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Avon’s Inland Wetlands Commission approves permit for 100 Nod Road

By John Fitts

Staff Writer

AVON – On March 7, the town’s Inland Wetlands Commission approved, by a 3-2 vote, a wetlands permit for 100 Nod Road, where a local developer is planning a residential development.

100 Nod Way, LLC, managed by local developer P. Anthony Giorgio, PhD., is looking to develop 13 single-family homes and 8 buildings with 42-townhouse, common interest units on the 9.3-acre parcel.

“We are pleased by the decision last night by the Avon Inland Wetlands Commission,” Giorgio said the following day. “The science spoke for itself and the Commission clearly understood and respected the science.”

According to the development team, the proposal will have no negative impact to any wetlands or watercourse, including the Farmington River.

Watercourses on the south and north end of the sites were “channelized,” to varying degrees, in the 1990s when the town straightened a portion of Nod Road by paving a connection between two sharp curves, according to the application.

Developers said that no wetland will be directly disturbed and that only a very small amount of construction work will be temporarily performed in a small portion of the 100-foot upland review area.

Developers also emphatically asserted that the development would have no effect on the periodically flooding on the property, which they contend is caused by poorly maintained culverts on either end of the parcel.

The development’s stormwater management will utilize a different culvert in the middle of the property and have no effect on the Farmington River, according to developers.

Several residents and some commission members, however, contend that the plan is not carefully thought out. At the opening hearing on Jan. 9, several members of the public addressed climate change and asserted that the application should take into account future rainfall predictions. While only a few members of the public spoke at the March 7 continuation of the hearing, Aimee Petras, executive director at the Farmington River Watershed Association, emphasized that theme. Petras wrote to the commission and spoke at the March 7 hearing installment.

In her letter, Petras said the parcel is important for absorbing precipitation, as well as runoff from Talcott Mountain.

“As you may be aware, Nod Road flooded several times during the wet season of 2021,” she wrote. “This proposal will only exacerbate the existing conditions at this location and the stormwater design control for this parcel is only for a 1-inch storm event. Designing a stormwater system for a one-inch rain conveyance in insufficient for the expected increasing rainfall that the Northeast will experience due to climate change. The property at 100 Nod Way contains soils that have been altered by previous land uses, which have resulted in conditions that may not appear to meet the definition of wetland soils. Climate models predict increase annual precipitation and frequency of heavy downpours, increasing flood risks. Precipitation from extremely heavy storms has increased 70 % since 1958. During the next century average annual precipitation and the frequency of heavy downpours is likely to keep rising.

Despite the historical changes to this parcel concerning its wetland soils and characteristics, the parcel still behaves as though there is a watercourse flowing through it. As such, it is known that the Eastern Box Turtle, a state species of concern, has made this their home with their greatest threat being habitat loss, as noted in the NDDB. (Natural Diversity Database Maps).”

The development team pushed back on such assertions at both hearing installments, as well as in a prepared response to questions that surfaced at the January meeting.

“Stormwater management practices integrated in the designs presented include managing peak flows for heavy rains, up to an including the 100-year storm event,” the applicants stated in that response letter. “The analysis was conducted following CT DOT methodologies for peak flow and culvert capacity analysis using the most current NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) ATLAS 14 rainfall data for the project area from NOAA website. The methodologies used are in conformance with town requirements.”

“We do factor in changes in rainfall based on climate change, assuming it is resulting from climate change,” attorney Timothy S. Hollister of Hartford-based Hinckley Allen added at the March meeting, on behalf of the developer. “That’s all factored in and we said that’s all we can do is factor in the latest data. We can’t guess as to where the data is going to go and nobody can so we’re doing the best that anyone can do with an engineering calculation. Our stormwater calculations show that even with an extreme storm, the subject property, where the development will occur, will not flood.”

The development team said it will – and must – follow strict state requirements to protect Eastern Box Turtles if they are found but asserted that the wetland is the protected resource and that the commission must determine if there’s will be an adverse impact to the “function of value of a watercourse.”

