By Lauren Takores
WALLINGFORD — Choate Rosemary Hall is seeking approval from the town’s land use boards to build seven new faculty residences as well as an athletic facility.
The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission approved the private prep school’s plans July 14 for the houses on Hillhouse Way.
Those plans are slated to go before the Planning and Zoning Commission on Aug. 9. Anyone who wants to develop a site in town generally gets a wetlands permit before going before the PZC.
Choate applied for a wetlands permit to build a new athletic facility with a 93,600-square-foot synthetic turf field — proposed for the 5.35-acre property at 356 Christian Street between Rosemary Lane and Old Durham Road — but has not presented the plans to the wetlands commission yet.
Town Environmental Planner Erin O’Hare said Thursday that Choate representatives told her they wanted to wait because they needed to make substantial changes to the plans. The wetlands commission’s next meeting is scheduled for September.
Alison Cady, Choate’s director of strategic planning and communications, said Friday that one of the reasons for building a new athletic facility is to reduce the amount of traffic in the residential neighborhood on North Elm Street that gets generated when Choate rents its existing turf field to the public.
“This one, obviously, would be a little bit more removed from the neighbors,” she said about the proposed new facility on Christian Street, “which is kind of one of our thoughts, to get some of that rental traffic out of the neighborhood.”
The new field would host practices and home games for football in the fall season and boys lacrosse in the spring season.
Cady said the proposed building would be a support space for athletic equipment storage, locker rooms, restrooms and a press box.
It will not host spectator seating, but be supported by bleacher seating with capacity similar to Choate’s current football field, Maher Field.
“We're not adding programs, or expanding our program, per se,” she said. “We're just adding a facility to accommodate those sports-specific uses.”
The new residences, which the wetlands commission approved and deemed not a significant impact activity, would be located on a roughly 5-acre site on the northern side of Hillhouse Way, a private road owned by Choate.
Attorney Dennis Ceneviva, representing Choate at the July 14 wetlands commission meeting, said that in the past the parcel has contained a house, cottage and several garage structures.
A house currently exists on the site along with a couple of garages, some of which are slated to be relocated, he said.
The rest of the site is wooded. A stream runs through the site which empties into Wharton Brook.
The project would consist of renovating the existing house, building seven new single family homes — between two and four bedrooms, specifically sized based on the needs of the Choate faculty — and a new 500-foot private road off Hillhouse Way with a round vehicle turnaround at the end.
Ceneviva said that the plan consists of removing existing structures and regrading about 1,450 square feet within the upland review area.
There’s no activity planned within the wetland, which extends along the property’s entire western boundary, but the proposed paved area is approximately 35,000 square feet, which exceeds the 20,000-square-foot threshold for needing a wetlands permit.
The estimated completion date is spring 2022.
Cady said Friday that Choate started talking about the project in the late spring.
“We always have a goal to provide adequate housing for our employees as part of their employment expectation here on campus,” she said.
The houses are to be designated for current employees, but haven’t been assigned yet.
“Our practice is to provide a variety of housing options,” she said, “because we obviously have to accommodate different family sizes and makeups. There'll be a little bit of variance in the sizes and types of houses, just so we can have some versatility in our ability to house families based on number of family members.”
Cady did not disclose how much Choate plans to spend on the housing development.
The lot would not be split among the houses. Town Planner Kevin Pagini said Thursday that it’s not unusual, especially since Choate is going to retain ownership of the property and isn’t splitting the lots to sell them separately.
Pagini said he submitted some comments ahead of the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting scheduled for Aug. 9, but had no big concerns about the project.
A property abutter to the Hillhouse Way site raised concerns about the housing development during the July 14 meeting, after the wetlands commission had approved project.
Mike Votto, 377 N. Elm St., said that no one from the town or Choate informed the residents of North Elm Street of the proposed development, or that the wetlands commission would be discussing the topic.
“I had people walk on my property, (which) I found out afterwards,” said Votto, a longtime member of the Board of Education.
Developers are required to send notification letters to property abutters about proposed activity, but only when there’s going to be a public hearing for a special permit.
A public hearing on the proposed development is slated for the upcoming Planning and Zoning Commission meeting.
He said that Choate was “not being a friendly neighbor” by not letting the abutting residents know about the plan.
“I don’t think you should have approved this,” Votto said to commission members, “knowing what I’m going through, and all the other property owners, and they don’t even know what’s going to happen to them.”
Votto also took issue with describing the watercourse that runs through the property as a stream.
“It’s a very active brook and it’s totally eroded,” he said. “Trees are going to be taken down. They hold and they stop erosion.”