NORWALK, Conn. — The All Saints Catholic School property would be subdivided and houses built on an unused ballfield in the back, under a proposal in front of Norwalk Planning and Zoning.
The Planning Commission on Tuesday approved the subdivision on a 6-1 vote, with a majority of members saying it’s “as of right,” that their only decision concerned the division of the property, that the Zoning Commission will handle complaints from neighbors about expected flooding.
Nora King voted no, saying the proposal for a conservation development is in violation of the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) and, “If we were smart as a city we might be talking to that school about maybe acquiring that property for something to do with our own schools instead of giving it away to a developer.”
MTS Enterprises LLC originally planned 18 homes but the Commission disallowed a sliver of land and it’s now 17 homes, Pete Romano of Land Tech said Tuesday. The nearly 26-acre All Saints lot, owned by the Bridgeport Roman Catholic Diocese, would be split into a 20-acre lot and a 5.5-acre lot, with the “PUD” housing going on the grassy unused ballfield along Aiken Street and Winnapauk Village Road, just across the street from West Rocks Middle School.
This would exacerbate the drainage problems at Winnapauk Village, Steven Bentkover said during the public hearing, explaining that he’s lived in the complex since 1991 and been on the Board of Directors for eight years, and, “Every year there are drainage issues.”
Recently, more houses were built than should have been allowed in proximity to a wetland and that didn’t help, he said. Not only that, but all the trees were taken down and now people are looking into their neighbors’ bedrooms.
Aiken Street Development LLC built condos in 2015, according to the city’s website.
“I think that there has to be some concern for privacy because this isn’t Manhattan, this is Norwalk, Connecticut,” Bentkover said. “There should be some green space and if you continue to allow green space to be demolished, to put up more pieces of property that shouldn’t be in small little areas like this, I think it’s a crime.”
King asked for more information; Bentkover said water runs down a fairly steeply pitched hill and groundwater comes up underneath the lower units.
“I’d say conservatively we put $1 million into redoing drainage in the last four years,” Bentkover said.
Diane Lauricella suggested that the property is largely ledge and blasting it will badly disturb the area’s hydrology, and Laura Lamorte, of the Rolling Ridge Condominiums just down Aiken Street, said there was a storm two weeks ago that created a “huge flood.”
“Apparently there is an underground river/stream that goes out beyond Rolling Ridge property and feeds into our pond area,” she said. “This townhouse development has exacerbated that.”
“In this zone you are allowed to subdivide the land that way,” Romano said. “It’s an as of right, it’s a Zone for this, those questions – it’s really not relevant.”
The houses would have a 1,200 to 1,400 footprint and would be no closer than 40 feet from the property lines, he said.
The concerns are premature, as “We are not finished with the design… some of your concerns are going to be addressed in the conservation development. The conservation development does exactly what you are worried about. We have to leave 50 percent of this property open space,” he said. “…We did test holes. There is enough soil to support storm drainage.”
“You guys are at the bottom of a hill. That’s kind of what happens,” he said.
Assistant Planning and Zoning Director Mike Wrinn called the plan a PRD, planned residential development, with condominium-type ownership, commonly referred to as PUD.
“We have something that looks really nice on this piece of property. It’s not overbearing, it provides another type of housing in Norwalk. I think we’re going to capture the young people,” Romano said.
“I feel like we will be doing some redesign of West Rocks School for the ballparks and the sports arena,” King said. “I feel like that site is much more conducive, because you’ve got the two schools there, to be a part of that. Do we need another housing development there? I have got a problem with the entire A Zone in the city of Norwalk, anyway and this just feeds into why I have such a problem with the A Zone in the city of Norwalk. I am not sold into this whole thing of allowing school to subdivide that is prime real estate for that area to put more PUDS, condominiums, housing, whatever you want to label it.”
“We are just approving a subdivision that’s allowed by law,” Commissioner Mike Mushak replied. “So our reasoning to oppose this needs to be based on the regulation, not on the proposal. This is all theoretical. Those are all questions for zoning, but not for this action, which is just subdividing, which is going to be really hard to find any justification to oppose because it’s allowed by law.
“How are we in this position?” King asked. “This is a perfect example of us once again doing something that is not appropriate … we will be forced to vote a certain way and it’s really not appropriate for that area.”
“Take a big step back, look at the Zoning regulations themselves,” Planning and Zoning Director Steven Kleppin replied. “The A residence zone, it’s one lot per 12,500 square feet of lot area. You have 5.5 acres and I know you have to have frontage requirements and other things but if you divide it…. 19 units, if they can fit the roads in and do all that so it’s not like there a big ask outside of what the subdivision regulations allow anyway.”
There aren’t enough ballparks in Norwalk, King said, asking, “Why are these rules stronger so that in the areas that are around school you can’t just sell off land or do stuff like this?”
“I don’t think you have any legal mechanism of any regulation in any state statute that would allow what you want to do,” Kleppin replied.
“It’s private property, and people can do what they want with their property,” Romano said.
King said the proposal in in violation of the POCD; Kleppin said state statute clearly defines the Planning Commission’s role and “The subdivision law is crystal clear.”
“The zoning regulations themselves, which outline the minimum width and the lot area, are the governing document for the division of land,” Kleppin said. “That is considered the general plan of the community. If those regulations are being followed by this application we don’t have any say in whether you think it’s a good idea, bad idea or that.”
Commissioner David Davidson pushed for a resolution specifying that the “Engineering department require that no further drainage impact be permitted on the surrounding properties,” and Romano and Mushak replied that there’s a drainage manual.
Davidson changed it to, “The Commission is concerned about drainage impacts and requests that the Department of Public Works require no negative offsite impacts as a result of the development.”
Chairwoman Fran DiMeglio refused to put that forward because, “DPW knows what it has to do.”
She agreed to say “we are concerned” about drainage, trees and a buffer zone.
King made a motion to not approve the subdivision, but no one seconded it.
“If the subdivision meets the minimum requirements which we have been told it does, by staff, then we must approve,” DiMeglio said. “We can’t say we don’t approve because we don’t like it.”