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Public gets first view of Milltown Commons project

10/5/2009

North Stonington - More than 60 residents sat quietly for nearly three hours Thursday as developers described in detail the proposed Milltown Commons development at the Routes 2 and 184 rotary for the first time in public.

Project architects and engineers showed maps and color renderings and discussed major features, building designs, architecture, building materials and colors, roof angles, streetscapes, the several town greens, walking trails and proposed interior road network they said would ease traffic impact of the project.

The project encompasses a total of 185.1 acres, of which 102.9 acres would remain undeveloped, officials said.

Milltown Commons LLC applied for a zone change to designate property on the northwest quadrant of the Route 2-Route 184 rotary as a New England Village Special Design District, a floating zone approved two years ago for the rotary area.

If the zone change is approved, the developers next would need approval of a site development plan. The conceptual plan includes 273 housing units, a hotel, bank, several restaurants, retail and office space, a medical center, town greens and walking trails.

But following the lengthy presentations, developer Alan Pesch said if zoning regulations governing the design district need amendments, the developers might have to withdraw the application until that is done.

The Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing was moved to North Stonington Elementary School when the crowd quickly overwhelmed the small Town Hall conference room. Most stayed, as commission members questioned technical aspects of the project following the developers' presentations. Public comment did not begin until after 10:30 p.m.

The first speakers continued the technical questions, while others questioned affordable-housing components. Resident Bill Ricker asked the developers to “seriously consider” increasing the affordable-housing component of the project, because with only 1 percent of the town's housing stock deemed affordable, the town falls well below the state goal of 10 percent.

Two large poster boards depicted a mature New England village, streets lined with various styles of homes with front porches, light posts, trees, brick sidewalks and a town green. Children were riding bicycles. A man played Frisbee with his dog on the green. People sat at outdoor café tables.

Pesch told residents discussions with town planning officials have improved the project. At the start, the developers proposed only 70,000 square feet of commercial space, focusing mostly on housing. Town officials insisted on more taxable development, and Milltown Commons proposed 250,000 square feet of commercial development.

The project would have a significant element of affordable housing, Pesch said, because the town and the project need it, but exact numbers are as yet uncertain. It could be 10 percent above and beyond the 273 units now proposed.

”Affordable housing is not a bunch of indigent people from New London moving into North Stonington,” he said. “It's anyone with $60,000 (income). We need it. It's a critical element in the project.”

While the project has 34 single-family homes, most of the housing is designed as multifamily development, because that's what North Stonington lacks. He said offering affordable apartments and duplexes would help keep young people in town, and the accompanying development would provide 300 jobs.

”You can go to work, eat and play all in the same area,” Pesch said.

Pesch said reports would be done soon to address the numerous questions on water capacity for on-site community wells and a plan to connect with Stonington's sewer system.

c.bessette@theday.com

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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