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    Sunday, May 19, 2024

    Developer talks up 398-unit housing proposal for Dodge Pond

    East Lyme ― A developer with a vision for 398 units where people can live out their sunset years on the banks of Dodge Pond pitched his idea to the Zoning Commission Thursday in an effort to gauge their interest in the large-scale project.

    Eric J. Pelletier, a Long Island-based architect, said demand for his concept will only become more pronounced as the population in East Lyme and across the state continues to trend older.

    Zoning Commission members questioned the effect such demand would have on the health of Dodge Pond, the traffic situation in an already congested area, and visual enjoyment of the pond.

    Member Norm Peck III told Pelletier that residents ― through the officials they’ve elected, the surveys they’ve returned and the talk around town about “overdeveloping” ― have voiced their concern about too much construction in town.

    “I think you’re going to find there will be some significant objection from the public to the project,” he said.

    Thursday night’s discussion was characterized by Pelletier’s New London-based land use attorney, William R. Sweeney, as an informal nonbinding conversation. The process is authorized in state statute as a way for developers to get feedback and suggestions before submitting a formal application.

    Pelletier laid out a plan for the 35.5-acre site between Pennsylvania Avenue and Dodge Pond that will ultimately include about 500 residents and 60 full-time staff members.

    He said the buildings would not be visible from Pennsylvania Avenue, which he identified as a main concern of Town Hall staff members with whom he has worked for more than a year.

    The main point of entry and exit is adjacent to the Sunoco gas station at 188 Pennsylvania Avenue. A traffic study by the Fuss & O’Neill engineering firm is ongoing and will be presented with any formal application.

    Pelletier is proposing 144 two-bedroom condominiums and 72 two-bedroom apartments for independent living on the far side of the project, rising up to approximately 50 feet over the pond.

    Preliminary designs show the project would be bisected by a rejuvenated Little Dodge Pond with an anticipated depth of up to four feet. Currently a wooded swamp, the developer wants to bring the feeder pond back to life by breaching a dam and rebuilding an embankment in consultation with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

    Plans for the side closer to Pennsylvania Ave are dominated by a 150-bed assisted living building that includes a 30-bed memory care wing. A separate, smaller entrance serves 32 two-bedroom units to accommodate visiting family members and medical staff.

    The proposal includes a 40,000-square-foot medical building with space for urgent care, radiology and medical offices. A 2,152-square-foot security building is proposed adjacent to the independent living apartments.

    Pelletier said three on-site ambulances bolster his plan to ensure there is not “any real demand” placed on local emergency services.

    The number of units in the proposal is down from the 454 units, including 144 apartments, proposed last year when Pelletier was allocated 75,000 gallons per day of sewage flow from the Water and Sewer Commission.

    Member Nancy Kalal asked how the developer would protect the stream that runs through the property into the ponds.

    Sweeney said his client has engaged a qualified stormwater engineer to limit the amount of runoff from the site and ensure the most modern, sustainable techniques are used.

    Sweeney after the meeting said Pelletier hired Massachusetts-based Lombardo Associates Inc. for the job. The firm on its website bills itself as an innovative wastewater and water management firm.

    Sweeney said it’s critical to preserve the ecological integrity of the site.

    “Not just because we have to for our permits, but (because) it protects the actual ambiance, the aesthetics of the property. We want to do it the right way, so we’re committed to doing whatever we have to,” he said.

    Members expressed concerns about the size of the building, including Michael Foley, who was skeptical of Pelletier’s contention that only the upper floor of the buildings would be “peeking over the trees” when viewed by waterfront neighbors.

    “It’s going to be more than just visible,” Foley said. “It’s going to be monolithic from the other side of Dodge Pond.”

    Zoning Officer Bill Mulholland after the presentation told commission members they should not expect to see a formal application until September or even next spring, “if it moves forward at all.”

    He described the evening’s presentation as the “very first conceptual step” in a “very large undertaking.” He credited the back-and-forth between the applicant and staff members for improvements since the project was brought to the Water and Sewer Commission.

    “The project was double the size, and when we got involved we’ve been able to get it to what it is,” he said. “Everybody has questions. There’s a lot more information to come forward. There’s plenty of time to look at this. But we will get there, if they do come forward.”

    e.regan@theday.com

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