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CT Construction Digest Thursday November 14, 2019

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CT2030
Senate Democrats considering legalizing marijuana and sports betting as alternative ways to fund Gov. Ned Lamont’s transportation plan without tolls

Reluctant to vote in favor of highway tolls in an election year, Democrats in the state Senate are considering legalizing recreational marijuana and sports betting as alternative ways to fund Gov. Ned Lamont’s new transportation plan.“I think we need to find something that is broadly palatable in the General Assembly and also to the public,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat.Democrats failed to generate enough votes for Lamont’s prior plan for 53 overhead toll gantries on I-95, I-91, I-84 and Route 15, and opposition remains for his updated plan of 14 gantries on eight highways across the state.Lamont spent nearly two hours Wednesday in closed-door talks on tolls with on-the-fence Senate Democrats, but he said afterward he had not immediately generated any additional votes for his plan.On Thursday, Senate Republicans plan to unveil an alternative transportation plan that does not rely on tolls.Since the legislature currently lacks the votes for tolls, Democrats are exploring alternative sources of funding that would pay back the low-interest federal loans that would be used to finance major construction projects at highway choke points in Hartford, Waterbury, Bridgeport and beyond.But Lamont is skeptical on the alternative financing, saying that marijuana and sports betting would likely not raise the necessary $320 million a year that tolls are projected to generate in order to pay back the federal loans.“I don’t think the Trump administration would be willing to consider that when it comes to bonding,” he told reporters this week. “They want an independent, reliable revenue stream."Marijuana and sports betting been the subject of widespread discussion among legislators, but they have failed to generate the necessary votes in the House and Senate.Looney said the idea is still being studied as a possibility."That would not be adequate to cover the whole cost, but it is something that could be a piece of an alternative package of sources that could go toward the debt service,” Looney said Wednesday. “That was just an example of things that could be packaged together as an alternative to doing it by tolling. ... Those would not be by themselves a reliable enough revenue stream to meet the federal threshold.”When asked if any senators have changed their minds on tolls in the days since Lamont released his updated plan, Looney said, “We did not take an actual head count in the caucus about who was where.”Asked whether tolls should be considered a dead issue that will not pass in the Senate, Looney said, “We don’t want to draw a conclusion on it yet.”Looney said the idea is still being studied as a piecepossibility."That would not be adequate to cover the whole cost, but it is something that could be a piece of an alternative package of sources that could go toward the debt service,” Looney said Wednesday. “That was just an example of things that could be packaged together as an alternative to doing it by tolling. ... Those would not be by themselves a reliable enough revenue stream to meet the federal threshold.”When asked if any senators have changed their minds on tolls in the days since Lamont released his updated plan, Looney said, “We did not take an actual head count in the caucus about who was where.”Asked whether tolls should be considered a dead issue that will not pass in the Senate, Looney said, “We don’t want to draw a conclusion on it yet.”After the Democratic caucus, a top union leader — David Roche, president of the Connecticut Building Trades — said Democrats are afraid to vote for tolls because they believe they will lose next November in their reelection bids.“They’re scared of their elections coming up,” he said. “That’s what the problem is. That’s the real issue. That’s the bottom line. I don’t care what they say. This is a great plan, and they’re scared of their elections coming up.”Roche noted that Lamont’s 10-year, $21 billion transportation plan calls for creating 26,000 jobs for building a wide variety of roads and bridges. He noted that none of the Senate Democrats talked about the 26,000 jobs during their post-caucus comments to the press.“I’ve got people going to Massachusetts and New York right now to work — paying tolls every day,” Roche said. “Making $10 or $15 an hour more. You know what’s going to happen? They’re going to stay there some day. We’re going to lose that workforce.”The concerns of legislators have been heightened by the recent loss of their colleague, Sen. Cathy Osten, in a municipal election where she serves as first selectman of Sprague. Toll opponents say that Osten lost because of the toll issue, but others say it was related to financial problems in the small town where she served as the top elected leader for 12 years.Osten said Wednesday that she believes local issues involving spending by the board of education — rather than tolls — was the reason she lost.Lamont conceded that some Democratic senators are concerned about political repercussions.“They said, ‘Boy, there’s some political issues here. Let’s think about it,’ " the governor told reporters. “I said to them, ‘I’m sorry. I’m asking you to take a tough vote. You’ve inherited a mess. This goes back 30 or 40 years. ... I’ve got a plan on the table. If anybody has an alternative, speak now.' '"During Lamont’s two-hour meeting, toll opponents stood outside the caucus room, with some holding signs.I don’t like the government coming at me and taking more money out of my pocket without asking,” said Kevin Olean of Hartford, who held up a sign that said, “Don’t Toll Me, Bro."Patrick Sasser, leader of the group No Tolls CT, said he was stunned when Lamont announced this week that he would hold town hall meetings to get the general public’s feedback on tolls.“If he does actually do a town hall anywhere, he’s going to be hammered by the public,” Sasser said. “I don’t think the governor realized what he is opening the door to. I’ll be shocked if he holds one.”Under Lamont’s proposal, toll rates at the 14 gantries would vary between 50 cents and $1, depending on the location. There would be a 20% discount for drivers with a Connecticut E-ZPass. Trucks would pay higher rates.

