Self-storage facility on Route 7 draws heated opposition
Architectural aesthetics — “it seems like Stamford,” one critic said — worries about truck traffic during construction, and the protection of nearby Little Pond along with a local aquifer were red flags raised at a public hearing on plans for a four-story, 77,000-square-foot self-storage facility off Route 7.
“Over 80 truckloads a day in that area!” said Tom Lincoln, of Haviland Road, after doing some calculations.
“... It’s a huge concern of mine, being a local resident,” said Lincoln. “There’s at least a half-mile backup there, routinely.”
Lincoln was one of three people from the public to speak at the hearing Tuesday, July 9, raising concerns about the plans for 800 Danbury Road, a property previously approved for a contractor’s yard. The combined hearing of the Planning and Zoning Commission, Inland Wetlands Board and Aquifer Protection Agency was continued to resume on July 30.
The effect of the building project on a local aquifer and on Little Pond was a focus of discussion.
The applicant’s attorney, Bob Jewell, said the property was 75 feet from Little Pond, outside the 50-foot “upland review area” written into the wetlands regulations — and on the other side of Route 7.
“There are no wetlands on our property, the wetlands are across the street,” Jewell said.
“...Aquifer protection regulations do apply, and there are two previous approvals.”
“There’s a huge residential aquifer there,” said Lincoln, the Haviland Road resident. “As a resident that’s feeding off a well in that aquifer, I’d be very concerned.”
Tracey Miller of Ramapoo Road said the construction might affect bog turtles and box turtles believed to live in and around Little Pond.
“That particular pond, across the road, appears to have some significance,” she said.
“We’re not downplaying that it’s a resource.” said Michael Mazzucco, the applicant’s civil engineer. “You have the pond there. It’s not an easy site by any means.”
The property is at 800 Ethan Allen Highway, off the east side of Route 7 just south of its intersection with Route 35 and across the highway from Little Pond
Hillside, retaining wall
The nearly three-acre property has 400 feet of frontage on Route 7. The site is steeply sloped, leading up to The Regency at Ridgefield condominiums. The plan is for the structure to be built into the hillside. There would also be a retaining wall.
“It seems like it’s going to have a massive visual impact on that part of Ridgefield,” said Ellen Burns of Great Hill Road. “It seems like Stamford to me, not Ridgefield.”
Chris DeAngelis, the peer review engineer — a consulting engineer who works for the commission, not the developer, and critiques the application — said the visual impact of the proposal should not be underestimated.
“You have a very long retaining wall along Route 7 — 300 feet or so — six feet high. It’s going to be clearly visible,” he said. “It’s going to be almost as visible as the building itself.”
“A 77,000-square-foot building, 43 feet high, squeezed between a residential area and a pond!” said Lincoln.
Plans for a contractor’s yard had previously been approved for the property — after what attorney Jewell described as “five public hearings over four years” with much of the opposition from the Regency condo residents.
Jewell emphasized that the proposed self-storage facility was a low-traffic use, and would likely have less impact than the previous — and still valid — approval for a contractor’s yard.
The plans call for 14 spaces.
“Parking will be significantly reduced,” Jewell said.
“A storage warehouse is in fact permitted in a B-2 zone on an area of one acre,” he said. “We are over one acre — 2.9, almost three.
”This is permitted use under the regulation, just like the previous use for the contractor’s yard is permitted.”
The storage facility will be accessible to renters seven days a week, 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., he said.
The business office would be open Monday through Friday 9:30-5, and Saturday 9:30-2:30.
The project, with its blasting into the steep rock slope to nestle the building into the hillside, is expected to require the service of a special “geotechnical engineer.”
Commissioner John Katz asked about a “safety issue” and what precautions would be taken when this work is going on.
Mazzucco, the engineer representing the developer at the hearing, said the difficulty of that work was one reason a special consulting engineer would be brought in. He didn’t know the technical details to discuss them, but he had confidence in the process.
“It would be a geotechnical engineer’s responsibility to design a safe rock-face cut,” Mazzucco said. “...They have to ensure they have a safe site.”
Thousands of trucks
Katz also questioned having rocks brought off site for rock crushing, and then the material returned to the site for use in the project.
“Every truck has to leave the site, and bring it back.” he said “…There’s already going to be thousands of trips, as it is — thousands of trips.”
“On the bright side,” replied attorney Jewell, “the noise and dust generated by rock crushing wouldn’t take place on the site.”
Jewell returned to the argument that the proposed self-storage facility would have less impact that the already approved contractor’s yard project — which are both on the same steep site.
“The previously approved application — we’re probably 40 percent fewer vehicle trips during construction,” he said. “...That does factor in having gravel processed off-site and bringing it back in.”
DeAngelis, the peer review engineer, said the question of truck traffic during construction needed to be resolved before the next hearing session.
“Let’s try to get a realistic number of how many trucks are going to be coming and going from the site,” he said.
Lincoln, the Haviland Road neighbor, promised a turnout for the July 30 hearings session.
“You can expect a very large opposition,” Lincoln said.
“Keep destroying this town,” he said to the applicant’s attorney as he left the meeting room. “...Try living where you’re proposing building a Home Depot, basically.”
Two commissioners were recused from the discussion, Joe Fossi and Charles Robbins.
Fossi is a co-owner of the property in question, with a business partner, under the corporate name BBD LLC. They bought the 800 Danbury Road property from Larry Leary after Leary got the previous approval for a contractor’s yard on the site. The applicant, Saber Management LLC, would purchase the property from Fossi’s LLC if the approval goes through.
“I recused myself when the application was submitted, and said I had a conflict of interest,” Fossi said. “So I didn’t go to the meeting.”
Fossi said it isn’t often that his business involvements present a conflict with the commission’s decision-making, but whenever they do he said he recuses himself from all discussions and voting.
His profession is no secret. “Go on the Democratic Town Committee website. It says I’m the owner of Pelham Homes,” Fossi said. “When I ran for Planning and Zoning and the Inland Wetlands Board, I stated my profession as a builder. I’m not really a developer, I’m a builder.”
Robbins didn’t participate in the proceedings because he is the owner of a unit in the Regency at Ridgefield condominium development, which borders the property.
“I’m recused,” Robbins told The Press. “I can’t have input.”