MIDDLETOWN — The Planning and Zoning Commission approved another 72 apartments for the massive Springside Middletown complex on Wednesday, bringing the Newfield Street development up to 486 units.
Residents in the area urged the commission to consider the traffic impact on the busy street, while supporters praised the developer for going beyond town requirements to hire minority contractors for the project, saying the work was a boon to Middletown businesses.
Attorney Meghan Hope, representing Newfield Development Partners, said the developer bought the 7.5-acre parcel along the Coginchaug River after the commission approved the other 16 buildings that made up phases one and two of the complex in February.
Phase three, approved by the commission by a 6-1 vote on Wednesday, will add another two, three-story buildings, each with 36 apartments, on the land now used as a tree nursery.
Commissioner Seb Giuliano said the commission knew the addition was coming, and there was no effort to hide it. He said he believes the commission would still have approved the development if it was all presented at once, and it fits one of the city’s top goals of increasing affordable housing.
“Nothing increases affordable housing like increasing the inventory of housing units,” Giuliano said. “That is the most effective, surefire way of stabilizing housing costs.”
Two nearby residents spoke at the public hearing about their concerns the development would make traffic on Newfield Street worse.
A major road connecting Washington Street to Berlin Road in Cromwell, Newfield Street is packed with businesses ranging from small restaurants to expansive car dealerships. And at two lanes for most of its length, traffic gets heavy.
Traffic spills onto neighboring roads like Mile Lane, resident David Winkel said, with people speeding dangerously on the residential street. Adding nearly 500 apartments will only add to the problems, he said, though the developer’s traffic engineer Mark Fortucci said it would increase traffic on Newfield Street by just 1 percent.
Commissioner Marcus Fazzino urged the developer to ask the state for a traffic light at the entrance to alleviate potential problems. Giuliano acknowledged that Newfield Street is busy but, as it’s a state road, the most they can do is ask for a traffic light — the state can’t be forced to install one.
“There are a lot of things out on Newfield Street. I don’t think we can hold this one project responsible for what’s going on there,” Giuliano said.
Middletown resident Anita Ford Saunders said she understands concerns with traffic on Newfield Street, but overall believed the Springside development will have a positive impact on Middletown.
She was one of several speakers at the hearing who praised the developer for their efforts to include minority contractors in the work, exceeding the goals set out as a condition of a 10-year tax fixing agreement the Common Council approved for the development.
Saunders said phase one of the project will bring $2.8 million to minority contractors, and phase two is expected to bring at least that much to them. Phase three means even more work, and it sets a precedent for how developers can work with Middletown, she said.
“Middletown is known for our riverfront, and now Middletown is known for welcoming a private developer and its groundbreaking set-aside policy [for minority contractors] that builds structures and our economy, small business by small business,” Saunders said.
Commissioner Shanay Fulton said she loved that the project gives opportunities to minority contractors and develops the workforce in Middletown, as well as supports the city’s housing needs.
Commissioner Catherine Johnson, the lone vote against the addition, said she was in favor of the apartments but that the open space set aside in phase three was just a detention basin and shouldn’t be considered usable open space required in the town’s regulations.
“It’s very important to give people a place to be, not the skinny leftover [property] colored in to meet a requirement,” Johnson said. “I support the effort — I know 72 units can fit on this site — but this site plan does not meet our requirements.”