MIDDLETOWN – A scaled-back parking lot didn’t resolve concerns from neighbors of a proposed 148-unit apartment complex, who said the development would make persistent flooding even worse in the Lawrence School area.
After a January hearing where residents urged the Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Agency to reject the project because it would worsen flooding in the swampy area, local developer Dominick DeMartino withdrew his application to make changes based on wetlands officials’ concerns.
At a presentation of the resubmitted application last week, project engineer Dave Carson told the agency that the earlier proposal included 73 more parking spaces than required for the two identical, four-story apartment buildings at the 19-acre site on Kaplan Drive. The spots were left over from an earlier version of the project that included three apartment buildings, said Carson, managing principal at OCC Group.
Removing 73 spaces would eliminate an entire row of parking, as well as relocate the development 13 feet further from nearby wetlands, Carson said. The change also leaves room on the property to fit a bike path proposed between the school and the apartments.
But residents of Mile Lane and surrounding neighborhoods pushed back on Carson’s assertion that the complex wouldn’t adversely impact the wetlands. The area, already prone to flooding, has already seen the impact of other nearby developments, they said.
“Hundreds of years ago, they named this West Swamp Brook,” David Botti, who owns a 16-acre farm next to the proposed apartment complex, said of the brook that Kaplan Drive traverses. “What changed? It’s a swamp.”
Botti said the soil on the property is “all clay” and that water would run off into his property and the wetland around West Swamp Brook, which he already has to pick litter out of. Residents also called out a traffic cone marking a washed-out section of Kaplan Drive as evidence of the flooding issue.
Middletown Environmental Planner James Sipperly said the washout was caused by a beaver damming a culvert, and that it’s a priority for the town to fix.
Residents pointed out that Sipperly said in the January hearing that many of the homes in the area never should have been built considering current regulations, and questioned why the apartment complex was different.
Residents complained of frequent flooding, including Kathryn Kennedy, who said it’s clear the brooks can’t handle any more drainage. The development would add to the runoff, she said.
She said she’s been coming to Inland Wetlands meetings for a long time, and it’s frustrating to hear developers say there will be no impact, when residents can clearly see the impact of increased runoff and natural habitats being disturbed.
“It’s a significant impact, I mean, this is just a bad, bad idea. I know it’s probably going to pass wetlands because you have regulations you need to follow,” Kennedy said. “But I am tired of hearing developers say it’s going to have no impact, and then the taxpayers in Middletown are left to deal with the problems.”
The agency continued the public hearing to its next meeting on Aug. 2. If the agency approves a wetlands permit for the project, it will still need approval from the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The property is currently in an industrial zone, which does not allow multifamily housing. Planning and zoning would have to approve either a zone change or a change in regulations to allow apartments in the industrial zone.