Canaan’s new sewer denial for Weed Street enforcement is just a ‘hinder in the road’

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NEW CANAAN — Despite the denial from the governing body needed to move the project forward, a local developer says it won’t stop.

The authority voted unanimously last week to reject the plan that called for the construction of 135 linear feet of eight-inch PVC sanitary sewer pipes and a new sewer manhole on Elm Street.

The WPCA, made up of members of the Finance Council, voted unanimously last week that the city’s sewer had capacity for the development of 102 units, but in a second vote it refused the connection of Elm Street.

Obtaining a sewer connection is one of the few regulatory hurdles to building multifamily housing under Connecticut’s General Law 8-30g, as affordable housing projects can only be denied if they pose a threat to public health or safety.

Department of Public Works engineer Maria Coplit recommended that the authority refuse the proposed sewer plan because the plaintiff has not presented any difficulties requiring such work in the municipal right-of-way and the city does not has no current or future plans to extend the public sewer to this location.

Coplit said the disruption of the existing right-of-way “has not been justified and would also increase the length of public lines for which the city would be responsible in perpetuity.”

The 102-unit project with 30 affordable homes doesn’t depend on that connection and the denial is simply “an unnecessary bump in the road,” Karp said. The controversial development may instead tap into an existing sewage collection system contained within a private easement, he said.

The application is for 47 one-bedroom units ranging in size from 969 to 995 square feet and 55 two-bedroom units, eight of which have a den, ranging from 1,051 to 1,168 square feet, according to documents filed by the attorney Timothy Hollister of Hartford. based in Hinckley Allen.

The existing sanitary sewer system and wastewater treatment facility have sufficient capacity to accommodate the estimated 24,000 gallon capacity associated with the project, Coplit said. The requested capacity for the four-story development is 0.03% of overall capacity, according to Karp.

The treatment plant is designed for 1.7 million gallons per day (mgd) peaking at 5.5 mgd, and is currently operating less than the design allows, Coplit explained.

Coplit said it wanted to make sure that existing flow rates plus proposed flow rates would not bring the system to a full pipe, and concluded that the city would still maintain an additional 30% available pipe capacity, if the development was connected.

During last year’s storms, the system was stressed by absorbing 7 mgd, Coplit said, even though it only has a capacity of 5.5 mgd.

Director of Public Works Tiger Mann said his department is setting up a $200,000 study, part of an effort to improve the sewer system to avoid the dramatic increase in flow during storms. To reduce storm flow, engineers are looking to replace or maintain some of the existing sewer lines, reduce illegal hookups, and prevent high groundwater elevations from seeping into the sewer line.

“So ultimately we are working on not having a peak of 7 million gallons per day due to a storm,” Coplit said.

Coplit said her assumptions are based on data from 2019, 2020 and 2021, “which is good because obviously we have more intense storms than ever before,” she said.

The decision comes at a time when residents and local officials have raised concerns about affordable housing in three locations in the city and the city is not currently eligible for an 8-30g moratorium.

Hollister told the WPCA that the city is not adhering to its own regulations and cited city code 51-1 which states that “no new house or building used for human habitation shall be constructed on adjoining property to streets where public sewer lines are available, unless such homes or buildings are provided with connections to such public sewer lines.

“We simply see no factual or legal basis to deny, including the fact that the city has no plan,” Karp’s attorney said.

City officials did not respond to multiple inquiries made by Hearst about what the next step would be. Karp thinks he needs to submit the revised plan to planner Lynn Brooks Avni for approval. On Tuesday, Avni declined to answer if this is true.

If the Planning and Zoning Commission rejects plans for the project at Elm and Weed Streets, an appeal may be filed in Connecticut Superior Court. The court appoints specifically designated judges and appeals are treated as “privileged cases,” according to the state’s website.

The affordable housing land use appeal process requires municipalities with less than 10% affordable housing to demonstrate to the court that a municipality’s rejection of a development proposal is supported by sufficient evidence.

Karp says he would expect to win an appeal and the city would end up spending “a lot” on legal fees. He also argues that if the city were to build affordable housing projects, it would be very expensive.


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