WESTPORT – Neighbors of a proposed mixed-use development along Route 1 said they are worried about unforeseen environmental impacts and late-night noise from the 3-acre property, which the town is trying to save from large affordable housing projects.
The local developers have applied to convert the aging strip mall at 1620 Post Road East – which houses Redi-Cut Carpet & Rugs, D&D Refuse, Innovation Luggage, Luciano Paving and Pane E Bene Restaurant – into a golf entertainment facility this year, and eventually build 10 townhouses in the southern portion of the lot next year.
At a Monday Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Rick Redniss, an attorney representing the developers of the proposed project, said a request by town staff to keep affordable housing developers away from the property was the “genesis” of the application.
“When we talked to staff about having it at this location, we were informed that this location was the subject of an 8-30g proposal that never quite made it to be a full application,” Redniss explained.
Under state statute 8-30g, developers can largely bypass local zoning laws as long as 30 percent of the project units are deemed affordable by the state. Planning and Zoning Department Director Mary Young confirmed that the town asked applicants to develop 1620 Post Road East in place of an 8-30g development with “grand density” and “grand height.”
“Guilty as charged,” Young said. “I’ve been working in the P&Z office for more than 20 years and – I won’t say the whole time – but certainly the last 10 years has been a lot of focus on the potential for an 8-30g, affordable housing development application to be put forth at that site.”
But while the town encouraged the development, neighbors on nearby streets – George Street, High Gate Road and the Lansdowne condominiums – have written letters to the department and met with developers in hopes of addressing two key concerns: Potential hazardous waste buried below the proposed townhouses and noise from the commercial facility.
According to a document provided by the applicant, the southern portion of the property – where the developer plans to construct 10 townhouses with at least two being “deed restricted affordable” – served as a town landfill in the 1940s, and contains small quantities of fill from the previous use.
The applicant claimed that tests of the fill by engineering consultants Landtech found no evidence of hazardous conditions, but neighbors emailed Planning and Zoning to express their concerns.
George Street resident Teresa Cuseo said she supports the golf facility but is concerned about the potential construction of townhouses on top of the old landfill.
“Worried about buried toxins being disturbed and causing issues in the area,” Cuseo wrote.
Two other neighbors on George Street – Gail and Americo Renzulli – wrote that they thought the area was “environmentally unsafe,” claiming that previous tests concluded the former landfill is contaminated.
At the Monday meeting, Redniss explained that the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection requires developers of properties containing fill to conduct testing and file results with the town. But commission Chair Danielle Dobin said the environmental concerns called for independent environmental testing at the site.
“It’s not that I don’t check that I don’t trust Landtech, it’s not that I don’t think that they do good work,” Dobin said. “I just feel as though it’s always better for the commission when information comes to us, and it’s independent.”
And because Westport sits along Long Island Sound, Dobin said it is especially important that the site is thoroughly tested.
“A lot of these properties, as we all know, drain into all these other properties and they all drain towards the Sound,” she said. “It’s really important to ensure that before any soil is being disturbed, before anything’s happening, that we have the answers we need in terms of what lies beneath.”
Neighbors said they agreed with Dobin, urging independent testing. High Gate Road resident Elizabeth Zobel asked Redniss to inspect debris beside her backyard.
“The part of the property behind our house is – I believe there is a lot of big debris there,” Zobel said at the meeting. “And Mr. Redniss, we look forward to meeting you and it would be nice if we could show you what’s back there because there is a significant amount back there.”
On Wednesday, George Street residents Linda Hughes and Carla Bowden, sent a letter to the department urging the town to follow up on its request for independent testing and provided photos of the subject property, which seemingly show piles of fill covered with debris and vegetation.
While the proposed construction of the 10 townhouses would come in a later phase of the project, the first phase would be the redevelopment of the 8,550-square-foot strip mall into a state-of-the art golf entertainment facility – The Clubhouse Westport.
Redniss said that the applicants, Westport residents Emily and Tim Zobl, plan to continue to lease the space to Redi-Cut Carpet & Rugs and develop the rest of the building into multisport simulator bays, private rooms for events and karaoke, and a restaurant with a rooftop deck to open in 2024.
While most neighbors supported the new business, many residents of the nearby Lansdowne condominium complex – which would abut the townhouses – wrote the department to say they worry about noise from the rooftop deck.
“The proposed ‘rooftop patio’ could be a source of disturbing noise, especially if it is in use during evening hours,” Lansdowne resident Sybil Steinberg said .
Another Lansdowne resident, Myles Seiderman, wrote he had “deep concerns” about the noise and lighting from the proposed rooftop deck.
But after meeting with the attorney for the Lansdowne Condominium Association, Redniss said the applicants agreed to push the project 50 feet away from all residential houses and 30 feet from multifamily developments like the condo complex.
The application also included a sound barrier system along the edges of the rooftop deck, which they said reduces noise to properties within 100 feet of the deck. Redniss said the deck would not impact Lansdowne condo owners.
“It’s almost 700 feet to the closest unit here in Lansdowne,” Redniss said. “So, this noise level here is a whisper.”
But commission Chair Dobin said neighbors have “every reason” to be concerned about noise.
“I don’t care how far away it is, Rick, that you showed on the map,” Dobin said to Redniss. “The people in Lansdowne are going to hear it. And the difference, of course, people can always have a party at their house, but they usually don’t have them every Friday, Saturday, Thursday night.”
Dobin said she would be paying close attention to any possible noise nuisance throughout the application process.
Joel Green, the attorney with Lansdowne, confirmed on Monday that the condo association and applicants have almost finished negotiating terms of agreements to satisfy condo owners’ concerns.
Green asked that the commission keep the public hearing open beyond the Monday meeting to finish negotiations.
“I think it would be in the best interest of all involved,” he said.
The commission voted to keep the public hearing open until its next meeting on July 24.