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Plan to rehabilitate axe factory complex receives wetlands approval

Planning and Zoning application expected in coming months


By John Fitts

Staff Writer

Posted June 14, 2024


CANTON – The town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency on June 13 approved an application related to a plan to redevelop the historic axe factory complex in Collinsville.


The approval is just one of many regulatory steps needed by sisters Lisa and Merritt Tilney, who, through their company Collinsville Redevelopment Company, are seeking to revitalize the site, which from 1826 to 1966 was home to world renowned Collins Co. Today, some 50 businesses operate from the complex with a mix of artists, light industrial, personal services, and more.


The plan would first involve site remediation, followed by horizontal infrastructure and finally a mixed-use plan that -as preliminarily conceived - includes renovation of some 155,000 square feet of existing buildings, repair of 2,000 feet of man-made waterworks and construction of three new residential buildings that would include 224 apartments and 48 condominiums with parking below the buildings. Additionally, plans include 16 condominium units for the circa 1843 granite building. 


Phil Doyle of Landscape Architectural Design Associates leads members of the Canton Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency on a May 23 site walk at the complex .

On April 25, CRC, via its agent – Phil Doyle of Landscape Architectural Design Associates – formally filed the wetlands application. It sought approval for the work in what’s known as the Upland Review Area – areas that fall within 100 feet of a wetland or watercourse. Approximately 12 acres on the site fits into that category due to the Farmington River and manmade waterways. Work would take place over about 7.5 acres of that area and the application particularly focused on aspects such as erosion control and stormwater management.


Only a few people spoke at the hearing.


Aimee Petras, Executive Director of the Farmington River Watershed Association, read from a letter submitted to the commission.


“FRWA is excited for Canton to be entertaining a redevelopment project. Although there is significant pollution on the site and deteriorating/condemned buildings, the site has remained almost vacant for many years,” Petras said. “Redevelopment and revitalization of this property can be beneficial to Canton, but FRWA is concerned about this significant redevelopment, the addition of new buildings, and the human activity related to that redevelopment.”


The letter notes concern in the areas of flood zone development, bringing new users to the waterfront, stormwater management, natural springs in the upland review area and makes several suggestions in those areas.


Jane Latus, president of Canton Advocates for Responsible Expansion spoke, closely mirroring a submitted letter to the commission.


“C.A.R.E. is testifying tonight in solid support of the application by Collinsville Redevelopment Company, LLC for site remediation, rehabilitation, and replacement of buildings and utilities in the Collins Company at 10 Depot Street (File 04-24-1260),” Latus wrote in the letter. “After thorough review of the application and meeting with the developer, we are convinced that this is the re-development plan that Canton/Collinsville has been waiting for. While no re-development plan is perfect, we agree that the sequencing, timing, and thoughtfulness of this application will meet the needs of the town while being sensitive to the existing village residents and the particular character of this stretch of the Farmington River.”


The letter also spoke to removal of contaminated soil, a stabilization plan that included native plantings, staged redevelopment that included environmental protection, public access, a ”thoughtful traffic flow pattern,” and interest in “garden bogs” (rain gardens and bioswales) with native plantings to provide wildlife habitat and reduce runoff.


Bob Bessel also spoke on behalf of the Canton Economic Development Agency.


"We all recognize from an economic standpoint the potential of this site to generate a great deal of tax revenue,” Bessel said. “So, from an EDA standpoint, that’s great. But we also recognize that if this site does not conform to, does not blend with the environment around it, it’s not going to work very well. Again, all our meetings with the Tilneys have proven out that there’s a great deal of sensitivity and a genuine effort to collaborate with all the agencies, all the interested parties to ensure that this plan is workable, that it gets the job done and handles all the various competing concerns that we have environmentally, economically, socially, traffic wise and you name it…. We also recognize that if this site doesn’t get remediated, if the canals are not restored, if the myriad concerns that everyone has – the invasives, the erosion controls, all of that – if they’re not handled, in another five years we may not have a site at all to be working with. So, we are unanimously in favor of this proposal and we see in the Tilneys a very good, strong partner that we are confident we can work with in the years ahead.”


Members of the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency also asked some questions of the project team and had them briefly respond to the concerns in the FRWA letter, some of which are under the agency’s jurisdiction and others which are shared with other regulatory bodies such as the Planning and Zoning Commission.

 

Commission members also asked some questions. One had to do with contaminated soil – as under the plan the project proposes removing deeper contamination from the site and potentially uses a small amount of less contaminated soil under buildings or other infrastructure.


The development team noted that there are more than 100 test holes on site. While a report from GZA, which notes that soil contaminants requiring remediation include lead, arsenic, Total Petroleum Hydrocarbons (TPH) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) could cost $2.2 and $3.4 million, Doyle acknowledged that the team understands there could be surprises.

 

Members of the development team and the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency are visible through this traffic mirror during a May 23 site walk.

“No matter what we do and how many tests we put out there, you have seen it and I have seen it in both of our roles in construction," Doyle said. "No matter how many tests you do you’re always going to find something in between the tests. That’s just the law of averages so you have to be prepared for it. We have to be prepared for it.”

 

Commission members also special conditions, asking for example, that machinery on site not be parked overnight in upland review areas and that activities such as re-fueling be done outside of that area.

  

The commission vote for approval was unanimous and member Robert Bahre praised the thoroughness of the application.

 

“I will say this is probably one of the most thorough plans we’ve received information wise, from every aspect … on a very big site 19 acre site,” Bahre said. “That’s a big site and it looks like they’ve done all their due diligence.”

 

Collinsville Redevelopment will need many other approvals before commencing work for the project. Soon, the team working with the company plans to apply for a dam safety permit with the state Department of Environmental Protection – needed for work on the forebay dam and manmade waterways that course through the site.  An application to the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission is also expected this year. Many other approvals are needed, particularly as the Tilneys are seeking a mix of private and public funding, but those two next steps are critical for the project.

 

“We are thrilled with the IWWA approval granted last night and are grateful to members of the Commission for their thoughtful review of our plans, including a site walk to understand the complexity of the application,” the Tilney sisters said in a statement for the Valley Press. “This is a very important first step in a series of approvals, and we are excited about our progress towards the eventual rehabilitation of the factory. We hope to submit a dam safety application to CT DEEP in July and will also submit plans to Canton Planning + Zoning later this summer or early fall.”



Lisa and Merritt Tilney, through their company Collinsville Redevelopment Company, are seeking to revitalize the 19.3-acre site with a mixed-use plan that include renovation of some 155,000 square feet of existing buildings, repair of 2,000 feet of man-made waterworks and construction of three new residential buildings that would include 224 apartments and 48 condominiums with parking below the buildings. Additionally, plans include 16 condominium units for the circa 1843 granite building. While this overall site plan is not a final version, it speaks to the idea of keeping the tradition of commercial spaces on the western portion of the property, light industrial uses near the center of it and add residential uses to the eastern portion of the land.

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