Commission to hear updated plans for EV showroom, gas station
By John Fitts
CANTON – A revised development plan for a property on the Simsbury/Canton town line will be presented to the Canton Planning and Zoning Commission on Dec. 16
The owners of 9-15 Albany Turnpike, LLC, managed by developer Mark Greenberg, are looking to develop a 23,500-square-foot electric-vehicle showroom and an 8,384-square-foot gas station/convenience store at the site.
The majority of the site is in Simsbury, but most of the development would be in Canton. Developers have touted the concept as the “future of the transportation,” with a new way to showcase electric vehicles from small manufacturers, while providing repair and charging for current EV owners in a site that uses solar panels and other energy efficient techniques.
Even the convenience store would be unique, with eateries, public spaces and gas pumps that are designed to be converted to EV charging stations, according to those presenting the plan.
A traffic light is proposed at the eastern entrance of Brass Lantern Road.
However, the plan has generated some controversy in town and numerous questions from town staff and the Canton Planning and Zoning Commission.
The commission’s recent meeting Nov. 18 was a continuation of a public hearing it began on Oct. 21. While some people spoke at the latest meeting, the development team noted it would have updated plans in time for the December meeting.
In documents filed just prior to Thanksgiving, Kevin Solli, principal of Solli engineering, notes the updates address numerous issues raised by town staff and/or the commission, such an updated landscaping plan, the inclusion of fire lanes, proposed signage, updated lighting and more detail on drainage, site preparation and grading over time.
The plans also show in more detail an access feature that would likely be used for future residential development on the property and potentially a neighboring parcel.
The updates also include much more detail about proposed blasting, one of the more controversial aspects, as many residents have cited safety, environmental, community character and safety concerns with plans to remove a portion of the traprock ridge and place a modern looking EV showroom prominently at the town line.
“This ridge dramatically defines Canton’s eastern gateway,” Jane Latus, president of Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion, wrote in a letter to the commission. “We assume the applicant was aware of the land’s topography before advancing this proposal. The town has no obligation to allow a two-year, six-day-a-week quarry operation in order to reshape the property to fit his preferred development. In fact, the POCD urges the opposite: to design for the land. Aside from the noise and traffic impacts on adjacent property owners, blasting 1,500 feet away from the Swift Chemical Superfund site would be a reckless risk to the aquifer. This application should not be approved without financially guaranteeing the future availability of safe drinking water to nearby property owners. We are fully in favor of commercial development on Route 44, but of a scale and design that suits the land and Canton’s character. An appropriate development would not require two years of site work.”
Developers, on the other hand, said blasting is a highly regulated process and have touted their use of the rock feature in their plans and a forward thinking design that will serve as a prototype for EV showrooms in the area.
When including work in the towns of Simsbury and Canton, there will be a “net export of 139,741 cubic yards, or approximately 181,664 tons of material from the site,” according to the recently filed material.
“As the typical dump truck can handle 24 tons, this results in approximately 7,570 trucks of material to be removed from the site,” the plans noted, adding that Brass Lantern Road would be used to access the site.
The plan proposes site construction between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, or approximately 600 working days over two years, but developers said blasting would not be a regular occurrence.
“Blasting will not occur daily for consecutive weeks, but rather as required, to include intermittent time for standard excavation and handling of materials such as sorting, stockpiling, and exporting. For the purposes of this project, we assume two to three blasts will take place per month during rock removal activities.”
Most processing would occur off site with the exception of some rock processing for use on site. That work would be done in Simsbury.
The plans also go into much detail about how the blasting, and related activities, would progress.
Blasting and earth removal has been a topic of discussion from the commission, including the proximity of 51 Albany Turnpike, the former site of the J. Swift Chemical Company, which operated in the 1950s and 1960s.
The 51 Albany site is on the state of Connecticut’s Superfund list, which notes “Waste solvent sludges were buried at the site and contamination from a variety of chlorinated and non-chlorinated solvents is present on the site.”
In the 1980s public water was extended in the area and since then the site, currently used – but not owned – by Mitchell Volkswagen, has been the subject of further evaluation, state judgments and tax disputes.
Connecticut Water has also written to the commission, noting, “blasting can affect well water quality as it can open new fractures, cause others to close, and dislodge sediment” and asking that one of its wells be included in a pre-blast survey since the property is partially located in an aquifer recharge area.
Additionally, the Metropolitan District Commission has written the commission with concerns about its water transmission main in Route 44 due to its location is "laid in the same rock that is proposed to be blasted, making the main especially vulnerable to potential damage caused by the conveyance of excessive ground vibration generated during blasting and rock removal operations and associated truck traffic."
The blasting and the earthwork removal presents a fairly unusual situation for the commission.
Neil Pade, Canton’s director of planning and community development, has noted that many developments include blasting but nowhere near to the degree this would - in such a high-profile location.
