It has been over three years since the New Colony Diner on Main Street served patrons around the clock. Eggs and bacon sizzled on the griddle during busy mornings, workers dropped in for sandwiches on their lunch breaks, families came for dinner — then the late night crowd arrived.
The owners of the Circle Diner on the Post Road in Fairfield plan to breathe new life into the dormant Monroe property, which had become overgrown with weeds.
Dimitrios Alatakis is proposing to add on a total of 980-square-feet in additions — mostly for storage — to the side and back of the old building, which is undergoing extensive renovations.
On Wednesday night, the Inland Wetlands Commission granted unanimous approval for a wetlands permit with conditions for a new septic and improved drainage systems on the property.
"We're very excited to move on," said Alatakis' wife Donna. "We're excited to be part of the town and we're looking forward to making a great place."
Andy Tsilfides, another partner, said, "I think the town will be very happy with the kind of place we're going to have."
During the hearing, two Verna Road residents had expressed concerns with existing problems on the site, which has a history of drainage and septic issues.
"We want to be good neighbors," Tsilfides said.
Now the diner needs to come before the Planning & Zoning Commission for site plan approval.
Prior to the Inland Wetlands Commission's vote, Commissioner Jeremy Hayden said, "I think the applicant met its burden that there will be no substantial negative impact on the wetlands. In fact, I think it will improve the wetlands."
Bill Carboni of Spath-Bjorklund Associates, Inc., the engineering firm for the project, said the site's drainage system would reduce drainage by 19 percent.
Two basins to the east of the property and one along Verna Road would be enlarged in the drainage plan, but Carboni said the most extensive work would be replacing the existing septic system, which is failing, with a new soil air system on the north side of the parcel — facing Seven Country Ducks and Bart Center.
Carboni said it will be a septic system that functions properly and conforms with the health code. The plans for the system were actually approved in 2008.
Michael Klein, a biologist and soil scientist hired by the applicant, said the landscaping plan includes the planting of five trees, 30 shrubs and 50 potted herbs. A variety of native seeds will be planted to provide an additional habitat, he said.
Verna Road residents, Christopher Para and Robert Bourt, spoke during the public comment portion of the hearing. Neither man opposed the diner opening, but both had concerns over existing drainage woes potentially becoming worse.
"I'm all for them making money, but I just don't want water in my basement," Para said of the storm water runoff. "It's stagnant."
Carboni explained that sediment from Route 25, a state highway, has built up and invasive plant species have grown and clogged the flow of the channel behind the property, adding it is a problem with the Connecticut Department of Transportation's drainage plan.
He noted his estimate of a 19 percent reduction in drainage from the site with Spath-Bjorklund's plan. "Will it solve the problem?" Carboni asked. "No. But it will not be an increase."
The applicant also proposed a lower wooden guide rail fence by the brook in the back, where Para said there is a problem of people throwing trash including tires, bumpers and paint.
Bourt said there was a grease problem, where "a bunch of slime" runs down into the water.
Carboni said, "I don't doubt there was a grease problem with the prior users." But he added his belief that the current problem with pollutants is coming from Main Street.
Town Engineer Scott Schatzlein explained that there is a grease trap in the Dumpster. When the drainage there overflows, an alarm inside the building would alert the restaurant owners that it needs to be pumped out.
One condition of approval Shatzlein suggested was increasing the pitch of the Dumpster platform, so if the drainage there is full diner staff can see water, which would be another way to let them know it needs to be pumped out. If it overflows, Schatzlein said grease would escape.
He said he does not believe there would be a problem with the current owners. But if the business is sold in the future and a new owner disconnects the alarm system, without a pitch, there would be no way of knowing about drainage overflowing until it's too late, Schatzlein reasoned.
Conditions of Approval
Commissioner Lois Spence wanted the fence in the back to be higher than 18 inches because people have been throwing trash there, and fellow Commissioner Cathy Kohut said she would stop at four feet.
Hayden expressed his belief that if someone was intent on throwing garbage over the fence, the height of it would not make a difference.
The commission agreed on a condition that it be four feet high and Spence suggested having the owners clean any debris that already exists on the property.
A total $15,000 performance bond was approved to ensure that these and all other conditions are met.