Inland Wetlands Discusses 141 Danbury Rd. and Humane Society Projects — with Hints of Progress

New green space along the Norwalk River is among the amenities proposed at 141 Danbury Rd.

Wilton’s Inland Wetlands Commission discussed two ongoing large-scale projects during the Thursday, Oct. 14 meeting — the proposed 173-unit apartment building at 141 Danbury Rd. and the CT Humane Society Headquarters six miles further up Route 7. As always, presentations and public comments were limited to issues pertaining to wetlands preservation and stewardship, though both topics have also been hotly debated in recent Planning & Zoning Commission meetings.

While neither project garnered full approval of the commissioners yet, the evening was a positive one for both applicants, hinting at likely progress for each project in the near future.

141 Danbury Rd.

The first topic on the agenda was the application for 141 Danbury Rd., the proposal for a 173-unit multi-family complex on a 4.2-acre site at the former site of the Melissa and Doug corporate office. The application materials, including detailed architectural and landscaping plans, can be seen on the town website.

Thursday’s presentation by the project group focused on answering a series of questions posed during and since the Sept. 23 meeting. There was a lively discussion about filtration of microplastics on the site, sparked by a comment from a member of the Commission, Dr. Theodora Pinou.

“The literature is exploding right now about microplastics shed from people’s clothing, unintentionally,” Pinou said. “They’re somewhere between 15 and 20 microns in size, and they’re a big problem.”

She inquired as to whether the applicant had evaluated the proposed filtration system’s ability to filter microplastics. Erik W. Lindquist, Senior Project Manager for the proposal, admitted that such an evaluation had not been conducted. Commissioner Penelope Koechl posed that microplastics find their way into the environment more often through sink and washing machines drainage into sewers, rather than the groundwater drainage that the Commission is charged with assessing.

In addition to oral testimony, the applicant submitted responses to each of the matters discussed in writing in a letter submitted on Oct. 13. Inland Wetlands Commission Chair Nick Lee noted that the timing of the applicant’s response letter meant that members of the public had not had sufficient time to review the information prior to this meeting. For this reason, the matter was left open.

However, the commissioners voted to direct staff to draft a resolution in support, to be debated further and likely voted on at the next Commission meeting. All voted in favor with the exception of Pinou, who indicated that she would be submitting additional materials on microplastics for consideration by the Commission prior to the presumed vote.

“I don’t have a problem with humans but someone has to talk for the voice of other living things in the area. This talks about creating a habitat and I don’t believe it does that,” she said.

The matter will be discussed again at the next meeting of the Inland Wetlands Commission, scheduled for Oct. 28.

Humane Society Headquarters

The Commission also heard a response from the applicant for 863-875 Danbury Rd., a proposal to construct a new headquarters for the Connecticut Humane Society. Detailed application materials — including site plans, traffic studies, letters of support or opposition, and other documentation — along with a video recording of the Oct. 12 public hearing and P&Z meeting can be found on the Town website.

On the heels of Tuesday’s marathon presentation to the Planning & Zoning Commission, real estate attorney James Murphy opened the hearing by dispelling outdated conceptions about the structure of animal shelters in the 21st century.

“It’s less this reactionary approach of shelter, rehabilitate, and rehome,” he said, and more about foster-based care, programming to help pet owners, and pet food pantries. He introduced Heather Lewis, a licensed architect and expert in animal shelter design, to explain the considerations already being taken to ensure environmentally safe procedures on the site.

In particular, Lewis rebutted two driving concerns expressed about the project: the facility will not be hosing down its interior spaces, because of concern about aerosolizing bacteria; and the site will not administer oncology medications, specifically cytotoxic drugs and radioactive isotopes, because treatment for illnesses severe enough to warrant these courses of medicine would be treated as a specialized facility.

She also noted that the facility plans to use only accelerated hydrogen peroxide as a disinfectant, and that the septic system will be pumped monthly in recognition of the diminished bacteria available to process the unusually sanitary run-off produced at the site.

In closing, she called the Connecticut Humane Society a “shining beacon for many.”

“They are a nationwide leader that you can trust to follow best practices — to protect the environment, the animals, and the project site itself.”

There were no questions from the public following Lewis’ testimony. Following further presentations about the surrounding terrain, the commissioners and representatives for the applicant engaged in an extended debate about the presence of vernal pools on the site.

Pinou challenged presenting landscape architect Matthew Popp on the timing of his assessment, noting that vernal pools (also known as seasonal ponds) are rarely present in the month of October. While acknowledging that vernal pools are most often wet between the months of February and May, Popp assured the Commission that he consulted Department of Energy and Environmental Protection documents that point to secondary indicators, none of which appeared on the site.

Further discussion on vernal pools was kicked off by a comment from a member of the public, who noted that she had submitted photographs of seasonally pooling water. The Commission directed the applicant to consult the Connecticut Geological and Natural History Survey for information on the past presence of vernal pools and other sensitive ecologies within the project area.

The hearing concluded with another vote to direct staff to draft a resolution in support, for further debate at the Oct. 28 Commission meeting. All were in favor, with the exception of Pinou.

In his closing remarks, Murphy implored the Commission to move forward with a vote on Oct. 28, noting that the development team cannot seek a favorable decision from the Planning & Zoning Commission until the Inland Wetlands Commission has weighed in. With the winter holidays looming, and the contract to buy set to expire in January, the applicant is eager to reach a resolution.

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