Waterford residents push back against plans for former nursing home

Waterford — Residents remain convinced that a proposed rental facility at a long-vacant nursing home could wreak havoc on town roads and flood a relatively rural area with people.

Rope Ferry Road LLC,  a limited liability company managed by Claudio Marasco, executive vice president of Water's Edge in Westbrook, submitted plans last year to renovate 171 Rope Ferry Road into 53 studio and efficiency apartments. Thirty percent of the units would be moderate-income housing, which the developer says is a much-needed market in Waterford.

But more than a dozen residents Monday told the Planning and Zoning Commission the plan would increase traffic volume on already dangerous roads and create parking and safety concerns if occupancy ever swells past the developer's proposed maximum of two-people-per-unit.

"We know what it's like pulling out of Spithead Road," resident Chris Bachant told commissioners. "Visibility is awful. Why do we need this? There are other things we need."

Commissioners are considering whether to designate the site a Housing Opportunity District that would boost the town's stock of affordable housing, which town officials say currently amounts to less than 5 percent of Waterford households.

Armed with a new engineer's report, Rope Ferry Road LLC repeated assertions Monday that residents' concerns about traffic were unwarranted.

The firm gave the town $3,700 so it could hire a consultant, Lenard Engineering, to study the traffic and stormwater drainage impact of the new facility.

While the drainage review remains ongoing, the firm recently told the Planning and Zoning Commission it largely agreed with the developer that the facility's impact on traffic on Rope Ferry Road would be minimal.

Responding to a resident's suggestion last month that the owner should consider a new medical facility instead of housing, the developer's engineer, Scott Hesketh, said such a medical building would generate 11,000 trips per day, "two to three times the traffic volume we're proposing."

But residents and commissioners remained skeptical, pointing out the developer's traffic data on Spithead Road, which intersects with Rope Ferry Road at the site location, was about six years old and recorded on weekdays in the winter.

Commissioner Gregory Massad suggested engineers conduct further traffic study on the eastbound lane of Rope Ferry Road and called for greater scrutiny of the complex's occupancy and parking.

Tim Hollister, a Shipman & Goodwin attorney representing the developer, noted most of the units would be single-occupancy. All the units would be less than 600 square feet. The developers would include occupancy limits in the leases and would be required to maintain those limits to maintain the project's site approval.

Hollister noted Rope Ferry Road LLC continues to respond to concerns and revise the proposal based on feedback.

"We've responded to everything that's been asked," he said.

The developer has been adamant the proposed facility is not Section 8 housing.

"There is no government subsidy involved in this proposal," Hollister said last month.

If approved, the units would range in price between $800 and $1,100 per month for market-rate tenants. Sixteen units would be restricted to moderate-income tenants; those earning 80 percent or less of the state or area median income would pay $873, while tenants earning 60 percent or less of the state or median income would pay $707.

Public hearing continues March 12

The 1940 building, which formerly housed the Center for Optimum Care, has deteriorated since becoming vacant in 2011. The developer plans substantial interior overhauls, new landscaping and improved stormwater management. The property is assessed at $1.4 million.

The commission partially approved Rope Ferry Road LLC's previous plan to renovate the site into a senior housing facility, but the project stalled over parking constraints in 2015. The developer since has purchased an adjacent property on Spithead Road, allowing for added parking to meet the town's minimum requirements of 1.5 spots per tenant.

Prior to the building's purchase by Rope Ferry Road LLC in 2013, the commission denied Stonington Institute's request to convert it to a residence for recovering substance abuse patients.

Rope Ferry Road LLC will present updated data and a complete drainage report when the public hearing continues on March 12.

b.kail@theday.com

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