More than 200 people crowded into the largest gathering space at the Newtown Community Center April 7 for a Planning & Zoning Commission hearing on a 330,440 square foot warehouse proposed for 10 Hawleyville Road.
While many at the hearing did not have the opportunity to speak before the session ended at 10 pm, those who did expressed concern that the warehouse would produce constant noise and noxious fumes, have tractor trailers circling the neighborhood waiting for an opportunity to access the steeply graded entrance driveway, and snarl traffic in the area of Interstate 84 at Exit 9.
While a second hearing was initially set for the P&Z hearing on April 21, Land Use Director George Benson told The Newtown Bee that the hearing has been postponed and will reconvene during a P&Z meeting scheduled for May 5.
Attorney Ray Parks, hired by a group of intervenors opposed to the exception, characterized the project at the April 7 public hearing as a “truck terminal.” He said that while an earlier presentation by representatives of the applicant made the project sound like a “wonderful concept,” it left out the “800 pound gorilla,” which he said was the fact that the building had 76 doors.
“They call this a warehouse,” said Parks. “A warehouse stores things. This building has 76 doors. This is a truck terminal, and your regulations don’t allow truck terminals.”
Parks noted that “more than 20% of landowners within 1,500 feet of the development had filed and signed an objection,” so since a warehouse is not an of right use on the property and requires a special permit, the commission needs a supermajority to approve the project.
Parks said he had successfully helped residents in South Windsor oppose an “almost identical building,” although that developer is now suing to appeal the Windsor zoning commission’s rejection of that proposal.
Parks said that the problem with the design of the Hawleyville property was “a miserable failure cubing,” which he defined as where trucks would go while waiting for an opportunity to pull up to a loading dock.
He said that “pinch points” in the design would slow down the ability of trucks to get to the loading docks and it would “quickly exceed capacity,” particularly since the driveway has a 5% grade and the drivers would not want to wait there. Parks said that truckers would circle the property on the local roads while waiting for an opportunity to get up the driveway and into a loading dock.
“Your roads are not equipped for a 24/7/365 beehive of activity,” said Parks. “This building may fit in the property but the use is the harshest we could put to this. Newtown has no idea what it’s inviting in.”
The representatives for Wharton Industrial did not have an opportunity to respond to these criticisms or to a large number of questions from zoning commissioners due to time.
A ‘Less Intense’ Option
Earlier in the meeting, Wharton Industrial representatives said the proposed warehouse was a “less intense” use of the 104 acre property than any of a long list of prior projects proposed for the property that never came to fruition.
Those projects included the Mendik Newtown Corporate Office in 1979, a 200,000 square foot medical office building with a 90,000 square foot mixed retail building and 335 age restricted apartments in 1997; the GE corporate headquarters in 2003 and Newtown Crossings in 2011, — which would have been a 527,000 square foot mixed retail building with 184 residential units and a 100 room hotel.
The property is zoned Industrial M-2A, which allows warehouses as a special exception.
The property is bounded by I-84 to the north, Hawleyville Road to the West and Mt Pleasant Road to the south. To the east is undeveloped property.
The project is also near some residential neighborhoods.
The property currently has “extensive areas” of thick vegetation, and the town has “long planned for development of the site,” said Atty Thomas Cody of Robinson and Cole, a Hartford law firm. Cody said a lack of sewer lines to the area was a “long-time hindrance” to development, and the town recently installed sewer lines to help attract development.
“This is a great opportunity to accomplish the town’s long-standing goals,” said Cody. “This project is more clean and less intense than previous [proposed] projects.”
Cody noted that design plans for the property would only have 7% building coverage when regulations allow a maximum of 35%; and regulations allow up to 70% of the property to be impervious coverage such as pavement while the current proposed design only calls for 16%.
Matthew Bruton, an engineer with BL Companies architectural and engineering firm, said that most of the existing vegetation “will not be touched,” and additional trees will be planted to help block noise. The plan, which includes four storm water catch basins, will “not pollute or impair the existing wetlands on the site.” Landscaping will “maintain as much vegetation as possible and will be an “attractive site for visitors and employees.”
Bruton said there would be no light spillage from the property.
Traffic Concerns Discussed
Michael Dion, a traffic engineer with BL Companies, said a traffic study was done with 2021 counts and “applies a COVID adjustment” as well as an annual growth rate adjustment, and has been approved by the Connecticut Department of Transportation. They looked at trips during the “peak am and pm hours,” and the warehouse would “not add 100 new trips to any area” surrounding the development.
“We know the town is very concerned so we looked out much further than normal,” said Dion.
A third party review of the traffic study is underway, and Benson said that the results of that would be presented at the next public hearing.
Pete Kilty, with EKD Construction Company, said that the building will not be visible from more areas around the property, with it being partially visible at the mouth of the driveway, and the top of the building being partially observable from homes on Whippoorwill Road, which is elevated above the property.
“It’s highly blocked with vegetation,” said Kilty.
A sound study was presented by Ben Mueller of Ostergaard Acoustical Association, who said that potential impacts were studied and “mitigated as needed.” He said the goal was to keep constant noise leaked to neighboring properties under 55 decibels during the day and 45 dB at night, while local zoning says that up to 70 dB are allowable on industrial properties.
Mueller said that the location of the building, truck court and driveway are “all acoustically beneficial” and that with the addition of an eight foot tall, 300 foot long sound barrier fence along the southern border of the property, that there was “no negative acoustic impact expected from this project.”
