The Noroton Heights Shopping Center has been working alongside town officials to ensure their planned redevelopment project helps improve the infrastructure of the surrounding area. The town’s Planning & Zoning Commission closed public hearing for the project on Tuesday night after a lengthy discussion focusing on the development’s traffic flow, parking and flood water mitigation.
Led by the owners of Palmer’s Market, the project seeks to transform the Noroton Heights Shopping Center into a mixed-use village by restructuring the existing retail space and adding more than 50 apartments. Collaboration between the Tighe and Bond (the development teams’ engineers) and the town-hired peer reviewers have resulted in several updates to the project’s site plan with the goal of mediating the impact of the large development.
Commissioners have expressed a desire to see the Noroton Heights Shopping Center go “above and beyond” to address existing flooding and traffic problems in the area. The applicant made changes to the development’s storm drainage system to satisfy the commission’s concerns and plans to work with town officials to optimize the timing of stop lights in the area to improve overall traffic flow in the neighborhood.
Neighbors living on Patton Drive expressed concerns about traffic from the shopping center increasing, as their street is used by shoppers and commuters as a cut-through. Patton Drive lies to the west of Noroton Heights Shopping Center and runs between Hollow Tree Ridge Road and West Avenue. Traffic studies examined by the development team and peer reviewers expect a marginal increase in traffic on Patton as a result of the development, but neighbors are already dissatisfied with the existing conditions.
While acknowledging the concerns of the Patton Drive residents, Town consultant Mike Gallante recommended that any planned traffic mitigation strategies for the street be kept separate from the Noroton Heights redevelopment. His reasoning was that if the Noroton Heights Shopping Center is unsuccessful in its application, the neighbors on Patton could lose the opportunity to implement solutions specific to their street.
Planning & Zoning Commission Chairman John Sini explained that the existing conditions on Patton Drive extend beyond the role of the commission, as they are not a town traffic authority. He recommended that the neighbors organize a community group and reach out to First Selectman Jayme Stevenson so that the town can take action on Patton outside of the scope of the Noroton Heights project. During testimony on Tuesday neighbors said they had reached out to town officials as long as 10 years ago but had yet to see any long term strategy or lasting impact on traffic.
Public Works Director Ed Gentile said the Noroton Heights Shopping Center has been cooperative throughout the application process, and that the flooding issues the area faces are a larger problem than the developers or even the town can correct on their own.
“The fix for this is more global than a parking lot and some culverts. It’s more than just one or two developers and the town. It’s a very large problem but we can scale down the impact the impact that the flood waters do have,” Gentile said.
Representatives for the applicant explained that the flooding is the product of a large watershed spanning more than 140 acres, with Noroton Heights representing roughly one percent of that space. Flooding typically occurs on the east side of the shopping center and is credited to an undersized culvert running under the Noroton Heights train station. While replacing the culvert would require major cooperation from the state, the shopping center has agreed to add an infiltration drainage system that would reduce peak stormwater flows on the east end of the site by 27%.
Gentile told the Commission he felt that the shopping center had satisfied their requirements to the neighborhood, and that the town would continue looking into opportunities to improve traffic and drainage in the neighborhood.
“Anything we can do is going to be a benefit, Gentile said. “I think Tighe and Bond have taken the next step. They are the good neighbor, if you will.”
With public hearings closed the Planning & Zoning Commission has 65 days to render a decision on the site plan.
Baywater Properties Downtown Redevelopment
Though most of the evening focused on the Noroton Heights Shopping Center, the Planning & Zoning Commission also voted to approve zoning amendments proposed by Baywater Properties ahead of its downtown redevelopment project. That project seeks to bring mixed-use buildings to the area of Post Road and Corbin Drive along with creating a town square, underground parking and new service roads.
Baywater’s request for buildings of up to five stories and 71 feet in the newly established Corbin subarea of downtown were adjusted to a maximum of 70 feet for five story buildings and 55 feet for four story buildings. The amendments were then approved along with changes to the parking regulations and building setbacks. This was the commission’s second round of deliberations on the project as Baywater had withdrawn a prior application requesting buildings up to six stories and 85 feet.