MONROE, CT — Neighbors upset over a zoning error allowing an auto body shop to move into a space at Bart Center at 604 Main St. made their feelings heard in the public comments portion of the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Thursday night.
The property is in a B-1 zone, which does not allow auto body shops, a use only permitted in an industrial 2 zone.
“We admitted there was an error by a staff member, who is no longer with us, and worked on a resolution that’s very close at hand,” Chairman Michael O’Reilly told them. “I don’t have it tonight.”
First Selectman Terry Rooney was reached for comment, but could not discuss the pending legal issue, which is being handled by Town Attorney Frank Lieto.
On Saturday, Susan Bannay of Bart Road, emailed The Sun to express her optimism over the town’s response to the neighbors expressing their concerns.
“It appears as though our efforts have paid off — all of the signs and banners have been removed from the site,” she wrote. “Hopefully this has been put to rest.”
During public comments at Thursday’s meeting, Bannay read her letter that was previously published in The Sun and was co-signed by the Save Our Stepney Task Force and concerned residents of Bart Road, Vincent Drive, Verna Road and Melon Patch Lane.
She noted how the B-1 district allows retail establishments, personal services, professional offices, medical offices and banks and that town regulations do not permit auto body shops in the zone.
“This is with good reason,” Bannay said. “According to the EPA, auto body shops emit hazardous air pollutants, particulate pollution and volatile organic compounds.”
“The pollutants contribute to a variety of health problems,” she said. “Paints, cleaners and paint strippers can release chemical substances into the air to form ground level ozone that is linked to a number of respiratory effects.”
Bannay said, “the health and safety of our families is at risk. Many of us live in close proximity, some adjacent to this site. Further, the number of parked cars becomes an eyesore. Devaluation of our properties is an imminent issue.”
“Planning and Zoning must not look the other way,” she continued. “Allowing the business to open in an improper zone is illegal. And certainly, a dangerous precedent. The ‘remedy’ for the town is to 1) admit the error, 2) recall the certificate; and 3) issue a cease and desist order.”
Rick Smith, of Hill Crest Road, who had served on the town’s Economic Development Commission, said he is not a NIMBY (not in my backyard), but his experience as an automotive engineer in Detroit before moving to Monroe makes him concerned over having an auto body shop close to the west branch of the Pequonnock River.
After being involved in a crash, Smith said vehicles can leak anti-freeze and other fluids, which could continue to seep out in the parking lot of an auto body shop before it is brought inside a garage, while other vehicles are being worked on.
“It takes a really good shop along the lines of Town Line down the road,” Smith said of Town Line Body Shop at 781 Main St. “We value their business in our town. They’re doing a great job.”
One of the owners of Town Line Body Shop spoke to express their concerns and to say all town businesses must be treated fairly and follow the same rules.
Smith said he was petitioning for a cease and desist order revoking the approval of an auto body shop at 604 Main St. immediately before the business owner invests any more money into the property.
Cathy Lindstrom, of Guinea Road, who also spoke against having an auto body shop at that location, said the error could have been avoided if town employees in the land use department were not overworked and town officials could hire more qualified staff and reduce turnover.
“There is a shortage of qualified applicants in all towns,” O’Reilly said.
Joel Leneker, of Huntingtown Road, president of the Save Our Stepney Task Force, asked if the town hired a town planner yet, to fill a recent opening.
William Holsworth, the acting planning and zoning administrator, said the town hired a new planning and zoning administrator.
“So you have no intention of hiring a certified land use planner?” Leneker asked.
Holsworth said the person is certified in planning, which will be part of the job, though the title is different.
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