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Montville housing development continues to struggle with flood requirements

Montville — Dakota Partners is again struggling to secure a flood management certification for its proposed 72-unit housing development on Pink Row.

Part of the approval process for building residences at the former Faria Beede Mill property requires Dakota Partners to obtain the certificate from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Dakota Partners has been trying to do that since 2016, but DEEP had sent the developer's latest bid back to the drawing board, asking for additional information. It is the third time Dakota Partners has submitted an application for the flood certification. The state Department of Housing and Dakota then worked together to gather the necessary information and submitted it to DEEP within the last week. The information is under review.

The first two FMC applications, submitted in 2016 and 2018, were deemed insufficient.

Holes in the application

Jeff Caiola, the assistant director of the DEEP's Land and Water Resources Division, explained why his department has taken so much care with the applications.

"You're in a floodplain downstream of a dam," Caiola said. "You're putting people at risk by putting them in a floodplain. So our agency wants to make sure that the proposal will not pose a harm to human life, won't damage property. We want to make sure that whatever's happening not only doesn't affect the people that are going to be residing there, but doesn't impact anybody around them."

Caiola said the current application had a range of issues, which is why DEEP requested further information.

The DEEP still has issues with the hydraulic modeling (mathematical models of sewer, water and storm systems) submitted for the project. DEEP is also asking for complete plans so the development is compliant with the National Flood Insurance Program.

"The state Department of Housing (DOH) has to demonstrate that this development meets our state statute," Caiola said. "Our state statute requires that the finished first floor of a housing development has to be one foot above the 500-year floodplain because the state has determined that housing is a critical activity, meaning the population is at risk."

If the finished first floor doesn't reach the stipulated elevation, DEEP can deny the application, as the proposal wouldn't meet the standards set out in the state's Flood Management Act. DOH could either pull funding for the project and withdraw the application or request an exemption from the elevation standard.

Caiola said the time it took to get more details for the 2019 flood management certificate application is customary. Dakota has hired consultants from Yantic River Consultants, based in Lebanon, to take care of the additional information.

DOH Director of Government Affairs and Communications Aaron Turner wrote in an email that DOH does not anticipate a need for a new flood management certificate application.

Dakota would receive funding from the state DOH to help build the project if it obtains the certficate. Caiola said the certificate is required because when the state is distributing public money to a housing development, it has to ensure that the project is being constructed in accordance with stateur state law."

Dakota co-founder and President Roberto Arista said the majority of funding from the project comes from state tax credits and DOH funding of $6 million. Without approval for the certificate and the the state money, he said it would be difficult to finish the development.

"I think we'd just end up abandoning the project," Arista said. "There's no way you can make the economics work without those funding sources."

Despite not having a final approval from DEEP or DOH, Dakota has marched forward with its construction, putting significant investments in developing the property at risk.

Turner, the DOH spokesman, wrote in an email that his agency "made it very clear that we were not supportive of an early start."

"We also made it very clear that DOH funds could not be used for costs incurred if they chose to initiate an early start," Turner added.

Further complications

Dakota violated flood management and water quality standards in November 2019 by placing fill in Oxoboxo Brook. Caiola said DEEP was notified by an anonymous tipster who sent photos of stone material placed in a watercourse without controls.

"That raised a lot of flags for us," Caiola said. "We conducted a site visit and found they did in fact place unauthorized material within a watercourse without any protections in place. We stopped what was going on because they were in violation of, forget flood management, our water quality standards."

After a site visit to verify the tip, DEEP issued an official notice of violation directing Dakota to stop all water work within Oxoboxo Brook.

According to Caiola, the developers indicated in general terms that they were unaware they needed authorization.

Caiola also pointed to the dam, which is in disrepair, as a serious concern, but Arista said it will be removed in the spring or early summer. Dakota is working with town Planning and Zoning Chairman William Pieniadz's P&H construction company to get rid of the dam at the back of the former Faria Beede Mill property abutting Route 32 right past the Route 163 intersection, according to Pieniadz and Montville Town Planner Marcia Vlaun. Pieniadz owns the property the dam is on.

According to Arista, Dakota did not anticipate the project, rife with environmental and economic roadblocks, to be quite this complex.

"This is by far the most complicated project we've ever done," Arista said. "I think that in retrospect, had we really known how complicated this would be, we may not have done it. On the other hand, we're passionate about not only affordable housing, but also about historic structures. Even though we knew this was complicated, we never pulled out."

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