MADISON – Despite an intervention from neighbors who warned the project could pollute a pond on site, the town’s Inland Wetlands Agency approved a permit for an 18-unit apartment complex near Hammonasset State Park on Monday night.
The agency – voting 3-0 in favor of the proposal for Cottage and Mill Apartments at 35 Cottage Rd., with two members abstaining on the grounds that they weren’t involved in earlier meetings that discussed the project – decided that the developer’s proposal for native plantings and a stormwater management system would likely improve the water quality of the pond.
The developer – 35 Cottage LLC, registered to Michael Picard, Diane DuPont and Richard Gentile at the address of Atlas Residential and Commercial Services in Branford – will still need to apply for approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Approvals of the proposal are constrained by 8-30g, the state’s affordable housing statute, which allows multifamily housing projects to bypass some local regulations if some units are set aside for people with lower incomes.
Residents of the neighboring Seabreeze Condominium Association had hired an attorney, engineer and wetland scientist to intervene in opposition to the proposed development – claiming the development would harm wildlife in the pond on the property, particularly spotted salamander and migratory birds that the neighbors say they have seen use the pond.
Michael Klemens, a conservation biologist testifying on behalf of the developer, told the agency at a March hearing that the pond is not a viable vernal pool habitat. Salamander eggs found in the pond contained larvae that were missing tails, indicating they were being eaten and would likely not survive as a population, Klemens said.
“8-30g applications seem to have an affinity for vernal pools – or so-called vernal pools – because they are mysterious and subject to a lot of interpretation,” Klemens said.
The pond is surrounded mainly by manicured lawn that is “devoid of value” for species that breed in vernal pools, like salamanders and frogs, Klemens said. The developer’s proposed plantings would only improve the habitat of the pond, he said.
That argument was convincing to the agency, which approved a wetlands permit for the project with several conditions, including monitoring of erosion and plantings, and annual testing to ensure the quality of the water flowing out of the site from the stormwater pipe.
Agency member Joe Budrow said he thought the plantings would make the pond more attractive to birds, and that the development wouldn’t harm the pond.
“I don’t believe this activity is going to make any creatures leave the pond,” Budrow said. “I think the pond is going to be unaffected, based on everything we’ve heard.”