Lamont rebuffed on tolls by Senate Democrats
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The Senate Democratic majority effectively took highway tolls off the table Wednesday as a means to leverage low-cost federal financing of Gov. Ned Lamont’s sweeping $21 billion plan to maintain and modernize Connecticut’s aging transportation infrastructure over the next decade.
“I think we need to find something that is broadly palatable in the General Assembly and also to the public,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.
Senate Democrats met for two hours with Lamont in their third-floor caucus room at the State Capitol, then discussed the governor’s CT2030 plan for more than another hour after Lamont departed.
They had one small piece of good news for Lamont once they emerged to face the press. The senators, who hold a 22-14 majority in the upper chamber, are ready to offer “broad-based support” for the transit, highway and bridge investments in CT2030 — and they would like to act on them before the General Assembly returns in regular session in February, Looney said.
But no one made a move to pick up the tab.
“I think we all want to move forward on a plan, we just have got to figure out how to fund it,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.
Neither leader would unequivocally pronounce tolls dead as they spoke outside the Senate caucus room, but off to the side stood a furious David Roche, the leader of the Connecticut Building Trades. He quickly decoded their comments as a firm rejection of the governor’s financing plan.
“What about the 26,000 jobs?” Roche said, a reference to the annual construction hiring necessary to the carry out the plan.
And several sources familiar with the caucus discussion confirmed that Looney’s message  was, in fact, for the governor to give up on highway tolls that could have raised $320 million annually.
The Lamont administration offered no immediate comment on the leaders’ comments, but the governor conceded earlier after his meeting that he was leaving without any commitments to vote for his plan, as drafted.
“We had a chance to go state senator-by-state senator, exactly what it means for your town, exactly what it means for the future of the state,” Lamont said. “They came back and said ‘Boy, there’s some political issues here. Let’s think about it.’ ”
Attention now will shift to Senate Republicans, who plan to outline a no-tolls alternative Thursday, and how that is received by a Democratic governor unable to do business with a Democratic leadership in the Senate on one of his key priorities.
Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, said he was willing to vote for a transportation plan that  placed tolls on interstate highways, where about 40 percent of the revenue would be projected to come from out-of-state drivers. But he objected to inclusion of Routes 8 and 9 in CT2030, highways with little interstate traffic.
Sen. James Maroney, D-Milford, who campaigned as a supporter of trucks-only tolls, said he believes the governor has succeeded in convincing the caucus that transportation is an immediate need in Connecticut, even if he found no consensus on financing.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what he comes up with in response,” said Sen. Matt Lesser, D-Middletown.
One sign of how badly the caucus went for Lamont was that his chief of staff, Ryan Drajewicz, and Looney’s, Vinnie Mauro, exited the room to converse at length in adjacent the empty Senate chamber.
 The governor acknowledged the political risks those backing tolls would face, but dismissed any argument that the risk justified delaying a long-overdue rebuild for an aging, overcrowded transportation system.
“I said, ‘I’m sorry. I’m asking you to cast a tough vote,’ ” Lamont said. “‘You’ve inherited a mess. This goes back 30 or 40 years. You’ve got a Special Transportation Fund that goes underwater in five years.’ ”
Looney has been an obstacle to the passage of Lamont’s plan since his original proposal in February, viewing a Democratic vote for tolls without some Republican support as a risk to the Democratic majority in 2020, when lawmakers are on the ballot and Lamont is not.
The governor now must decide how much of his plan is affordable and how it can be financed. To obtain federal low-cost financing, Lamont needs to identify a dedicated revenue stream.
The $1.7 billion Special Transportation Fund, which represents 8% of state’s annual budget, pays for Department of Transportation operations and the debt service on financing for highway, bridge and rail upgrades. And that borrowing qualifies Connecticut for more than $700 million in matching federal transportation grants.
