MIDDLETOWN – Neighbors of a proposed 148-unit apartment complex next to Lawrence School said the project would make frequent flooding issues in the area even worse, and urged city wetlands officials to reject the project.
Local developer Dominick DeMartino is proposing to build two, identical four-story buildings on an undeveloped property between the elementary school and Newfield Street – a plan that drew a large crowd of neighbors to an Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Agency meeting last week to voice their concerns in a public hearing that went more than three hours before being continued to February.
Mike Rogalsky, who said he’s lived on nearby Birchwood Drive for more than 50 years, has consistent flooding issues – with residents’ basements and backyards flooding and roads being shut down or washing out from rain.
In 2021, along with other flooding issues, Tropical Storm Elsa washed away part of Mile Lane – the road where both the school and proposed apartment complex would enter and exit. But the flooding doesn’t just come from major storms, he said, but from “decent rainstorms” that bring about two inches of rain.
“I do not understand, or see, or even get a concept of new construction going in and not disturbing anything,” Rogalsky said
David Carson, representing the developer, told the commission that a retaining wall on the eastern side of the property (toward Newfield Street) would keep all stormwater on the site, where it would drain towards the buildings into an underground drainage system that Carson said would mirror the existing drainage pattern.
Neighbors insisted that more development could do nothing but make their flooding issues worse.
Residents said Kaplan Drive – which connects Lawrence School to Mile Lane – is also prone to flooding around a bridge where it crosses over West Swamp Brook. The proposed entrances for the apartment complex are also across that bridge from Mile Lane, and flooding would cut its residents off, Mile Lane resident David Winkel said.
“They’re stuck,” Winkel said. “If the fire department can’t get in there, woe be he who has a problem – whether it be a heart attack or whether it be a fire, God forbid.”
There were also concerns about what impact the development would have on the school, where a parent and a former student both said recess has been canceled for the elementary school students because there is too much water on the ground.
David Botti, who owns a 16-acre farm next to the proposed apartment complex that his family has owned since 1930, said the land has gotten “wetter and wetter” every year as West Swamp Brook has been overwhelmed by runoff from development in the area.
“That’s why Mile Lane is washing out, because this little tributary was never meant for this kind of water volume,” Botti said.
He said runoff from the development would flow downhill to his property, and won’t be absorbed by the ground because it’s all clay.
“I have a farm there, been running it my whole life – it’s getting harder and harder to have my cows out there because it’s too wet,” he said.
Middletown Environmental Planner James Sipperly said that many of the houses in the area were built before Connecticut passed the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act in 1974. Under current regulations, those houses should never have been built, he said.
“Developers just went in there and got a quarter-acre, half-acre of land, slapped up a raised ranch and filled it,” Sipperly said. “And that’s the reality on Mile Lane and other parts of Middletown.”
The concerned neighbors were told that the wetlands agency can only consider the impacts a proposed development will have on wetlands, and that their concerns about flooding aren’t under its purview.
But the Planning and Zoning Commission can consider flooding, traffic and other concerns when weighing an application – and the project will need that commission’s approval if it gets the green light from wetlands officials.
The property is currently in an industrial zone, which does not allow multifamily housing like DeMartino is proposing – so planning and zoning would need to approve either changing the property’s zone, or changing regulations to allow the project in the industrial zone, Middletown Director of Land Use Marek Kozikowski told CT Examiner.
The proposed development would also need to have a site plan approved by the Planning and Zoning Commission, and both changes would require public hearings, he said.
Their decisions will be key for a city that is seeking to increase its housing stock – especially multifamily housing – while also looking to preserve its remaining open spaces, and manage flooding concerns on lands pocketed with swamps, wetlands, rivers and streams.
With support from the Middletown Economic Development Commission, the Common Council agreed in March 2022 that, if the project is approved, it will swap 4.8 acres of city property with DeMartino for 25.6 acres of his property. That swap is key to the development because it would allow an entrance to the complex from Kaplan Drive.
And it’s not the only development proposed for the area. At the same meeting, the council approved a tax abatement for a two-phase apartment project with more than 400 units which Landmark Development proposed for about a mile south on Newfield Street.