Planning & Zoning Commissioners discussed Monroe Gas LLC's controversial application to construct a Stop & Shop gas station at 528 Monroe Turnpike Thursday night, but held off on making a decision so one commissioner could listen to a meeting tape and the commission can review a letter of conditions of approval. Deliberations will continue at the P&Z's Feb. 21 meeting.
Commissioner Brian Quinn, who missed the third part of the hearing for the special exception permit and site plan applications, will listen to the tape so every commissioner will have heard all of the testimony before voting.
Stop & Shop wants to have a five-bay, 10 pump gas station with a kiosk and a lone attendant and touts a state-of-the-art drainage plan. But neighbors have expressed concerns over the potential of polluting the watershed, flooding and traffic. And the Prushko Shell Station next door alleges that Stop & Shop would have an unfair competitive advantage.
Though no decision was made Thursday, Chairman Patrick O'Hara and Vice Chairman William Porter went over positive aspects of the application, while Commissioner Jim Weinberg said he may vote against it.
First the Pros
Porter "reminded the commission" that the Inland Wetlands Commission unanimously approved the proposal with conditions; the Zoning Board of Appeals approved it; the Connecticut Highway Department approved a state highway right-of-way; a gas station is a permitted use in a DB-2 zone; and that the applicant incorporated recommendations from an engineering firm hired to represent the town in the wetlands hearing.
Porter also noted how Monroe Gas LLC's plan entails trucking excavated soil from the brownfield off the site, as well as any ground water encountered during the job.
O'Hara mentioned how the Architectural Review Board issued a positive recommendation for the gas station; the applicant presented a report saying there would be no negative impact on property values; submitted two "unrefuted" traffic studies; presented a circulation plan for the parking lot; it meets the Trumbull-Monroe Health District code for the septic system; and the landscaping plan meets Inland Wetlands' requests.
O'Hara also said the applicant agreed to commission input on lighting and on changing the plan from having a tall sign to a monument sign.
"Monroe has several gas stations in watershed areas," O'Hara said. "The testimony was five out of seven. Unlike others in town, this site has a state-of-the-art drainage system with double-walled tanks, double-walled pipes and alarms. This site is going to have the capacity to handle a spill of up to an entire tanker truck."
Weinberg said, "The presenters did an admirable job of presenting, in perhaps one of the most concise and well documented presentations the commission has seen in some time. They addressed thoroughly and persuasively the concerns brought up during the public hearing, almost to perfection."
But Weinberg was not satisfied with the applicant's answers to Attorney Keith Ainsworth's questions about the groundwater flow. Ainsworth represented his client, B&J Realty Corporation, which successfully petitioned for intervener status. Bernard Prushko is president of B&J.
Weinberg believes existing MTBE contamination and petroleum hydrocarbons in the soil could end up going off site when gas tanks buried 15 to 20 feet underground change the direction of water flow, causing it to go into previously undisturbed soil. He expressed concern the contaminants could go into surface water and neighboring wells.
"The concept that disturbing the deeper soil may well cause MTBE pollutants to be released into the surrounding water table is not a far-fetched scenario in my judgement," Weinberg said. "In fact, the evidence presented, including the back and forth with the intervener suggested it was extremely likely. Further, I believe it's general knowledge what happens when wells become contaminated with even small concentrations of MTBE."
"I believe it is a significant risk, and I believe it's one in our control, and our responsibility to avoid," he said. "Should this project proceed, and should the reality of what I have described occur, the resulting damage may create a morass of lawsuits and expense to all parties involved, including the town.
"I do not see that there is a compelling reason to allow that to happen and therefore, unless someone has persuasive arguments to the contrary, I cannot see myself supporting this project at this point."
O'Hara said the burden of proof is on the intervener and pointed out that Ainsworth did not bring forward any experts to refute the applicant's experts.
"I think they made their case," he said of the applicant. "And that if they did adversely effect other wells, they would have to deal with that on an individual basis."