Monroe zoning commissioners plan extensive review of excavation and fill regs

Monroe Town Hall in the evening. Photo by John Babina

MONROE, CT — The Planning and Zoning Commission’s regulations subcommittee directed the town engineer to take a comprehensive look at section 6.4.23 of the Monroe Zoning Regulations for excavation and filling permits, before further review of a developer’s proposal to strike a few conditions on slopes.

In April, Fairfield District Superior Court Judge Dale W. Radcliffe ruled that a commission approval of a permit for extensive site work at 64 Cambridge Drive was invalid, because the regulation provides no specific criteria to allow for waivers granted to the applicant.

This sparked Solli Engineering LLC, who represented the applicant, to petition the commission to eliminate the waiver exceptions as conditions under section 6.4.23 of the town’s regulations.

Arnold Karp, managing partner of Astro Land Holdings LLC and Spacely Land Holdings LLC, which own the industrial sites on Cambridge and 4 Independence Drive, has said restoring the wetlands will address past violations and make way for commercial buildings, providing positive tax revenue for the town.

During a recent Planning and Zoning Commission meeting, Commissioner Leon Ambrosey argued that the issue should have been taken up by the subcommittee before coming to the full commission.

The subcommittee scheduled a special meeting on July 17, during which Chairman Michael O’Reilly agreed with Ambrosey that a more thorough review by the town was needed.

Chris Pawlowski, a professional engineer with Solli Engineering, represented the applicant at the meeting.

“I can’t say that I’m not disappointed, but I understand,” he said of the decision for the town engineer to do a review. Then, after using his cellphone to contact the applicant, he added that his client is not withdrawing the application before the full commission.

Judge Radcliffe had found that only the Zoning Board of Appeals could have granted the waivers when the zoning commission approved the excavation and fill permit, so aside from a petition to modify the zoning regulations, Karp also has an application before the ZBA for the permit waivers.

The Subcommittee

Regulations Subcommittee members included O’Reilly, Ambrosey and Commissioner Robert Westlund. Planning and Zoning Administrator Rick Schultz and Attorney Barbara Schellenberg also represented the town at the meeting.

In addition to Pawlowski, the meeting was attended by Joel Z. Green, the attorney for Peter Metropoulos, trustee to The Thomas C. and Stella Maganas 1988 Family Trust, the owner of 36 Timothy Hill Road in Monroe, who appealed the commission’s approval of the permit.

“I was fine with it, until Attorney Green and Leon mentioned taking language out and not replacing it,” O’Reilly said of the petition to remove some of the regulations.

Schellenberg said the commission could take out the conditions and replace it with less restrictive language.

Westlund said commissioners are not experts on all regulations, so giving them complete control for each application is not always a good idea.

O’Reilly asked, “what if someone says, well what can we do?”

“You can have the town engineer guide you,” Schellenberg said. “You can always get independent advice. You don’t have to go with what the applicant’s engineer is telling you.”

Schultz said staff reviewed zoning regulations for excavation and filling permits from Shelton, Branford and Newtown.

“The Monroe regulations were written extensively with a lot of details,” Schultz said. “I’m not saying it’s wrong.”

Schultz said Newtown’s regulations do not include conditions for slopes, only setbacks. “The reality is, the judge says you have to get rid of the waivers,” he said.

“We can’t grant a waiver,” Ambrosey said. “It should be the ZBA. We already lost two cases because of that. Once we take it out of here, it isn’t a requirement anymore.”

Pawlowski said the guidelines are unnecessary because engineers have professional standards they all abide by and all applications are reviewed by the town engineer before coming to the commission for a hearing.

Discussion

The conditions Solli Engineering proposes eliminating are:

  • No artificial slope greater than twenty-seven degrees (27°) to the horizontal (or maximum two (2) feet horizontal to one (1) foot vertical) shall be created.
  • No change in contour shall be made within twenty-five (25) feet of any property line.
  • No artificial slope greater than fourteen degrees (14°) to the horizontal (or maximum four feet horizontal to one foot vertical) shall be created within fifty feet of any property line.
  • No artificial slope greater than fourteen degrees (14°) to the horizontal shall be created within fifty feet of any street line.

Under a section with restrictions on sorting, grading, crushing or other machinery for treatment or processing of material, the amendment would eliminate the line:

All permitted such activities regardless of permitted location shall not include, permit or involve materials from offsite locations.

Pawlowski said the filling operation that leveled the former Vishay Vitramon property at 10 and 36 Main St. to make way for construction of a shopping center with a self storage facility, office space, a grocery store and two fast food restaurants could not have been possible without bringing in offsite fill.

“I don’t understand how you would fill your property,” he said.

“That doesn’t make sense at all,” O’Reilly said. “I think we can all agree on that one. It’s common sense.”

“I don’t want to eliminate regulations,” Ambrosey said. “If you do, they’re gone.”

“That’s why we kept most of it,” Pawlowski said.

“We all agree there should be regulations,” Green said. “You should do your research now. Look to your engineer.”

During the July 6 commission meeting, Kevin Solli, principal of Solli Engineering, said the conditions they propose removing are things that are “historically waived”. Green took exception to that.

“I’d like to see how many times it was asked for and approved,” he said of the waivers.

Green said the commission now has the opportunity to hire an independent consultant and see what other towns are doing.

“I’m leaving soon,” Schultz said of getting this done before his retirement.

“You want to get it right, not fast,” Green said. “Let’s get this right and have some standards. Solli can participate. You may decide to allow steeper slopes. I know you’re all trying to do the right thing, but please don’t do away with all standards. It would be a disservice to applicants and the town.”

“I trust the staff and am trying to get this done,” Schultz said.

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