constructed on a 160- acre property near the rotary at the intersection of routes 2 and 184.

The parent company, Milltown Commons LLC, is seeking a zoning change from the current R-40 to a New England Village Special Design District.
After a two-and-a-half hour presentation from the applicant and about 30 minutes of questions from commission members, residents only had about an hour to speak before the 11:30 p.m. closure of the school forced the meeting's adjournment.

The meeting, which began at about 7:15 p.m. after a delay to move to the school from Town Hall, was continued to Oct. 8 to allow the public more opportunity to comment.

Remarks from developer Alan J. Pesch - or perhaps the late hour - seemed to quell most of the crowd, which numbered about 70 at its peak before dwindling to about 40 by the end of the night.

Pesch began his presentation, the first of eight by Milltown Commons LLC consultants, by highlighting his ties to the community.

"We're local folks," Persch said. "I've lived in town for more than 30 years, and paid taxes here for 40. ... We're not carpetbaggers. We are from here, and we think we understand the mentality of the town."

Pesch and Kevin Tubridy, a conceptual design and project-planning consultant from New England Design, said the intent of the commons is to re-create the magic of old neighborhoods with distinctive charm, with stores and services within walking distance.

Tubridy added they didn't try to create a design that looked "perfect." He said the housing units have diversity in the use of building materials, and a mix of Victorian and colonial styles.

"Since the proliferation of the automobile in the 1950s, building of this type has ceased, period," Tubridy said. "Suburbia has become only one thing: Destination. What I mean is that everything we do, living in suburbia, is going to someplace else. We go everywhere in the automobile. ... We keep driving and driving and driving and driving."

While Pesch acknowledged that the development would add to the traffic in the area, he and John Mancini, a project engineer for BL Companies, said the effect would be minimal if certain steps were taken. These include changing the rotary from a single lane to a double lane, and adding turning lanes near the proposed exit on Route 2, and two proposed exits on Route 184.

Pesch said that if North Stonington wanted to follow its comprehensive plan for development in town, it would eventually have to deal with increased traffic for any project.

"The town plan calls for mixed use development in that area of town," he said. "It also calls for no traffic [increase], but you can't have one without the other. If you're going to have development, if you're going to increase the tax base, then you're going to have more traffic."

Pesch added that the increase to the tax base would be significant. He estimated the project cost at $200 million, with a $2.5 million to $2.8 million tax payment to the town for the construction effort. The yearly benefit to the town was estimated at $1 million after expenses.

Other consultants explained how water testing would be conducted, the safeguards in place to prevent any possible contamination of drinking water, how the traffic pattern would be effected by the development and a myriad of other issues.

In several instances, however, the consultants said that because they were just at the master plan stage, not every detail has been worked out. Of the few questions residents were able to ask before the meeting was adjourned, it was this lack of detail that was most concerning. In particular, several asked about water supply and quality.

First Selectman Nicholas H. Mullane II said the town had recently received about $240,000 to study its water quality and quantity, for development needs or for the town to sell it.

Mullane and consultants for the Milltown Commons project said there could be as much as 10 million gallons daily currently untapped in town, and as much as 1.3 million at the proposed site. Estimates for the project's water usage were put at 144,455 gallons per day.

"We need [the study] done for all potential businesses, and this will be the first project to benefit," Mullane said.

Residents also asked how much of the commons would count as affordable housing. Of North Stonington's current housing, officials said only 0.5 percent counts as affordable under Connecticut standards. The state has set a target of 10 percent for its cities and towns.

While Pesch couldn't provide a maximum percentage of affordable housing the project could provide, he said it was developed with 10 percent in mind. He added at several points that he was open to working with town officials on the affordable units in the project.

Pesch said the project's housing was skewed toward people who need affordable housing - the elderly and young professionals - as opposed to single-family units.

"We are open to affordable housing and including it in the design," he said.

"We're going to provide it not because the town needs it, but because we need it."

The hearing for the zoning change was continued to 7 p.m. Oct. 8 at the new Town Hall. Members of the commission said it might be moved to the elementary school again, but they were not sure of its availability that night.

If the zoning change is approved, then Milltown Commons Inc. will move forward toward getting site plan approval.

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Drawings, and Site Plans are Copyrighted and Owned by New England Design, Inc.
Renderings by Paul Frishman
Gristmill Photo by John Wasserman