When the presentation was over, the members of the commission had an opportunity to present questions, but the Wharton representatives did not have an opportunity to respond to the questions before the end of the meeting.
Chairman Dennis Bloom asked what the warehouse was for, what would be stored there, how many employees would be on the property at any one time, and how many trucks would likely be on the property at any given time. He also asked if the warehouse would be operating 365 days per year.
Commission member Greg Rich asked what the expected tax impact would be for the project as the “implication would be that this would reduce the tax burden on homeowners.” He was concerned with how long diesel trucks might be idling on the property, and said that while the light study claimed there would be no light spillage that from the driveway and above there looked like there could be light spillage.
Commission member Corinne Cox asked about the impact on a nearby brook. And commission member Kersti Ferguson asked how many trucks would be on the property and how that could have no traffic impact on the area since it is a 24-hour facility.
Commission member David Rosen inquired about how the sound and visibility would be impacted by the leaves falling from surrounding vegetation during the winter.
Commission member Brian Leonardi asked if Wharton owned “any similar properties” and what the practices were at those properties. He also inquired if this would be “interstate trucks dropping off and interstate trucks picking up,” and expressed concern about increased noise leak should trucks try and use a secondary driveway onto Mt Pleasant Road that would normally be gated off.
Once the commission members posed their questions, the intervenors were given their chance to speak.
In addition to his concerns about the warehouse being a “truck terminal” and the “lack of cubing,” Parks said that the developers had not demonstrated that their development was “compatible” with the surrounding area. He said that neighbors would almost “rather a prison or landfill” than the current proposal. He said that better uses for the area would be “light industrial uses” such as “hotels or a tennis club.”
Resident Don Leonard characterized the proposal as a “monstrosity” and that he wouldn’t have bought his home if he had known it would be coming in.
“People need to wake up to the disasters coming in all over,” said Leonard.
Leonard said that most of the surrounding area was residential homes, and other business uses in the area are things like the Eman School and Educational Playcare, a nursery school and childcare facility.
While the developers could “do whatever they want to mitigate sound,” it “won’t go away, it will still be there” which he found “unacceptable.
“This is going on all over the country and people don’t want it,” said Leonard.
Leonard expressed concern about pollutants from all the trucks, how bad traffic is on I-84 in the area of Danbury and Newtown, how the warehouse would affect that — and the fact that with parking for 360 vehicles, how many employees would be coming and going from the property over multiple shifts during the day.
Leonard was also very concerned that “the site occupants are currently unknown.”
“We don’t know what kind of business they will be doing, so how can you project traffic,” asked Leonard.
He said that Solli Engineering of Monroe had been hired to do a review of the traffic study and had “refuted much of the Wharton study.”
Neighbors Have Rights
“Property owners have rights but so do neighbors,” said Leonard. “There are places for this, on a periphery of a town where it would have minimal impact, but not here.”
Stephen Trinkaus, a soil engineer for Trinkaus engineering hired by the intervenors, said that the soil on the property was “poorly suited” for water infiltration and that the proposed catch basins would do little to prevent soil erosion or runoff into the local wetlands. He also inquired what sort of trees would be used for sound and visibility plantings because many trees chosen for such purposes have “low tolerance” for truck and diesel pollution and “only last a year or two.”
Resident Doreen Trimarchi, one of the intervenors, expressed concern about the 76 truck bays and 362 parking spots and how much activity that would bring to the property.
“Newtown does not want a tractor trailer center and freight terminal,” said Trimarchi.
She expressed concern about how much nitrous oxide tractor trailers produce as well as other toxins that can be carcinogens to humans and animals. She said that the development would produce “around-the-clock noise and pollution.”
Resident Julio Lopez said he was “looking for transparency” concerning who the tenants for the proposed warehouse, or a list of proposed tenants, were going to be “so we can measure the impact to the environment.” Lopez said when this development was before the Inland Wetlands Commission, he was “denied the right to find out.”
“It would give us a sense of security to know who is going to be there,” said Lopez.
Resident Peter Paulus, who moved to town 20 years ago and moved his horse farm to town in 2014, said that for perspective, the Big Y plaza in Bethel is 92,000 square feet; this warehouse is 344,000.
Resident Ken Dell, said that in his years as a resident, he has been part of “a lot of battles” with different projects looking to come into town. He asked why anyone would “want to build a truck hub at the bottom of a hill in New England,” pointing to the ice storm the town had a few months ago, which was “a huge mess.”
Resident Edward Kelleher, a former alternate on the P&Z Commission, said he heard a lot from the developers about the environment and “clearly they are not respecting” it. He said the project would have a huge cost to the town and the commission should look at the project “as if it is approving an airport,” given that trucks would be “in a holding pattern around town.”
The public will have another opportunity to weigh in on the warehouse project at the second public hearing on May 5. The April 21 P&Z meeting will not have an opportunity for the public to speak on the warehouse project.
Associate Editor Jim Taylor can be reached at [email protected]
More than 200 residents attended a public hearing about a proposed warehouse development at 10 Hawleyville Road on April 7. —Bee Photo, Taylor
Planning & Zoning Commission members Roy Meadows (left), Dennis Bloom, Gergory Rich and Corrinne Cox sit before the assembled crowd at a Planning & Zoning meeting on April 7. —Bee Photos, Taylor
Atty William Cody, standing, representing Wharton Industrial, addresses the Planning & Zoning Commission as well as the assembled public, at a hearing on April 7. Commission members Roy Meadows and Dennis Bloom look on.