State analysts project the Special Transportation Fund would fall into deficit, and possibly insolvency, by 2025 — if Connecticut accelerates a capital program that does nothing to relieve congestion and barely maintains a state of good repair.
DOT officials have estimated Connecticut should be spending about $400 million-to-$500 million more per year on infrastructure work than it currently does.
And Lamont says tolls are the only realistic option to make this happen.
The governor’s proposal calls for 14 tolling gantries scattered across the state, primarily around bridges in need of repair.The plan calls for tolls ranging from 50 cents to $1 per gantry. Holders of a Connecticut E-Z Pass would get a 20% discount, paying between 40 and 80 cents per gantry. Heavy trucks would pay between $3.50 and $7, less with a Connecticut E-Z Pass.
“I know we’d all love to put this off,” Lamont said. “I’d love a delay, maybe a study, how about a commission? But that’s not our choice right now.”
Making this hard choice, the governor said, could generate about $315 million per year.
This new tolling revenue, coupled with additional sales tax receipts Lamont would dedicate to transportation, not only would allow Connecticut to borrow more for infrastructure work, but also would permit more than $130 million per year in cash financing of repairs — sparing the state huge interest costs.
While there has been some speculation at the Capitol that Senate Democrats might support taxation of marijuana sales and a new fee on sports betting to support transportation, Lamont said those options were not discussed in caucus.
But even if those were approved, they would not generate the revenues available via tolls. 
Some estimates offered by marijuana-legalization advocates are that Connecticut could raise as much as $60 million in the first fiscal year and $170 million in the second after taxation of marijuana sales for recreational use has begun. The take on sports betting was projected at about $30 million to $40 million per year.
 
PAUL HUGHES
HARTFORD — Senate Democrats told Gov. Ned Lamont on Wednesday to consider alternatives to bridge and highway tolls to help fund his 10-year, $21.3 billion transportation financing plan.
“I think we need to find something that is broadly palatable in the General Assembly and also to the public,” said Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.
Lamont and top aides discussed the CT2030 plan with 19 of the 22 Senate Democrats for one hour and 45 minutes behind closed doors at the state Capitol.
Democrats then huddled among themselves for another hour or so. Democratic senators broadly supported the 10-year timetable and the proposed investments in highways, trains, buses, airports, and ports, but balked at electronic tolls being part of the funding mix.
“I think we all want to move forward on a plan. We just have got to figure out how to fund it,” said Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.
Lamont is proposing to set up tolls to secure low-interest federal loans to finance 14 bridge and highway improvement projects that are estimated to cost $2 billion to complete.
LOONEY AND DUFF STOPPED short of publicly ruling out tolls, but suggested the Lamont administration explore other options.
“I think if there is a will to find alternatives that they can, in fact, be found,” Looney said. “I think there are other actions out there, I won’t get into them in any detail now, that would not involve any additional tax increases, but that we can find ways to address paying for the cost of tolls over a period of time through other means.”
Senate Democrats offered no ideas on how that might be done, according to Looney and Lamont.
Both leaders criticized the Republican minority’s previous 30-year, $65 billion plan that proposed a combination of state bonding and federal grants to finance transportation spending. House and Senate Republicans are now exploring new alternatives to possibly present to the governor and Democrats.
Lamont said he is expecting Republicans to put out a no-tolls counterproposal to CT 2030. He said he also challenged Senate Democrats to do likewise if they object to his plan’s funding mechanisms.
LAMONT DESCRIBED HIS MEETING with Senate Democrats as “very productive” despite emerging without commitments of support.
“We had a chance to go state senator-by-state senator, exactly what it means for your town, exactly what it means for the future of the state,” Lamont said. “They came back, they said, “Boy, there’s some political issues here. Let’s think about it.'”
Looney said the frank conversation between Lamont and Senate Democrats delved into the political ramifications of supporting a transportation funding plan that included tolls.
“Obviously, we have shared our views with him about what are the kinds of votes and the kinds of issues that are worth different levels of risk,” he said.
Looney and Duff said several times that Lamont is going to reflect on what he heard Tuesday. Looney said the next move will be Lamont’s to make.
The first-term governor expressed some frustration with the apparent stand still on transportation funding.
“I come out of the business world and I try to get people to ‘yes.’ I’m surrounded by people who say ‘no,'” said Lamont, who ran a small telecommunications company from 1984 to 2015.
