May 31, 2018
Old Lyme Zoning Commission
Memorial Town Hall
52 Lyme Street
Old Lyme, CT 06371
Ms. Cable, Members of the Board:
We appreciate the opportunity to provide public comment on the Connecticut General Statutes 8-30g – Affordable Housing Application for 18-1 Neck Road (formerly 16 Neck Road) for 23 dwelling units, as well as on the Connecticut General Statutes 8-30g – Affordable Housing Application for 18-2 Neck Road (formerly 16 Neck Road) for 14 dwelling units (“the development”).
SECoast launched in January 2016 as a nonprofit collaborative effort partnering concerned local residents in coastal Connecticut and the Lower Connecticut River Valley with the statewide resources and expertise of The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. Since separating from the Connecticut Trust in 2017 to become an independent nonprofit under Section 501(c)3, our work has grown to include issues of transportation, preservation, and the environment across southern New England.
We are writing to recommend that the Old Lyme Zoning Commission deny the applications for the development in their current form without prejudice. This recommendation comes after a careful review of available materials supporting the applications for the development; after more than three hours to discuss our concerns with staff for Hope Partnership, and The Women’s Institute; and with a keen understanding of the high bar required for a zoning commission to reject an 8-30g application. Given the substantial good that affordable housing will bring to Old Lyme, and recognizing the statutory goal of 10% affordable housing, this is not a recommendation which we make lightly.
As the first of possibly several future applications under 8-30g in Old Lyme – on Hatchetts Hill Road, Halls Road, Shore Road, and Lyme Street— with the potential to reshape the historic shoreline community of Old Lyme, we ask simply that these applications meet the same standards for approval and process which will be applied to any future applications by developers of apartment housing in Old Lyme.
Numerous and Substantial Public Safety Concerns
We are deeply concerned that the applications leave numerous and substantial safety issues unaddressed; that these include matters of grave concern, including pedestrian, traffic and fire safety; and that adequate solutions may not be possible or feasible given the array of overlapping issues and the peculiar constraints of the site.
Several of these safety issues relate directly to the fact that although the safest direction of travel when exiting the development is to the right (south) onto Route 156, the most likely travel destinations are directly located to the left (north).
In practical terms, that means that either a feasible method must be devised for allowing travel directly to the north (left)—which given the proximity of the Exit 70 terminus is unlikely—or some method must be devised to ensure that traffic exiting the development turns right (south).
Unfortunately, routing traffic to the south has its own disadvantages, most obviously that this will require a driver leaving the development and wishing to travel south on I-95 to make a right turn followed by four consecutive left turns: Ferry Road, Lyme Street (past a school and through the National Register historic district), Halls Road, and Route 156.
In fact, the route is so circuitous, and the proximity of northbound destinations so close, that drivers heading to the Halls Road Shopping District or southbound on I-95, will likely either attempt to make a left turn directly, will attempt a U-turn further south, or will travel south, and attempt to change direction in one of the nearby roads or driveways. Such obviously dangerous maneuvers can possibly be prevented by constructing a raised median, and by use of raised traffic separators, along Route 156, but it appears that such devices may significantly interfere with emergency vehicles entering and exiting and the development.
As a matter of public safety, just as concerning is the coincident, aggravating issue of pedestrian and bicycle safety. Given that Hope Partnership has chosen a site for affordable housing nearby to the Halls Road Shopping District, the development poses a designed expectation of routine pedestrian and bicycle travel to and from destinations immediately to the north of the development without a safe and practical route of travel.
This pedestrian safety issue is further aggravated by the likelihood that with limited parking spaces, and with the constraints of fire safety, the nearby commuter lot on Route 156 will serve as planned or impromptu ancillary and overflow parking.
Given that any solution will be significantly constrained by the standard minimum of 1320 feet between traffic lights, and by the 130 feet separating the entrance road for the development from the Exit 70 terminus, is it feasible to design and construct a safe pedestrian route of travel, which does not expect travel first to the south (right), to an additional traffic light or pedestrian crossing, and then back to the north (left) to reach the Halls Road Shopping District?
It is our understanding that Neck Road HOPE Housing, LLC has undertaken an additional traffic study, which includes Memorial Day traffic, with vehicle counters located directly to the south of the proposed development. Unfortunately, this additional traffic study is not yet available for review, however, given that these counts will not include any traffic turning left from Exit 70 onto Route 156 [2 of 3 exit lanes], it remains unclear how such a study can adequately address the safety, or plausibility, of traffic entering/exiting the development to/from the north.