The issue of climate change came up again in the public portion of the meeting as Petras asked whether the application team used the 2004 stormwater quality manual or updated information from a draft that DEEP is currently working on for an updated manual.

“For a large property like this that might be developed after this stormwater manual is in effect, wouldn’t you think it would be prudent to edit your proposal to use those guidelines?” she asked.

“No I think we should use whatever the current standard is that’s currently published as best management practices and recommended by the Connecticut DEEP,” said Guy A. Hesketh – engineer at F.A. Hesketh and Associates, another member of the application team. “I don’t want to speculate on what might happen in the future.”

Commissioners, for their part, were split in their outlook.

Robert Breckinridge said that while he didn’t like aspects of the project, he felt the application met the regulations.

“I am quite uncomfortable with this project, per se. My uncomfortable issues are not related to wetlands. I want to make that clear as to them meeting the standard of our wetlands guidelines and regulations,” he said. “I feel they have met those conditions. My initial concerns were with the flooding – as well as everyone else – but we have been told by an expert witness that the flooding is not related to this project. It’s something that’s existing and, as we all heard, it’s a result of lack of maintenance of the culverts. I ,too, had some concerns about the box turtles. Again, we’re being told they’re following a protocol that the state has initiated and again, I don’t feel that’s a reason to deny the application if they’re following best practices that the state has recommended. … And the concern that this parcel harbors wildlife, I have that concern but again, our regulations constrain us they don’t allow us– as far as I understand it – to vote a project down when a wetlands or watercourse are not being affected by the development.”

“I’m just not convinced,” said commissioner Carol Hauss following the comments on Breckinridge and similar thoughts from Michael Beauchamp. “There just been too much from the public. I don’t want to be ignoring what I think is some pretty clear evidence that this property has flooding issues. There’s wildlife there. I’m not convinced. I happen to love turtles so I’m not convinced that the box turtles aren’t going to be affected. … I didn’t hear from someone who is a conservationist. I’m not convinced that the flooding isn’t going to continue and I think that we heard evidence from the public, and saw photographs. Aimee from Farmington River Watershed, who is an expert, … has concerns about the impact of this project on the Farmington River. I simply cannot discount all of that so I’m leaning toward no.”

Michael Sacks also expressed reservations and spoke to future rainfall predictions, runoff and the complexity of systems that can fail due to human input. While some aspects of the application were subject to review by the North Central Conservation District and town engineering staff, Sacks also said he would have liked to the stormwater systems and other data confirmed by an independent expert.

And while Breckinridge asserted that some of the concerns spoke to speculation, which he said could not be the basis of a vote, and there was no evidence of a direct effect on a wetland, Hauss and Sacks voted against the project. Joining Beauchamp and Breckinridge with a yes vote was Kevin Tobin, who also noted being very conflicted about the application but also felt that there was no information that warranted a denial based on the regulations.

Michael Feldman and Gary Gianini are also on the commission but recused themselves from this proceeding.

Development on Nod Road has been the subject of fierce debate in the past few years and the Inland Wetlands Commission twice denied proposals by Keystone and other partners to amend the town’s wetlands map for a planned development on a portion of the Blue Fox Run Golf Course in 2019 and 2020. The Planning and Zoning Commission also denied a proposed zone change in 2019.

Central in those applications was resistance from Nod Road Preservation, Inc. which ran a well-publicized Save Nod Road Campaign and those meetings on the proposed development were, at times, quite contentious.

As far as the latest application Giorgio confirmed that his team would be preparing an application for the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission. He declined to talk more about the specifics of the project at this time beyond what is in the wetlands application.

“It is premature to discuss the project in any further detail at this time,” he said. “Our team will gather and begin preparing our Zoning application.”

Nod road Preservation Inc. president Chris Carville said the group would be ready for that application.

“First we would like to thank the commission for their time and energy,” he said of the Wetlands agency and its proceedings. “We do find the final decision regrettable but understand that the commission was required to follow the guidelines given to them. We along with our many supporters are prepared for what comes next at the planning and zoning level.”

This graphic, prepared by the development team for the March 7 meeting, shows not only the proposed housing layout but also the green space that would remain on the property.

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