Canton Commission Denies Proposed EV Showroom, Related Development at Town Line
By John Fitts
The Canton Planning and Zoning Commission on June 16 unanimously denied a site plan and special permits for a proposed 23,500 square foot Electric Vehicle Showroom, 20-pump fueling station and convenience store with eateries at 9-15 Albany Turnpike - at the Canton/Simsbury town line. The decision comes after a months-long, multi-installment public hearing for the controversial proposal. The developer’s consultants touted the plan as “the future of transportation” and a visionary approach to help facilitate the transition to Electric Vehicles with a showroom that would also include a service center and charging stations, a gas station with pumps designed to convert to rapid EV chargers and eateries and community spaces that offered a “higher level” than the typical convenience store. They also touted a proposal to conserve the remaining ridgeline in Canton. Opponents attacked the scope of the plan, questioned design elements, alleged the potential for pollutants to migrate from a nearby state superfund site and objected to the proposed blasting a portion of the ridgeline.
At the June 16 meeting, held in hybrid format (with both in-person and zoom attendance) commissioners voted quickly to deny the site plan and permits. At the previous meeting, commissioners made it clear that they felt the proposal was too intense for the site and did not properly strike a balance between needed commercial development and community character referenced in the town’s Plan of Conservation and Development. While the public hearing began last fall, it was earlier this year that Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion (C.A.R.E.) filed a petition for intervention, which by state law allows an individual or organization party status if a proposal “involves conduct which has, or which is reasonably likely to have, the effect of unreasonably polluting, impairing or destroying the public trust in the air, water or other natural resources of the state.” The law also facilitates the potential prohibition of such activities if the commission feels that there is the likelihood of impairment and additionally feels there is a “feasible and prudent alternative consistent with the reasonable requirements of the public health, safety and welfare.” At an earlier commission meeting on May 19, many commissioners felt that C.A.R.E. ultimately did not meet its burden of proof that the project was reasonably likely to cause unreasonable harm in terms the portions of its petition that referenced the likelihood of degradation of groundwater or the “fate” or “transport” of chemicals from the superfund site.
However, many commissioners were much more agreeable to the intervention petition’s reference to the “destruction and loss of significant environmental features” in reference to the ridgeline, which the POCD refers to as a “defining scenic quality of this [East District] gateway." At the June 16 meeting commissioners debated some of the specifics of the petition language and were split on some votes concerning that aspect of the application due to differences of opinion on wording. However, commissioners were again unanimous in their agreement that, while the site could support some development, the proposed ridge removal was too intense. Attending the June 16 meeting were members of the development team. "I'm terribly disappointed and I disagree with the findings," Attorney David J. Markowitz said following the decision. Also at the meeting was developer Mark Greenberg, who is listed as manager of the LLC that owns 9-15 Albany Turnpike. Greenberg said he does plan to appeal the decision.
Jane Latus, president of C.A.R.E. praised the decision. "We're very grateful to commissioners for their thorough consideration of the application and their immense commitment of personal time. And we're thankful to them for making the right decision," she said. "This application was blatantly and excessively at odds with regulations AND with the unprecedented consensus of residents. Canton has never seen such a huge and unanimous outpouring of objection to a zoning application: more than 300 letters in opposition, and at most 10 in favor. People were justifiably deeply concerned by the likely impacts of this crazy proposal - and the certain destruction of an irreplaceable 200-million-year-old natural feature."