To date, none of these issues have received even cursory discussion in the initial traffic study submitted by Neck Road HOPE Housing, LLC, which in our view is fatally flawed by its sole focus on congestion (quantity of traffic) to the detriment of quality (type and direction of flow). Nor is a reduction in the size or scope of the development an adequate remedy, given that this would do little to resolve the matter of traffic destined north, but rerouted circuitously to the south.
Approval as an Assumption of Liability
Given these concerns, and the reasonable possibility that they lack adequate and feasible solutions, it is concerning that the Zoning Commission might grant approval to these applications and in the process transfer a significant portion of the burden of such safety concerns from Neck Road HOPE Housing, LLC to the Town of Old Lyme.
Indeed, in Pansy Road, LLC v. Town Plan and Zoning Commission of the Town of Fairfield (2007), the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that once a site plan is conforming, the role that off-site traffic can play in municipal planning and zoning is limited, and although a planning or zoning commission may require an applicant to submit a traffic report, the commission’s review of such report is limited to “addressing traffic flow within the site and entering and exiting the site.”
There is a presumption in Pansy Road, LLC, that any proposed use consistent with existing zoning will not materially and adversely affect surrounding traffic and safety. It is reasonable then to assume that approval by the Zoning Commission likewise and inevitably carries with it the presumption that the proposed development will not adversely affect surrounding traffic and safety.
It remains unclear, after approval by the Zoning Commission, what improvements can be assessed to Neck Road HOPE housing, and to what extent necessary traffic lights, sidewalks, realignments, barriers, property and provisions for necessary turnarounds will be assumed by the Town of Old Lyme, as well as the liability for any failure to provide a timely and effective street design.
Given this possible shift in responsibility, and that Neck Road HOPE Housing, LLC intends to break ground in 2019, has the Town of Old Lyme or Neck Road HOPE Housing, LLC presented a plan or adequate assurance that the necessary traffic and safety improvements will be funded and completed in time to adequately provide for the safety of residents? Has the Town of Old Lyme or Neck Road HOPE Housing, LLC considered what will happen if this deadline cannot be met, or if adequate solutions later prove infeasible? Is the substantial public interest in safety served by approving these applications without a clear understanding of what improvements need to be made, a clear assurance that they will be approved and funded, and a clear assurance that they will be completed in reasonable time for the safety of residents of the development? Without clear affirmative answers to these questions we urge the commission to withhold approvals.
Additional Questions and Concerns to Consider
- Given the proximity of the Exit 70 terminus, what consideration has been given for safe access and service to the development by school buses, and 9-Town Transit? Will buses proceed up the entry road, or at stop on Route 156? Will a bus stop require curb extensions or additional safety measures?
- What consideration has been given for traffic diverted from I-95 onto Routes 156 and Halls Road in matters of congestion and emergency? Has this been considered as part of any study, design or safety solutions for the development?
- Is the entry road to the development public or private, what is the percent grade of the planned entry road, and entrance?
- Will Neck Road HOPE Housing, LLC request any accommodations or variances from the 2018 State Building and Fire Safety Codes? How will the development adequately accommodate the need for sprinklers and sufficient water, if required? How has Neck Road HOPE Housing, LLC determined that 18-1 and 18-2 have sufficient space and water capacity to meet these needs?
- Given that the development is within the sub-regional basin, at the mouth of the Connecticut River, a location of great ecological importance, does this plan require DEEP or DOPH review or approval? How many units, occupants and daily gallons is the septic system expected to accommodate? What technology will be employed? In terms of engineering, why are individual septic systems necessary for each building? Are 18-1 and 18-2 being proposed separately to avoid triggering necessary oversight by DEEP? Is this piecemeal approach consistent with other required reviews, requests for exemptions, and studies (e.g. Traffic reports, Open Space, Fire Safety, etc.)?
- At a February 13, 2017 Special Meeting of the Old Lyme Planning Commission, Joe Wren told the Commission that, “they did soil testing on the property and the soils are good.” What necessary soil tests were completed at that time? Did these include required tests by the Ledge Light Health District, and when were those tests completed?
- What is the planned purpose and use of the proposed community structure?
- Given that any structure or structures over 4,000 square feet in total floor area is required by the Connecticut River Gateway Commission to undergo either a Special Exception or Site Plan review, has the development undergone either a Special Exception or Site Plan review, and if not, why and how was this project deemed exempt?
- Given the scale of the proposed project, with well over 100 parking spaces, and the proximity to the relatively undeveloped eastern bank of the Connecticut River, what consideration has been given to issues of light pollution?
We appreciate the time and attention that members of the committee have taken to read and consider our concerns.
Gregory Stroud, Ph.D.