Wetlands proposal at Pepper Street Business Park heads back to the drawing board

Bringing in fill for a massive hole on industrial property on Cambridge and Independence drives is part of a plan to restore wetlands there.

MONROE, CT — A proposal to restore wetlands, fill in a massive hole left from an illegal rock crushing operation over a 10-year-period, and construct a small office building in the Pepper Street Business Park appears to be headed for a denial.

During a special meeting Tuesday night, the Inland Wetlands Commission voted unanimously to direct land use staff to draft reasons for a denial without prejudice, which will be discussed and voted upon at another special meeting on Jan. 26.

“I believe that the application should be divided into remediation and development separately,” Vice Chairman Lois Spence said. “I don’t believe the application is complete. There are a great deal of details that are missing.”

A denial without prejudice means the applicant can come back with a new application. A plan is also before the Planning and Zoning Commission, which was waiting for a wetlands approval before closing its own hearing.

The 72-plus acre industrial property covers two adjacent parcels at 64 Cambridge and 4 Independence drives. The owners, Astro Land Holdings LLC and Spacely Land Holdings LLC, bought the property in May of 2019.

Arnold Karp, managing partner of the two LLCs that own the properties, says he wants to respond to the wetlands violations that preceded him and prepare the parcels to be viable for development again.

On Tuesday night, the Inland Wetlands Commission voted on two motions, one directing staff to draft an approval with conditions and the other to deny it without prejudice.

While the latter passed unanimously, the motion to approve the application was defeated by a vote of 3 to 2 with one abstention.

Chairman Keith Romano and B.J. Hall voted in favor and Spence, James R. Stewart and Clark Gingras voted against it. Commissioner Ross Mastrorocco voted to abstain.

A discussion on reasons for denial ensued.

In addition to the reasons Spence had given, Stewart said the length of construction is excessive and Russell Dirienzo, a licensed environmental professional hired to consult the commission, had said the plan to restore the damaged wetlands had only a small chance of working.

Another reason for denial, cited by Hall, was a “lack of sufficient detail” on the plan to pump water from a bedrock well to rehydrate wetlands.

“We don’t need to restore the entire watershed to Wetlands 2,” Romano said. “We can maybe pull back on the amount of fill. We don’t need to restore that much watershed. There was once an approval to remove part of that watershed. The prudent feasible alternative would be not having to restore the entire watershed that was removed.”

The previous owner had approval to build two industrial buildings, but instead conducted an illegal rock crushing operation, which damaged the site.

The current proposal would bring in 980,000 cubic yards of material to fill in a huge hole left by the quarry.

Spence also suggested that the watershed could be relocated from where it is being proposed.

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