The Town Plan and Zoning Commission is scheduled to continue its public hearing on the proposed 12-lot subdivision on the 5.53 acres land at the rear of the American School for the Deaf at 137 N. Main St.
The hearing was continued in November when, in a rare move, the TPZ requested an independent study of Sard Custom Homes’ proposed development after neighbors expressed several concerns, notably that the project is adjacent to a wide floodplain and that deforestation of the parcel would result in flooding of their homes.
An study conducted by REMA Ecological Services for Sard stated that there would be no adverse impact on the wetlands.
But according to the independent study, written by environmental scientist Dr. Stephen Danzer and dated Dec. 18, 2013, removal of the forest would have a significant negative impact on the area.
Danzer wrote that Sard’s report to the TPZ cast the forest in a negative light by stating that the forest had limited ecological value due to vandalism, dumping and the nearby developed landscape setting.
But Danzer said that the dumping mostly took place on the periphery of the property and the forest actually has “varied structural diversity.”
“It is not believed that the condition of this parcel is any worse than most other tracts of forests in Connecticut.”
The forest, according to Danzer, has three “ecosystem services” that will be “significantly impaired” by the development, if approved.
First, the forest has diverse plants and animals. Second, the canopy also serves to preserve air quality and minimizes pollution. Finally, the forest biomass serves to thermally buffer the neighborhood and the region from temperature and climate extremes.
“It would be expected that the function of all three of these services will be significantly impaired if 86 [percent] of the existing forest cover type is removed,” Danzer said.
“[M]ore can be done to reduce the adverse impacts on the forest,” Danzer concluded.
The report offers several suggestions, including reconfiguring the subdivision design to reduce its density; preserving more of the wetland buffer; pulling back development and grading in certain areas; and marking trees for preservation.
But attorney Lewis Wise, who represents developer Sard, said in a letter that much of the study’s report - such as air pollution - exceeds the regulatory authority of the PZC, which also serves as the town’s inland wetland commission.
Quoting a legal treatise, Wise noted that “‘an inland wetland agency is limited to considering only environmental matters which impact an inland wetlands and [can] not consider possible air pollution’ or other environmental impacts of a proposed project.”
Wise wrote that the PZC, acting as the town’s inland wetland commission, should not act as a “little environmental protection agency.”
The project has seen its share of opposition from several quarters.
In May 2013, neighbors Eric Geigle and Tamika Brierley wrote in a letter to fellow nearby residents that they had "grave concern[s] about the possible impact on the quality of life and character of our neighborhood as well as on the environment and wildlife."
In June 2013, Ronni Newton reported that ASD alumni protested the $1 million sale of 9 acres of land to Sard. According to published reports, the sale helped defray the cost of the new, state-of-the-art main building at ASD.
But Basil Brockett, a 1960 ASD graduate who is now president of the Connecticut chapter of Deaf Seniors of America, said last June that if the 9-acre parcel is to be developed, it should be something for the deaf community, not houses.
"If they want to build something there, build a senior center for deaf people," said Lewis Hobbs, a 1966 graduate and former captain of ASD's football and wrestling team.
The sale has not closed, yet, according to the Hartford Courant.The public hearing on Monday is scheduled to continue at 7:15 p.m.