Settlement could bring 13 housing units to Bethel's Reservoir Street area

BETHEL -- Nearly four years after a controversial 23-unit affordable housing development was proposed -- it was later denied -- a tentative settlement of the developer's lawsuit against the town would allow him to build 13 housing units in the Reservoir Street area, a Design Conservation District.

Planning and Zoning Commission
members Tuesday night unanimously agreed to have a session April 28 to tell town residents the terms of the settlement reached with Oven Rock Partners.

The deal still needs court approval.

"The settlement we're reaching ... (complies) with our regulations,"
Pat Rist , chairman of the Planning and Zoning Commission, said about the development to be built between Knollwood and Bethpage drives.

In July 2005 Oven Rock proposed to build 23 units of housing, of which seven were to be affordable. But the application was denied and subsequently followed by lawsuits against the town land-use commissions.

The suit against the Inland Wetlands Commission was dismissed last year, but the one against Planning and Zoning is still pending. That suit will be dropped if the new proposal gets final approval.

The settlement Bethel and Oven Rock reached this month would allow 12 units in four two-story buildings, and three of the units would qualify as affordable housing.

The buildings would face Reservoir Street, but their entrances and parking spaces, plus an 11-car garage on the site, would be accessed from Knollwood Drive.

The 13th unit would be a single-family home with a driveway off Bethpage Drive.

This is the second controversial construction project proposed for Reservoir Street in recent years and, if built, the second to follow a lawsuit settlement.

Not far from the proposed development, Toll Brothers is building 62 homes that are the result of a compromise reached in a lawsuit filed after the town denied the company a larger project.

Neighbors opposed the Toll Brothers project and the original Oven Rock project, in part because they feared increased traffic and flooding.

Six and a half of the 8.5 acres that make up the Oven Rock site will be given to the town of Bethel as open space under the proposed settlement.

The open space acres contain extensive wetlands and steep slopes that would have been adversely impacted by the proposed 23-unit development, said Bethel land-use official Steve Palmer.

No rock will need to be blasted for the downsized proposal.

Crucial to the settlement, however, is Board of Selectmen approval of exchanging a 10-foot-wide, 138-feet-long strip of land the town owns on Knollwood Drive for the open space.

"This settlement hinges on that exchange," Palmer said, since Oven Rock needs the land to comply with the town's setback regulations.

"It certainly has been a long process," Oven Rock attorney Ryan McKain said of the time that passed from the first proposal until the recent settlement, which he described as a reasonable compromise.

"It represents something acceptable to everybody."