The application seeks site plan approval, as well as a number of special permits, including those related to earthwork and removal.
Special permits are “generally acceptable” in a zone but subject to “standards set forth in the regulations and to conditions necessary to protect the public health, safety, convenience and property values.”
Blasting is highly regulated by federal requirements, the state and local fire marshals, Solli said.
“Part of that does include a comprehensive pre-blast survey of surrounding properties, structures, wells and things like that,” he said, adding that the pre-blast survey includes precise documentation so that, in the event of any damage, the blasting company is responsible.
“Through the survey there’s a legal obligation to address any impacts. So, if there’s an impact to anybody’s property and that’s clearly documented then there’s an obligation to repair or restore whatever took place. So, there are those protection measures in place.”
Commission members discussed the issues of blasting and earthwork removal at some length, noting that while the special permit criteria doesn’t give them regulation over state regulated processes, it does provide for consideration of related issues.
“Public health, safety and welfare are part of our general consideration,” Chairman Jonathan Thiesse said. “To that extent and to the extent that is relevant and within our purview. We are here to hear the comments in respect to that … that is relevant to our consideration, to a degree.”
Much of the discussion centered on whether the town and/or the development should hire a hydrogeologist to address issues such as the Swift site and any potential impact. David J. Markowitz, of Hassett & George, who is representing the owner of the property, initially asked that his client not be billed twice for the work.
“I would suggest that if we do get a hydrogeologist to give a report ... we not be put through the further expense of paying for a hydrogeologist that would be retained by the Planning and Zoning Commission,” he said. “I’d rather just do it once because it’s coming out of my client’s pocket.”
But while the property owner also said he was concerned about the possibility of delaying the proceedings, some commissions felt it important to get that additional opinion.
“I’d prefer to have that additional review, hopefully done in a way that’s not unduly expensive, Commissioner Michael Vogel said.
Other commissioners also expressed concern that the blasting permit process would potentially address some issues after the commission had to make its decision.
“Why wouldn’t we ask for that to be completed first, especially given the unique nature of this site? I guess I ask the commission to think about that,” commission alternate Elizabeth Vinick said.
Solli said he felt the commission’s right to place additional conditions on the survey and the option to receive the report when it is complete, should give members additional comfort.
“I think any analysis from a hydrogeologist coupled with the scope of a pre-blast survey that this commission gets to kind of review and opine on, would certainly give both the commission and, I think, the public the additional comfort that they need that we’ve addressed this concern, prior to making a decision,” Solli said.
Ultimately, Markowitz, who noted that the state blasted to construct and improve Route 44 and felt this would not likely create any issues, suggested his client could agree to allot up to $1,000 for a peer review, an idea to which the commission agreed. Also, on the 18th, the commission scheduled a site walk set for the weekend this paper is published.
Additionally, on Nov. 18, the commission heard from some members of the public who addressed concerns about the project and requested that the town change the format to allow virtual attendees to see video of the presentation.
The meeting included some public comments and feedback from Thiesse about what the commission could consider. He, for example, told a resident that it was not appropriate to ask where a member of the development team lived.
While some residents said they felt he was limiting discussion, Thiesse later said he simply wanted people to understand the role of the commission and what it could consider and noted much of that could be found in its regulations and in the meeting packets.
For example, many residents have noted other areas of town or vacant properties in their objections and Thiesse noted that the commission could not legally consider those in its decision.
“We are not a body that is authorized to determine specifically what does and does not get built in the town,” he said. “We do not decide how many butcher shops or how many gas stations or how many pharmacies go in the town. We leave that to the market if you will. What we do, is we set zones we set regulations about what can be built in those zones and what uses can go in those zones and what the parameters are in some cases. ... If a specific use is proposed and needs a special permit, we review that use based on our special permit criteria and I can tell you our special permit criteria has nothing to do with economics, has nothing to do with competition in the town. So, comments that tell use there’s already enough of one kind of business in the town … or a business is already this close to that is wasted on us to be honest, we cannot consider that so keep that in mind when you comment.”
He also said the commission considers all comments and reviews submitted material, even if it doesn’t comment on it.
“Our job here is to listen, for the most part, again to things that are relevant to this application, to our regulations and that’s the purpose of the public hearing. Once the public hearing is closed then we go into our deliberations, where we then take that information and apply them to our regulations. Please don’t take it that just because we don’t comment during our public hearing that we aren’t listening and aren’t going to take those things into consideration.”
The hearing will continue Dec. 16. See the agenda, which includes a link for the zoom meeting at http://www.townofcantonct.org/filestorage/6662/17720/17722/47108/12-16-20_P%26Z_RM_Agenda.pdf.
See the meeting packet at http://www.townofcantonct.org/filestorage/6662/17720/26104/47278/12-16-20_P%26Z_Meeting_Packet.pdf
Those who wish to submit formal comments to the commission can email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Below are some of the latest renderings sent with the application: