865 Ethan Allen Highway: Zoners to review contractor’s yard remediation plans
Update — the Planning and Zoning Office told The Press that the hearing for the property will be rescheduled from Tuesday, March 26 to Tuesday, April 23.
Plans to remediate the former property of the late Michael Venus at 865 Ethan Allen Highway — a contractor’s yard containing an abandoned fuel-oil tank and several storage trailers containing landscaping equipment — will go before the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The 1.6-acre property, which backs up against a swampy section of the Norwalk River behind the Ace Tire shop on Route 7, has been the subject of a lawsuit by the town planning and zoning office against Michael Venus for the past four years.
Venus, a prominent Ridgefielder who served on the Board of Selectmen, was chairman of the Parks and Recreation Commission. He also served on the Police Commission, clerked for the Board of Finance, and served as a volunteer firefighter. Venus died in July 2018.
The property is now under the control of his estate, managed by his daughter, Kelly Molony.
The property has been operating as a contractor’s yard for several years without a permit from the town, according to a remediation plan outlined by Molony’s attorney.
Molony plans to ask for a special permit to run a contractor’s yard on the property, according to the plans submitted by attorney Peter Olson.
“It is the intent of this application to gain an approval which recognizes the long-standing use of the property and ensures that the Town considers the use to be in compliance with the zoning regulations,” Olson’s plan overview states.
The plans before the commission would also remove around 60 to 100 yards of asphalt millings, a concrete pad, and other fill from the western area of the property.
Three storage trailers currently in use by tenants would be pulled back away from the banks of the Norwalk River toward the front of the property and closer to the Ace Tire shop. Other trailers on the property will be removed entirely, as will a loading dock and “filling structure,” the plan states.
Topsoil will be put down and vegetation planted, according to the plans submitted by Olson.
The remediation plan does not mention the removal of the 45-foot oil tank, which Venus had originally intended to do.
Issues on the property first came to light in August 2014, when Venus began excavating the ground around the fuel tank to create more parking on the site and prepare to remove the tank.
“Excavation done around the fuel tank and remaining lines has led to a strong odor of gasoline in the area,” Richard Baldelli, Ridgefield’s zoning enforcement officer told Michael Narcisi in a Army Corps of Engineers report.
Narcisi is an ecologist and soil scientist with the Army Corps of Engineers.
The corps became involved due to the proximity of the work to the Norwalk River, but ultimately decided that Venus’s alleged work on the property did not fall under its jurisdiction.
The smell led to a complaint from one of the neighboring businesses on Route 7, which gave the town reason to inspect the property.
Baldelli, and Betty Brosius (who at the time was the director of planning and zoning and the town inland wetlands agent) issued a notice of violation for the removal of earth adjacent to the Norwalk River.
The lawsuit filed by the town alleges that the excavation “involves soils potentially containing leaked or leached home heating oil,” but does not claim directly that the tank has leaked.
The notice of violation from the town notes that the 45-foot tank “has not been properly abandoned, according to the CTDEEP representative on site,” referring to a member of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which oversees cases of pollution.
When the Planning and Zoning Commission walked the property on Sunday, March 17, Molony said the oil tank is currently empty, and has been for many years.
Some areas of digging — filled with water — could be seen around the perimeter of the oil tank.
“Allegedly, Mr. Venus is preparing to remove the abandoned fuel tank to create additional parking and storage,” said Narcisi, in a 2014 email to both the town wetlands agent and zoning enforcement officer. “He was in the process of excavating around this structure until the town issued their notices. The tank still has underground utilities and is in close proximity to the Norwalk River.”
Venus told Narcisi in September of that year that he wished to remove the tank for years; “apparently his land is of much lower value with it on the premises,” according to a log of their phone call from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Venus said he purchased the property in 1976, and that the fuel tank was built in 1957. At the time of the conversation, Venus had been out of business for 20 years and the tank had not been filled in 10 years, he told the ecologist.
The lawsuit, which was filed Feb. 26, 2015, alleges that in addition to the contractor’s yard, Venus “allowed the maintenance and operation” of a “service business and auto upholstery business” without proper permits.
The lawsuit also alleges that Venus used or allowed the use of “a four-bay garage, with an office” without a certificate of zoning compliance — which is issued by the town zoning office after work is completed according to an approved plan.
The lawsuit also alleges “filling, grading, and excavation” within the Norwalk River floodplain — the area around a waterway that becomes submerged when a river bursts its banks — without a special permit from the Planning and Zoning Commission.