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Wetlands agency schedules public hearing for axe factory application

By John Fitts 

Staff Writer 


CANTON – The town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency has scheduled a site walk and a public hearing for a permit application related to proposed work at the history Axe Factory site in Collinsville. 

The wetlands application was formally received by the agency on May 9. A wetlands permit is  one of several local and state regulatory approvals necessary before a company looking to revitalize the property can begin extensive site work that would include soil remediation, grading, and utility installation. That preparation work and horizontal infrastructure is extensive and needs to be done before other, more visible changes can be made. 

Nearly 50 businesses operate at the complex – home to the world famous Collins Co. from 1826 to 1966 – but several structures have been lost over time and much of the site’s infrastructure is aging rapidly. Redevelopment has long been a goal for the town, although there are many and varied viewpoints on how it should be done. 

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. 

“Our goal is to rehabilitate the site and strengthen the connection to Collinsville Main Street and the Farmington River,” their web site states. “CRC is proposing to renovate many of the existing buildings and waterways, and to add new residential units, offering upgraded space to existing and new tenants while enhancing the extraordinary character of the site. We hope to keep many of our current tenants and to attract new businesses with a mix of retail, office, restaurant, cultural, and light industrial uses.”

Lisa and Merritt's father, Rusty Tilney, is principal of At Collinsville, LLC, which has owned the 19.3-acre complex since 2002. CRC has an option to purchase the property when approvals are secured.

On April 25, CRC, via its agent – Landscape Architectural Design Associates – formally filed the wetlands application. It seeks 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. 

The repair and restoration of the waterways on site are under the jurisdiction of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (CT DEEP), according to the wetlands application. The Tilneys plan to formally seek a dam safety permit from the state as early as this summer. 

Other work that needs to be done includes, but is not limited, to:

• Removal of contaminated soils on the brownfield site

• Installation of utilities and roadways (known as horizontal infrastructure)

• Excavation of 820 linear feet of foundations for new residential buildings

• Paving for driveways and parking

• Removal of invasive plantings

• Replacement and Expansion of an existing bridge over the canal

• Installation of new plants and ground cover

The local wetlands application goes into much detail on those points and the erosion and sedimentation controls, stormwater management and species protection that will be employed at each step.

On May 9, Phil Doyle of Simsbury based Landscape Architectural Design Associates, gave the wetlands agency an overview of the project.

“We’re here to start the approval process for – ultimately – the renovation and the restoration of the property,” Doyle said. 

Doyle reviewed numerous survey sheets and other visual aspects of the plan, speaking to aspects such as the history of the site, precise building and slab locations, the goal of reducing impervious surface, remediation plans and related earthwork removal estimates, erosion control methods, infrastructure needs, as well as rain gardens and other stormwater management techniques. 

He also touched on plans for improved emergency access, green spaces and more. 

To put it all in context, Doyle also reviewed the overall development concept and noted aspects such as the plan to keep 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. Doyle noted some likely uses for some of the existing buildings to the west of the Farmington River Trail, such as a coffee shop, art gallery and brewery. He also noted that parking will be street parking and in the case of some of the new residential – below those structures. There is no “parking deck” or garage proposed in this application – a controversial component of a previous plan for the property from a different party. 

“We wanted to make sure we’re actually reducing the impervious surface and improving the look of the property,” Doyle said. “Now, none of that has anything to do with the wetland applications but I want to understand, when you’re looking at wetlands issues and work we’re doing in the upland review area, why we’re doing it. We’re doing it to achieve some goal.”

After some further presentation from Doyle, including the multiple levels of erosion control, the commission discussed next steps, eventually settling on the morning of May 23 at 8:30 a.m. to walk the site. While many are familiar with the property, commissioners noted it would help visualize the plans. 

“I think a site walk would be beneficial,” Wetlands agency chair Eric Henry said. 

“As good as this is,” said Robert Bahre as he pointed to the plans, “It’s easier to orientate yourself if you walk it and see what you’re talking about on site – no question about it.”

The commission agreed with the assessment that the work would not constitute a “significant impact activity” that would require a public hearing, but members, after some discussion, voted to schedule one, due to the high public interest in the property. 

“We want to be transparent about what we do here and we want to have the public involved,” Henry said. “Most of the time they’re not interested…. The scale of this project is as big as any project I’ve seen come before this agency.”

That public hearing was set for the June meeting, noted on the town’s web site as June 13. 

While the Tilney sisters and several other professionals working on the project were also at the May 9 meeting, and answered some questions, they did not give formal presentations, but some are likely to do so at the hearing, going into more detail on the matters Doyle spoke to. The commission will continue its consideration of the application that evening as well. 

The agendas weren’t officially posted at press time but closer to that planned hearing date, people can verify meeting details via the drop-down menus at https://www.townofcantonct.org/agendas-minutes-meetings

Residents should note that the hearing is related to wetlands agency matters.  The number of preliminarily planned housing units, for example, is not under the purview of the agency. Such questions will be vetted when an application gets to the Planning and Zoning Commission and a final site plan could differ from the concept plan. 

Those interesting in reading application documents can visit https://townofcantonct.org/IWWA-packet/?FeedID=3840 

Look for the 10 Depot St. file under the 5-9-24 meeting packet.

For more on the project overall see our previous story at  https://www.valleypressextra.com.


Removal of contaminated soils is one major focus of the wetlands application. While there have been several site investigations over the years, some of the most recent reports come as part the Phase III Environmental Site Assessments from GZA Environmental. The work was funded by state Department of Economic Community Development (DECD) Brownfield Grant, as the site fits into that category, defined as “any abandoned or underutilized site where redevelopment, reuse or expansion has not occurred due to the presence or potential presence of pollution in the buildings, soil or groundwater that requires investigation or remediation before or in conjunction with the restoration, redevelopment, reuse and expansion of the property.” The image above details some of the cleanup needed. While it might be hard to see, people can visit https://townofcantonct.org/IWWA-packet and find the May 9 packet. The documents will be under the 10 Depot St. folder

Above: This overall site plan shows a concept of how final development could look with commercial uses continuing on the western portion of the site, while uses such as light industrial, an art gallery, coffee shop and brewery could occupy the middle of the site. Residential uses, as conceived, would go on the eastern portion beyond the Farmington River Trail. While many are interested in such uses and this image adds context, issues such as number of housing units are not relevant to the wetlands hearing. That would come in the Planning and Zoning stage later on when a proposed site plan is filed.

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