MONROE, CT — Tempers flared at the Planning and Zoning Commission meeting Thursday night, as tensions over a plan to remediate an environmental violation at 64 Cambridge and 4 Independence drives boiled over.
Arnold Karp, who heads two LLCs that own the properties, says he wants to restore the wetlands, while eventually making the industrially zoned parcels viable for development. But Peter Metropoulos, who owns a neighboring property at 36 Timothy Hill Road, says he is concerned over groundwater quality.
The commission previously approved a permit in January of 2022, but Metropoulos appealed it. After the ensuing court battle, Fairfield District Superior Court Judge Dale W. Radcliffe overturned the approval, because he found the commission had no statutory authority to grant waivers as part of its decision.
Radcliffe ruled that only the Zoning Board of Appeals can issue the approval of waivers. Since then, Karp received ZBA approvals for the waivers, enabling him to come back to the Planning and Zoning Commission with a new excavation and fill permit application.
Chairman Michael O’Reilly noted there is an appeal of the ZBA decision and if the appeal is upheld, anything the commission does could be held up or overturned.
Kevin Solli, of Solli Engineering, a representative of the applicant, said they are aware of that and assured O’Reilly they are within their rights to proceed.
Metropoulos petitioned the commission for intervenor status for the hearing, giving him and any experts he hires the right to present evidence, while participating in the process.
Solli questioned Metropoulos’ petition for intervenor status.
“You certainly can accept the petition, but the commission can determine whether it meets the burden of proof for intervenor status,” Solli said.
On Thursday night, Dominic Smeraglino III, an alternate member of the commission, asked Attorney Joel Z. Green, who represents Metropoulos, if his client has done any testing of his own groundwater, since he’s concerned about water quality.
Green said he did not know. This concerned Commissioner Robert Westlund.
“I think this is a giant stall tactic and it’s wasting everyone’s time,” Westlund said. “I know you’re offended, but if he was concerned, he would have tested his water. There’s nothing to believe there is anything wrong with that groundwater right now.”
Green said the court had never made a finding that there were no adverse impacts on groundwater from activity on the Cambridge Drive and Independence Drive parcels.
“Where’s your evidence of groundwater pollution?” Nicole Lupo, an alternate, asked Green. “If your client didn’t test his own water, how do we know there is a reason for pollution. He hasn’t tested his water all these years? That to me is a concern.”
“I didn’t say that,” Green said. “I said I didn’t know.”
Vice Chairman Bruno Maini noted that this issue has been going on for years. Maini said he would think Metropoulos would have tested his own water to see if there’s a pattern.
Green pointed out that Metropoulos’ Timothy Hill Road property is not the one in question. He said the application is for Karp’s properties, adding his client did not excavate his property and bring in fill.
Commissioner Leon Ambrosey was angered over the barrage of questions of whether Metropoulos tested his own water.
Ambrosey said the point is there was a massive hole on Karp’s properties from a longtime quarrying operation by the previous owner, which was filled with groundwater, and material was brought on the site without a permit, including rebar and concrete.
Ambrosey raised his voice, “the groundwater should be monitored by that property owner over and over again, because feeding into that’s a GA water site and you guys are beating up on this guy, whether he tested his water, not this applicant. I’m out.”
Ambrosey left the dais and started walking out of the Council Chambers of Monroe Town Hall, before stopping and saying to his fellow commissioners, “you’re not worried about the town and the people of Monroe. That’s what the problem is here.”
Cooler heads eventually prevailed and Ambrosey came back to the meeting.
Metropoulos, who attended the meeting remotely on video, told the commission he will test his own groundwater if that’s what they want.
Ambrosey reiterated his concern over groundwater quality.
“Arnold, I’m not here trying to pick on you,” he said to Karp. “It shouldn’t have gotten to that point. I have concerns about the groundwater. That’s all I’m concerned about.”
Solli said they had gone to Aquarion Water Co., which had no concerns over information they provided. Nevertheless, Karp agreed to more water testing.
Stop work order
Metropoulos accused Karp of continuing work on the site after Judge Radcliffe’s decision to overturn the excavation and fill permit approval in April, not stopping until a temporary stop order was issued.
The applicant said they continued the remediation based on the active Inland Wetlands Commission approval of the wetlands restoration plan.
Attorney Steve Finn, who represents the applicant, told the commission that Metropoulos asked the court to find his client in contempt of court for continuing to work on the site, but the judge found no basis for a finding of contempt.
“As the property owner, I’m tired of hearing about what could be there. We had a third party,” Karp said of environmental inspections throughout the process. “This has been all above board. They’re trying to diminish the value of my property and hold this up.”
“We’re submitting the same material that was approved at last application,” Solli told the commission. “Now you don’t have to grant the waivers.”
But Green argued that the applicant cannot use the same reports and materials they used for the last approval, because it has been two years since the wetlands mitigation plan was approved.
Green pointed out that work continued on the site since August of 2021 and pointed to a photo on the presentation screen showing flat land, where exposed water used to be. He said a new survey needs to be done to show the land’s current condition and where things should go from here.
“I understand it’s a lot of the same stuff and same material, but the applicant’s got to provide a little more of where things stand now,” Green said. “To stand before the commission and say, ‘we’re gonna start where we were in August of 2021,’ well we’re way past that.
O’Reilly said the hearing will be continued two weeks from now to give the commission time to get answers to legal questions.
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