Route 7 storage facility rouses Haviland Road neighbors
Contentious, long and strange — with discussion detouring into methods for counting truck trips, and an exasperated attorney’s subtle expressions of impatience — the public hearing on a proposed self-storage facility on Route 7 has finally ended.
Deliberations on the 800 Ethan Allen Highway application — first received by the Planning and Zoning Commission in May, and subject to three public hearing sessions — are scheduled to begin Wednesday, Oct. 2.
Eight people spoke at a three-hour hearing hearing on Sept. 10, all opposed — six of them from Haviland Road.
The number of truck trips during construction may have been the most debated issue.
Michael Mazzucco, engineer for applicant Saber Management LLC, based calculations on the amount of excavation expected during site work, when the truck traffic would peak — projecting 1,300 dump truck trips, over three months, five days a week.
“Twenty-two trucks per day, four trucks per hour,” he said.
Neighbor Tom Lincoln of 191 Haviland Road questioned the math.
“I still can’t make these numbers work,” he said.
After a lot of discussion the picture became somewhat clearer when Mazzucco said he was following a construction industry convention that counted a “trip” as a two-way journey.
“My 22 trips per day — one trip in and one trip out,” Mazzucco said.
To Lincoln that seemed like 44 truck trips.
“It’s 22 entrances, and 22 exits,” Lincoln said.
“The road in that area is already stressed out with traffic at commuter time,” he added. “I think that’s going to be a disaster.”
“Has there been a traffic study for how these trucks come in and out?” asked Mike Antkies of 212 Haviland Road. “... Are you saying that’s not going to affect traffic on Route 7?”
“You wouldn’t be doing truck traffic during rush hour — that would be stupid,” said the applicant’s attorney, Bob Jewell.
Antkies was still worried.
“That’s a terrible intersection,” he said.
Martha Lincoln of 191 Haviland Road found the trucks troubling because she has teenagers who drive.
“I just want to be sure they’re safe,” she said.
She doubted big trucks entering and exiting the site could safely make the turn without crossing Route 7’s center line.
And she scolded Attorney Jewell for demeanor betraying his exasperation.
“Mr. Jewell, the sighs are getting old,” she said. “... I’m asking for safety for my 17-year-old son. Forgive me if I’m bothering you.”
Her husband, Tom Lincoln, also objected to “the condescending comments that keep coming from counsel.”
Tom Lincoln told the commission that a couple of his neighbors weren’t comfortable speaking at the hearings.
“They felt so intimidated by this process,” he said.
Lincoln said hearings should welcome regular citizens and taxpayers.
“This is our town. We pay for this proceeding to happen,” he said. “... Other people that are very concerned about this project are afraid … The public community is finding this process intimidating.”
Attorney Jewell apologized for allowing his impatience to show.
“I apologize for getting frustrated. It is a character flaw of mine,” he said. “... I sometimes get impatient. I apologize.”
Chris DeAngelis, the peer review engineer who critiqued the plans — hired by and working for the commission, but paid by the applicant — felt the amount of earth work and truck traffic would pose worksite management challenges.
“The traffic’s got to be managed on-site very carefully, the soil erosion has got to be managed on-site very carefully,” DeAngelis said.
Attorney Jewell asked him if these issues weren’t inevitable problems any development plan would deal with.
“In your work for developers,” he said, “ if you were on this project, you’d find a way to get it done?”
“You can build anything,” DeAngelis said. “It’s planning ahead. You can build a skyscraper in New York City on a very small lot.”
Another issue is the building’s size — 77,000 square feet, four stories and about 43 feet high in front, with a “footprint” of 19,200 square feet.
“They’ve built the building too big,” Antkies said. “This is a monster building.”
Tom Lincoln bemoaned “the impact of this giant building.”
Attorney Jewell said the proposed storage facility would have less impact than a contractor’s yard previously approved for the site.
Opponents had compared the proposal to a Home Depot.
“Home Depot in Danbury is 111,660 square feet,” Jewell said.
Similarly, he said it’s smaller than the two Pond’s Edge buildings on the former Benrus factory site, south of Little Pond.
“It isn’t even the largest building in the neighborhood,” Jewell said.
Antkies worried the construction would affect the area’s aquifer.
“I’m concerned how it’s going to affect other properties that have wells,” he said.
“In the summertime there’s a lot of people that go to Great Pond,” he added. “This will affect the traffic around Great Pond.”
Reed Thomas of 195 Haviland Road worried renters of self-storage space might keep hazardous chemicals there.
“Who’s taking ownership or control of what’s stored in this facility?” he asked.
Attorney Jewell said restrictions on hazardous chemicals would be written into leases for storage space — as at owner Chuck Saber’s other similar facilities. And, the mortgage lender for the project also wants hazardous chemicals prohibited, Jewell said.
Thomas also wondered about blasting.
“There’ll be blasting for sure,” said Mazzucco, the developer’s engineer.
Thomas then asked if there’d be “seismic monitoring of neighbors’ properties” to protect them — but that isn’t planned.
Meredith Morgans, also of 195 Haviland Road, shared her concerns about blasting and possible impact on Great Pond.
“Once you start this project you begin blowing up the rocks and trees,” she said.
“...We’re cramming a lot into a tiny space, and we’re disturbing a lot that’s never been built on,” she said. “I feel that’s a horrible crime against nature.”
Attorney Jewell said the site was separated from Great Pond by the 100-acre former Camp Adventure property, now half open space and half the 73-unit Regency at Ridgefield condominiums.
“This is not near Great Pond,” Jewell said. “This is the bottom of the hill.”
Some Haviland Road opponents had their suspicions aroused when they learned the project’s closest neighbors — The Regency at Ridgefield’s condominium owners — had an agreement with the developer. They wouldn’t oppose the project if portions of the site closest to their condominiums were excluded from development “in perpetuity” — along with some other concessions, including discounts at the storage facility for signers from The Regency.
Conservation Commission member Kitsey Snow described the difficulties she’d had following up on the developer’s responses to previous comments she and her colleagues had made.
“We asked for it, we didn’t get it,” she said. “I looked for it, I couldn’t find it.”
Eventually, Attorney Jewell sought to settle that matter by reading the Conservation Commission’s comments into the record, and having engineer Mazzucco give responses.
Under state statutes the commission has 35 days to complete a public hearing on an application. With the first of three hearing sessions on July 9, that deadline was due to fall on August 13. The applicant granted an extension of the hearing closure date until Sept. 10 — but not longer.
As the hearing neared its close, commissioner John Katz worried that citizens’ questions weren’t all answered.
“If the public feels information has not been on target, or accessible, the commission suffers for that,” Katz said. “... This is a public body, and we’re here to serve them.”