The Gunnery's application to create two athletic fields on 11.5 acres of some 70 acres it owns along South Street has cleared one hurdle.

The Washington Inland Wetlands Commission gave the nod recently.

The project is now being studied by the town's Zoning Commission.

The application had quickly caused an uproar, with some neighbors becoming interveners in opposition to the private prep school's plan.

Neighbors brought in a specialist in sedimentation and water control. Their concern has been the undertaking would irrevocably change run off into the Shepaug River.

"It's shocking that (the wetlands panel's) concern for the environment is so disrespectful," Linda Zelenko said about the approval. "Our whole fight was for the preservation of the environment."

The commission found "interveners have failed to meet their burden of proof" the project would harm the environment, the resolution of approval reads.

The town's Conservation Commission also expressed concern in a Dec. 13, 2011 letter from commission chairman Susan Payne.

"The Conservation Commission is gravely concerned about the immense scale of the project... and its impact on 20 acres of undisturbed woodlands," the letter reads.

To accomplish the project, some 5,000 trees would be removed, a parking lot created and the existing driveway to the property would be extended. Some 55,000 cubic yards of material would be cut out of the hillside.

The fields would sit on the east side of South Street, nearby Route 47.

The Gunnery application was approved, 5-0, by the inland wetlands board. The approval came with 10 conditions, among them that the job must be monitored by "a qualified consultant in erosion and sedimentation control and storm water management."

The site must be monitored for two full years after completion of the project. All excavation and grading must be done "during the dry season between April 1 and Oct. 1," the conditions read.

"The record demonstrates that the activities proposed, in accordance with the conditions listed... will have no significant adverse impact on wetlands or watercourses," the Inland Wetlands Commission found.

stuz@newstimes.com; 860-355-7322