ANTI-TOLL DEMONSTRATORS protested outside of the caucus room where Lamont and Senate Democrats met, including Patrick Sasser, organizer of the grassroots opposition group called No Tolls CT
“We oppose the tolls. It is a new tax on the residents here, and we feel the taxpayers have paid their fair share here in Connecticut,” Saser said. “Money has been diverted from the Special Transportation Fund once again in this budget, so why should the governor and these legislators come back to us for more money. That is why we are here today to make sure they hear our message loud and clear.”
Lamont and Democrats agreed to a two-year, $43.4 billion budget that reduced scheduled transfers of sales tax revenue from new car sales to the Special Transportation Fund for the 2020 and 2021 fiscal years. The moves kept $171.4 million in the general fund.
The amount of the diversion had been scheduled to increase from 8% to 33% in 2020, and then increase incrementally to 100% over the next three fiscal years. The revised schedule reset the caps to 17% in 2020, 25% in 2021, 75% in 2022, and 100% in 2023.
Sasser and other anti-toll protesters said any legislators who support tolls of any kind will put their re-election chances next year in jeopardy.
“I find it is clear that the public doesn’t have an appetite for tolls, and I think lawmakers recognize this, and their election next year is going to absolutely be impacted by this topic,” Sasser said.
In his last proposal, Lamont recommended putting 50 tolls on Interstate 84, Interstate 91, Interstate 95, and the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways to raise an estimated $800 million a year.
Sasser said the 14 tolls being proposed now would just be the beginning.
“They’ll never stop at 14 tolls,” he said.

Dan Haar: Why Lamont’s toll plan died despite a clear need
It hasn’t even been a week since Gov. Ned Lamont rolled out the second version of his most ambitious idea. And yet it’s already basically dead. The chance of any plan that includes tolls passing in the next year seems slim.
The reasons say a lot about why Connecticut remains stuck in the 20th century.
By just about any measure, this is — can we say was? — a modest tolling plan with $320 million in highway tolls, just over one-third from out-of-state vehicles. It’s less than half of Lamont’s first proposal. Massachusetts collects about $400 million on its one tolled road, the Mass Pike, which we all help pay when we drive to Boston. New Jersey rings up a colossal $1.6 billion a year on the infamous New Jersey Turnpike ($1.2 billion) and the Garden State Parkway.
No East Coast state other than Connecticut balances its budget without tolls. Most big employers favor the highway charges.
So what’s the problem?
That seemed clear after Senate Democrats met with Lamont behnd closed doors. Wednesday. No one would come out and say tolls are dead but that’s the upshot. Lamont agreed to retool his plan quickly.
“What he indicated was a willingness to look at something that relies on other sources of revenue,” said a senator who was not an opponent of tolls previously but “will not support this current proposal.”  
Timing is part of the issue. Lamont might have had a shot if last spring he had pitched this plan rather than the full Monte of linear tolling on the state’s four busiest highways. If there ever was a chance of tolls passing, it had to happen in this calendar year.
There’s no way a tolls vote happens in an election year, especially since we all know a vote on tolls would come in May at the earliest, after legislators start ringing their district doorbells.
Political skill and muscle is part of the picture. Until Wednesday, Lamont never tried to sell his plan directly to legislators as a group. However he pitched it, he should never have agreed to both the $15 minimum wage and the paid family and medical leave act without promises of support for tolls from key Democrats who wanted those reforms — I’m thinking of Sen. Julie Kushner, D-Danbury, and Sen. Mae Flexer, D-Killingly.
I agree it’s unpalatable that Lamont would jeopardize reforms he favored in order to win the tolls battle. But that’s how the Capitol works and he might have won all of it.
169 Connecticut.

Tellingly, after Lamont said he’d hold town hall meetings around the state, Patrick Sasser, founder of No Tolls CT, tweeted, “I hope @GovNedLamont is ready to hold a town hall at all 169 towns in CT. We all want to look him in the eye as he presents his plan.”
Bridgeport and surrounding towns escape in this plan. And in a state fractured by town and regional lines, that seems unfair. Tolling whole highways with lots of gantries at lower prices would be fairer but opponents spread the word that more gantries means higher tolls.
Speaking of fairness, anti-toll Democrats such as Kushner and Rep. Bob Godfrey, both of Danbury, correctly say tolls hurt the poor disproportionately. They suggest raising taxes on the rich to pay for what the state needs. That’s a debatable strategy but it isn’t politically viable.
