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Assisted-living proponents get flak from Southporters

An informal neighborhood meeting with a developer proposing to build an assisted-living complex on Mill Hill Terrace turned heated Thursday night.

"You started by saying this is a residential area. That's right, and we want to keep it like that," said Donna Karnal, her voice beginning to rise. "Why don't you think twice before putting a for-profit business there?"

Karnal's remarks, which came at the end of the session with the development group from Maplewood Senior Living, prompted lawyer John Fallon to raise his voice, saying that his client was not obligated to meet with the neighbors. "When a developer tries to do the right thing, at least treat those people with respect," Fallon said, a comment which drew jeers from some in the audience at the Pequot Library.

At that point, the meeting was brought to a close.

Maplewood Senior Living, based in Westport, wants to build the 95-bed, two- and three-story complex on an undeveloped 29-acre tract adjacent to Mill Hill School in the Southport section of town. A large portion of the property includes wetlands, and the project will require an inland wetlands permit, as well as a special permit from the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.

No formal applications have been submitted to the town so far.

"We kind of pride ourselves on being part of the community," Maplewood CEO Greg Smith said. The company owns and operates assisted-living facilities in Danbury, Newtown, Darien, Norwalk and Orange. "We've been very, very thoughtful in our design."

The Maplewood team said they have already begun looking at incorporating suggestions made at an earlier meeting with neighbors held in July. Thursday's meeting was held at the request of Flintlock Road resident and Representative Town Meeting member Michael Herley, R-1.

Pease Avenue residents, who live at what would be the rear of the complex, peppered Tom Gaston, vice president for development and acquisition, architect Michael Stein, landscape engineer Jason Williams and traffic engineer David Sullivan with questions.

They refuted assertions by Sullivan that any type of traffic study was done, even when he told them two different types of traffic counts were conducted, and said their street is already too congested by motorists who speed down the road.

And another Southport resident, David Rosenstein, who lives on Acorn Lane, indicated the developer would likely face litigation if the proposal moves forward. Rosenstein, a lawyer, said, "I'm going to take it to the next level. It's not going to cost me any additional expense ... This is not going to end here tonight."

Fallon said an assisted-living facility is a permitted use in the zone, and no zone change would be needed for the project, and no variance will be requested.

With a large portion of the property classified wetlands, Gaston said the developer plans to deed part of the land to the Aspetuck Land Trust for preservation and public use.

Genevieve Reilly

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