Inland Wetlands tables decision on controversial apartment plan
By Ted Glanzer
FARMINGTON - The town’s inland wetlands commission on Sept. 22 tabled its consideration of a plan that calls for the construction of eight apartment buildings on 25 acres of land on Route 4 near what’s colloquially known as the “Big Bird” bridge.
The again tabled the decision at its Oct. 6 meeting.
The mixed-use project, which calls for a total of 190 apartments, a gazebo, a swimming pool, the construction of a bike path, requires a permit from the commission because the project calls for regulated activity within wetlands and upland review area. The plan also calls for the commercial redevelopment of the large warehouse building, known as the McCallum building, which currently has an auto parts business, as well as another empty building on the site.
The application was filed before the Inland Wetlands Commission in July by JRF Management and Kaoud Real Estate Development. In December 2020, the town’s Plan and Zoning Commission approved a change in the zone to allow for the kind of project the developers have proposed. However, if the project gets approval from the inland wetland commission at its next meeting in October, the project’s site plan still needs an OK from the TPZ.
During the Sept. 22 hearing, several residents opposed the project, saying it would harm the environment, increase the possibility of flooding in the event of a 100-year storm and would impede the pristine views of the Farmington River.
“By the Connecticut state rule this is a wetland,” Joe Fiorello said. “The developers want to bring forth someone to say this doesn’t meet their definition of a wetland. But as far as I’ve heard today, that’s a Connecticut wetland, and should not be developed.”
Fiorello said the installation of a pool so close to the Farmington River will inevitably lead to chemicals leaching into the Farmington River.
“They want to develop a pool on Farmington’s greatest resource,” Fiorello said. “Not to go way out there, but didn’t a building just fall in Florida because of the use of a pool that rotted out the building? Who is going to tell me pool isn’t going to have seepage into our rivers?”
Several speakers brought up the flood of 1955, which was caused by two back-to-back hurricanes and led to nearly 90 deaths and a staggering loss of property.
“Who if anybody is looking at the flood issue?” resident Jay Bombara asked, saying at a TPZ hearing in December, the applicant’s expert said he’d never heard of it. “I found that horrific and I felt it was too bad nobody spoke up.”
Bombara asserted the remnants of Hurricane Ida in early September brought the water near the trestle leading to the McCallum building. He noted that climate change has increased the number and severity of storms such that what was once considered a 100-year flood may now be a 50-year flood. Further, Bombara said that the protections that were put in place following the flood of 1955 may not be adequate protection against more intense storms.
“Has anybody looked as this and asked what happens now based on climate change and based on the increased moisture we can expect?” he said. “We’ve seen the floods in Europe, what happened to these cities and how everybody was surprised by it. Why would we be building alongside the river now, knowing what’s coming? Why isn’t the town seeing the bigger picture? Preserve this parcel of land, or at least keep development very close to Route 4 and not have the risk that someday we’re all going to be going ‘Oh my God, look what happened.’”
Bombara also said while he wasn’t sure if aesthetics were part of the commission’s charge in looking at whether to approve an application, the beautiful views that are offered in the area up for development would be ruined by the sight of apartment buildings.
“Keep this area more natural so everybody in town can enjoy it without putting everybody at risk,” he said.
Tom Scanzillo was even more succinct.
“We are going to destroy a beautiful piece of land in Farmington Connecticut,” he said. “We don’t want another Route 6, we don’t want another Route 44. This looks like the Blue Back Square with a water front. … We’re just ruining a beautiful spot.”
But attorney Robin Pearson, who represents the developer, responded that the environmental impact of the regulated activities was minimal because the alluvial soils in question “no longer function as wetland soils.”
The soils are cut off from the floodplain and cannot be reactivated or renovated or brought back as a wetland resource, she said.
“We have satisfied [the commission’s] criteria and it would not be prudent to deny development of this site as set forth [under the] plan of conservation and development,” she said.
Tom Daly, of SLR Consulting, who also is a part of the developer’s team, said that his firm has “moved with the times” in performing its calculations concerning 100-year storms and flooding.