Deep culture
Timing, fariness and fractured politics are all part of the problem but the issue runs deeper.
What’s the deal with the permanent state of rigor mortis on policy in this state? Property tax reform, marijuana legalization, electoral reform, gaming strategy, alcoholic beverage pricing, health insurance options — all of it stagnates year after year with little change while other states make progress.
Maybe it’s in our culture. What do we do in Connecticut? We make defense equipment; we insure lives, health and property; we run companies; we deliver medical care; and we manage money. All of those pursuits have one thing in common: Risk management, often outright aversion to risk.
No surprise we can’t elect lawmakers who enact major changes.
Tolls represent a particularly frustrating standoff. Yes, we have a profound political divide on spending vs. tax increases but lots of states have that and they manage to get by. Making the divide worse is Connecticut’s more unusual trust gap, as governors and General Assemblies have been forced to deploy budget tricks because we didn’t fund pensions correctly years ago.
Now skeptics don’t believe the toll money will go toward highway upgrades because, they say, we’ve robbed too much from the transportation fund to pay for general government and pensions. Truth is, far more has gone the other way, toward transportation, but facts are not part of this debate.
So now we’re paying for the sins of the past, foisting idiocy on the future by not enacting tolls in the present.
At least four Democrats in the Senate might be inclined to vote for tolls, making a victory for Lamont more likely, but they’re in closely contested districts. That means the leadership doesn’t want to expose them to a tolls vote, and if there were a vote, they might oppose tolls.
If any of them were to decide not to seek re-election — it’s two men and two women — they’d probably vote for this modest tolls plan.
The financial case for tolls
There simply is no logical financial argument not to install tolls.
We spend $1.5 billion a year fixing and occasionally upgrading roads and highways. Half comes from the federal government and half we borrow, paying the debt with a combination of gasoline taxes, oil company taxes, car and truck sales taxes and assorted fees.
We need to spend at least $300 million a year more if we want to eliminate a dozen or so choke points in the system, and if we want to boost train travel — and there’s noplace other than tolls to find more money.
And even if we don’t spend more than $1.5 billion, the state’s transportation debt will rise by at least $300 million a year over the next four years, to about $1 billion.
Republicans say cut costs and use the savings to upgrade highways. They’re right, we should find ways to known diwn these crazy prices. But even if we cut $300 million a year — a stretch — we’d still need to come up with between $800 million and $1 billion a year, compared with $700 million we’re now spending.
Four options: Transfer more money from the general fund, which we’re already doing. Raise taxes, which obviously can’t happen. Borrow more money, which digs the hole deeper. Or increase user fees.
Within that last category, certainly we could jack up the price of a driver’s license and vehicle registration, along with gas taxes. It would have to total an extra $150 per driver per year, maybe more, to yield $300 million and that’s a tough nut.
That leaves tolls, which raise at least $275 million in Lamont’s plan, after costs — of which only $200 million comes from us in Connecticut. Borrowing, by contrast, would cost us an average of at least $400 million to have access to that same $275 million, due to interest — though we could spread the cost over many decades.
Logic and pork
Republicans say borrow less for other things and use the current borrowing capacity to pay for transportation. Well, Lamont is already borrowing the bare minimum. He thinks we need that “debt diet” to reduce future payments. And while he’s right, his principled stand is hurting his ability to buy votes with pork-barrel politics.
Lamont says we need tolls as a “dedicated revenue source” to borrow under a federal program that lends highway money at about the interest rate of the 10-year Treasury yield plus a few basis points. Opponents say there are other dedicated sources and anyway, they say correctly, the state won’t be able to borrow as much as Lamont suggests under that program.
That whole argument is a red herring. That federal program would save maybe $20 million a year for Connecticut. With or without it, the math is the same. The issue isn’t finding a dedicated revenue source, it’s finding revenue — even if we cut costs.
All of that is logic. The real problem is Connecticut’s risk-averse, change-averse culture, and our fractured, town-centered politics, all of which defines life at the Capitol.Logic was not Lamont’s only weapon. As one lawmaker asked, that 5 percent of toll revenue Lamont wants to give host towns is negotiable, right? Oh yes, it certainly is. Debt diet be damned, Lamont might have broken out the old pork-barrel in Hartford.With enough pork, maybe it’s not too late.

Senate Democrats Deliver Bad News To Lamont

HARTFORD, CT — Behind closed doors Wednesday, the Senate Democratic caucus politely told Gov. Ned Lamont that they couldn’t vote in favor of his $21-billion transportation plan if it included tolls. 
But the message may not have been that clear.
“We did not take an actual headcount in the caucus on who was where,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said.
So are tolls dead for now?
“We don’t want to draw a conclusion on it yet,” Looney said after the two-hour meeting.
Lamont exited the two-hour meeting and said he told the Senators he knew he was asking them to “cast a tough vote,” but that his plan was a good plan.
“The governor did say he was going to reflect on what he heard and was going to consider some alternatives,” Looney said.
Looney wouldn’t officially say that the plan, including 14 tolls to fund work at specific chokepoint locations around the state, was dead. He’s waiting on Lamont to react to what he heard Wednesday in the caucus.
As Lamont exited the caucus, he said the Senators told him there’s “some political issues here” — a handful of Senators are concerned about their re-election bids in 2020 if they vote for a plan that includes tolls.
“I’ve gotta convince some people who have great distrust of government that this is the best investment we can make to get this state growing again,” Lamont said.
He said he told them he’s sorry he’s asking them to cast a hard vote.
“I know we’d all love to put this off,” Lamont said. “I’ve got a plan on the table if anyone has an alternative, speak now.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff said what happened today was that there was agreement that something needed to be done about Connecticut’s crumbling transportation infrastructure.
“There isn’t full agreement on funding at the moment and the governor’s going to reflect today on what he heard on caucus,” Duff said.
As far as financing is concerned, “If there is a will to find alternatives, they will be found,” Looney said.
Looney has suggested legalizing both recreational marijuana and sports betting could create revenue streams that the state could dedicate to transportation, even though that revenue would be unable to unlock the low-interest rate loans from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau.
 
Shelter Ridge plan public hearing Nov. 21
Brian Gioiele
The public will again have its say on the controversial Towne Center at Shelter Ridge plan next week when the Inlands Wetlands & Watercourses Commission continues its public hearing on the 121-acre mixed-use development fronting Bridgeport Avenue and Mill Street.
The wetlands public hearing will be Thursday, Nov. 21, at 7 p.m. in the City Hall auditorium. This development plan - a source of significant opposition that led to the creation of Save Our Shelton, or SOS - has been winding through city zoning commissions and courthouses for more than three years.
“If we look back three-and-a-half years, (the Shelter Ridge plan) is a wetlands application that is still not been finished,” said Greg Tetro, one of the founders of SOS, during the Planning & Zoning Commission meeting Tuesday. “It is a Planning & Zoning approval without a wetlands application even submitted.”
The Shelter Ridge Planned Development District request was originally approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission in 2017, but that ruling was appealed in court. In September, a judge ruled in favor of the Planning & Zoning Commission, but John and Judith Tillman - the couple that appealed the P&Z approval - filed a motion on Oct. 17 to reargue the judge’s decision.
The judge, in the case of John Tillman and Judith Tillman vs. The Shelton Planning & Zoning Commission, originally dismissed the couple’s appeal, stating that the “plaintiffs have failed to establish that the decision was illegal or contrary to law, the commission acted arbitrarily or in abuse of discretion, or that the decision was not supported by substantial evidence.
“This court concludes that the commission’s determination on the issues of environmental and traffic impact are supported by substantial evidence,” the ruling further stated.
This motion to reargue is the latest step in a process that began more than two years ago. After six public hearings, with hundreds of people voicing opposition, the Planning & Zoning Commission approved the PDD and zone change for the Towne Center at Shelter Ridge development at its March 7, 2017 meeting. The commission approved the plan by a 4-2 vote, with commissioners Ruth Parkins, Virginia Harger, Ned Miller, and Elaine Matto voting in favor and Jimmy Tickey and Anthony Pagoda, Jr. voting against it.
The Shelton Ridge proposal would sit on 121 acres fronting Bridgeport Avenue and Mill Street. The Tillmans’ property abuts a portion of the property. According to the plans, Shelter Ridge would be a long-term project that encompasses both residential units and retail space — 375 “upscale” apartments and 300,000 square feet of retail space, to be exact.
Residents spent months voicing concerns about the possible negative effects of the plan, saying that the Shelton Ridge development and zone change would result in an increase in the volume of traffic the city currently experiences, increase an already high density of rental housing, result in blasting and construction for up to 10 years, and pollute the Mill River as well as the habitat of local wildlife.
It was this Shelter Ridge development that gave birth to Save Our Shelton in early 2016 with a goal of promoting responsible development. Save Our Shelton was instrumental in raising funds to cover the cost of the appeal.

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