WALLINGFORD — Choate Rosemary Hall overcame one hurdle this week in its quest to build a 14,000-square-foot admissions building and 70-space parking garage on 6.5 acres at the corner of North Elm and Christian streets.
The Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission approved the school's application at its monthly meeting Wednesday after hearing once again from neighbors concerned about how the project will affect their properties. At the commission's February meeting, it also heard from residents concerned about runoff from the construction.
"I'm just thinking of the word volume and water, water, water," said North Elm Street resident Mike Votto. "When you approve an application like this, do you do any follow up to make sure that whatever was promised to have been done was indeed done and is working or do we just say OK, we gave you permission to go ahead, do your thing, and then you're done with it?"
Votto said he is already dealing with the effects of another Choate project recently completed that included the construction of seven homes built for faculty members.
"I would like to have all of you take a walk in my backyard," he said. "I was told for the last approval for Choate for the seven houses built behind me that there would not be an increase of water. They were going to put this in and that in. I don't think anybody has ever come out here to see if everything they said was going to be done was done."
Despite any precautions taken by the school, the water flows into his yard, Votto said.
"All I can tell you is that there is much more water in my backyard, and the part of the brook that is on my property is totally filled all year round now whereas it normally goes down once the rainfall has gone through and then it starts going down. It does cut into the bank and it does make its own little streams," he said.
"You have to make a decision tonight, but I would hope if it is a positive one, I would like to know if somehow that could be followed through with and see if they have done due diligence, and if whatever they said is going to work is indeed working because I have to tell you, it hasn't worked on North Elm Street. I can tell you that right now," Votto said.
"I just hope the decision you make is a good one, and I'm sure you will think about this seriously and make sure Choate follows up and does what they're supposed to do and what they're promising they're going to do tonight," he said.
Choate attorney Dennis Ceneviva said the storm basin has been evaluated by their team and by the town engineer, who found it "appropriate," and if anything, has oversized capacity to control runoff.
But Curtis Road resident Ron Blanchard said the precautions taken have not worked.
"The project is more than just a stormwater discharge," he said. "There was clearing of acreage of trees, and where there's natural runoff, that's now affecting it, and relative to the detention pond, nothing has changed since they built the houses but the water is much greater now."
Last year was an average year for rainfall, Blanchard said. "So in an average year of rainfall, after this project and with no changes to the detention pond, these poor people have substantial water in their yard. I just wanted to make sure that was clear."
Commission Chairman James Vitali and Vice Chair Debbie Phillips both recused themselves from participating in the application proceedings citing conflicts of interest, so Secretary Nicholas Kern was named temporary chairman for the purpose of conducting the public hearing and the commission's deliberations.
Ultimately the commission approved the application with only Kern voting no, citing too many unanswered questions that came up during the discussions.
Choate now has to gain Planning and Zoning approval before beginning the project. The application is expected to be on the agenda for its monthly meeting March 13 at 7 p.m. in the council chambers at Town Hall.