Developer Challenges Proposed Water Pollution Control Plan

A land development firm, which has a lawsuit pending against the Water & Sewer Authority (WSA), is challenging the WSA’s proposed revisions to its Water Pollution Control Plan, charging that the proposed changes involve “several illegalities.”

In an October 11 letter to the WSA, attorney Timothy Hollister of the Hartford law firm Shipman & Goodwin LLP, representing developer 79 Church Hill Road LLC, further alleges that some past aspects of the WSA’s administration of the central municipal public sanitary sewer system have been “illegal.” The WSA held a public hearing on October 11 on the proposed pollution control plan revisions.

In August, 79 Church Hill Road LLC, which proposes a controversial large rental apartment complex at that address, near Exit 10 of Interstate 84, filed a lawsuit against the WSA, through which the firm seeks court approval to either substantially or to greatly expand the land area at which the firm could construct the apartment complex with municipal sewer service.

Through the lawsuit, the Trumbull-based developer also is seeking to have the court nullify certain conditions that the WSA has placed on the firm obtaining municipal sewage treatment capacity for the proposed dwellings.

The project, known as Hunters Ridge, would include an “affordable housing” component, in which income-eligible tenants would be charged significantly lower rents than the tenants occupying market-rate units.

An initial version of the project proposed 224 dwellings, of which 45 units would be designated as “affordable” under the terms of the Planning & Zoning Commission’s (P&Z) Incentive Housing-10 (IH-10) zoning regulations. The most recent of several subsequent versions of the project proposed by the developer would hold 141 dwellings, of which 43 units would be designated as “affordable” under the terms of the state’s Affordable Housing Appeals Act.

Through the lawsuit, the developer also is seeking to nullify the WSA’s having strictly limited the size of the area where development could occur and also to nullify the WSA’s requirement that the developer gain approvals for the project from the P&Z and the from Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) before the WSA would provide municipal sanitary sewer service for the project. The lawsuit is pending in Connecticut Superior Court in Danbury.

In court on October 9, the town filed 12 documents, totaling 327 pages, related to the lawsuit, plus two versions of mapping for the central sewer district service area: one from 2015 and the other from 2001.

In his October 11 letter to the WSA, Mr Hollister challenges the WSA’s use of the term “sewer avoidance area” in its proposed Water Pollution Control Plan as all the land not located within a sewer service area as being “arbitrary, baseless, and illegal.” The lawyer claims that the WSA’s use of the term “sewer avoidance area” is “nonsensical, a meat-axe approach to a determination that can only be made parcel-by-parcel.

“Each owner of land within a sewer service area has a legal right to demand and receive its services,” Mr Hollister writes.

The attorney further claims that the state’s remaining share of the sewage treatment capacity at the Commerce Road sewage treatment plant will never be used by the state. “Given this fact, the WSA and the town have an obligation to request the state to cede that capacity back to the town,” according to Mr Hollister.

“The WSA and the town are freezing and hoarding (sewage treatment) capacity that should be available to owners of property in Newtown as well as creating a de facto moratorium on sewer capacity allocation, and (the WSA is) controlling land use,” the lawyer alleges.

WSA Response

In response to the lawyer’s letter, Fred Hurley, town public works director, said that the matter would be referred to Town Attorney David Grogins for legal review and recommendations to the WSA. Mr Grogins’ comments are expected to be discussed by WSA members at their November 8 meeting.

The WSA’s proposed revised Water Pollution Control Plan is more concise than the plan that it would replace, reducing the amount of sewage gallonage statistics included in the document. If the revised plan is approved by the WSA, there would be less need for the WSA to repeatedly update the document, according to Mr Hurley.

The current plan was approved by the WSA in January 2015. The original plan was approved in 1995, with revisions made in 1999 and 2009.

“It [the plan] was cumbersome in that it was too specific,” according to Mr Hurley.

According to the proposed revised plan, the document, through its related mapping, delineates the boundaries of areas to be served by town sewers as well as the areas where sewers are to be avoided. The plan also describes the policies and programs the town employs to control both surface water and groundwater pollution.

The boundaries of the central sewer system became a controversial issue earlier this year when 79 Church Hill Road LLC, sought WSA approval to construct the high-density rental apartment complex at that address.

The WSA’s review of its current sewer mapping had indicated that the sewer district did not extend as far northward in that area as the developer had thought, thus putting some strict limits on the geographical area that could be served by sanitary sewers. Unable to resolve the conflict, the developer then filed a lawsuit which challenges the WSA’s decision on the size of the area that can be served by sewers.

Notably, the central sanitary sewer system, which started operations in 1997, was constructed for environmental reasons. The system was built by the town to provide an environmentally sound way to dispose of wastewater. Many failing septic systems had been causing soil and groundwater pollution problems.

The town shares the use of the sewage treatment plant with the state. The town has the rights to use up to 332,000 gallons of the plant’s overall 932,000-gallon daily treatment capacity. In April, town officials said that the plant was treating on average roughly 500,000 gallons of wastewater daily.

The separate Hawleyville sanitary sewer system, which started operations in 2001 and was expanded in 2016, was constructed by the town to stimulate economic development. The town has the rights to use up to 150,000 gallons of the Danbury sewage plant’s daily treatment capacity for its Hawleyville sewers.


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