Monroe Gas LLC wants to obtain a special exception permit from the Planning & Zoning Commission to allow a five-bay, 10 pump gas station at 528 Monroe Turnpike for Stop & Shop. On Thursday night's hearing, commissioners' questions ranged from environmental protections and natural buffers to the aesthetics.
Prior to being abandoned, the 1.9-acre property had been used to store home heating oil terminal with four 20,000 gallon underground tanks. Leaking became a major problem on the site and $1 million in Superfund money used to clean up the property after it was abandoned could not remove all of the contaminants.
Commissioner James Weinberg noted how developing the property is environmentally challenging and asked how a gas station would be better than the previous use of a home heating oil depot or leaving the property dormant.
Stephen Studer, the attorney for Monroe Gas LLC, said, "We have a state-of-the-art system with double-walled everything, monitoring and an alarm system [for any leaks]. We do think we're making it better by removing additional contaminated soil and groundwater and capping it."
Timothy Onderko, the engineer hired by the applicant, said, "We're also proposing stormwater quality measures that don't exist today."
Weinberg asked about a culvert that brings water underneath Route 111 to land alongside the property and an 18-inch drainage pipe that empties into the same spot. Onderko said the Connecticut Department of Transportation wants to join it as one pipe with a manhole, adding that the drainage will exist with or without the gas station.
Weinberg asked more about the alarm system and how any gasoline spills could be handled on the property.
Onderko said there would be a red button in the kiosk that shuts off the pumps and a separate alarm system outside. He said the pipes in the drainage system could be closed off to prevent fuel from flowing into the wetlands during a clean up.
Weinberg asked what measures were in place in the event of a fire.
Onderko said there would be a fire suppression system underneath the canopy activated by a heat sensor or by the attendant pulling a lever.
Commissioner Cathleen Lindstrom asked what would happen if someone drove off with a gas nozzle still in the car's tank. Onderkno said the lines for gas pumps are designed to disconnect when a high enough amount of pressure is applied, and that the valve automatically shuts off when that happens.
Lindstrom also asked how traffic would be at the pumps if vehicles come in facing different directions. Onderko said all pumps would have stretchable hoses reaching gas tanks on either side of a vehicle. He added there would be enough space at the center pump for cars to pass through while it's occupied.
Lindstrom asked Onderko if he would consider having cars enter and exit from one direction for a better traffic flow and Onderko said he would.
When Lindstrom asked what would happen if there was an explosion, Onderko went over the safety measures on the site again.
Onderko said attendants at the gas station would not be the equivalent of grocery store baggers. "Everyone of the attendants is trained at Stop & Shop to know where the shutoff is," he said.
Sean O'Rourke asked if a pollution management service has been contacted by the applicant and Onderko said no, but that one will be if the gas station proposal is approved.
Aside from having a shut off switch inside the kiosk, O'Rourke asked if there would be kill switches at the gas pumps should the attendant not be present for any reason. Onderko said the attendant has to activate the pumps for every fill up, so a customer could never turn on a pump without the attendant being present.
When it comes to potential pollutants, Weinberg pointed out that MTB should not be a concern, because it has been outlawed from being used with gasoline.
Most of Chairman Patrick O'Hara's questions dealt with the appearance of the proposed gas station. A long-term goal of the commission is to improve the appearance of businesses along routes 111 and 25.
O'Hara noted how Monroe Gas LLC's plan called for a wooden Dumpster enclosure and asked if the applicant would be open to using composite materials. Onderko said they would.
A 15-foot-high, illuminated pile-on sign was proposed for the gas station and O'Hara asked if the applicant would instead agree to a monument sign on the ground surrounded by plantings. Because room on the sign would be the same, Onderko agreed.
O'Hara also asked about hedge plantings between the parking lot and the street. Onderko said, "We've agreed to it. If there's a desire for certain plantings, we will do it."
O'Hara the applicants if they would be "willing to go with nicer looking lampposts" that have cutoffs to prevent the light from spilling into the wetlands. Onderko said they're only planning for four light posts.
If approved, there would be a 150-200 foot vegetative buffer to the east side of the property. O'Hara asked how it could be kept in perpetuity for when ownership of the property changes hands. Onderko said it is covered by wetlands buffers and setbacks and that any cutting down of trees there would have to be approved by the Planning & Zoning Commission.
A Request for Flexibility
O'Hara noted how the gas station would sell motor oil and washer fluid from an outdoor display and asked if they would agree not to sell antifreeze. Onderko said they would, but that they hope to sell it.
"Can you agree to no charity car washes on the property?" O'Hara asked.
Onderko said yes.
A condition of the Inland Wetlands Commission approval was that the gas station would only be open during store hours in the event of a leak or other emergency. Hours of the supermarket on Monroe Turnpike are 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday to Saturday and 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Sunday.
Onderko told the P&Z Commission that Stop & Shop's store hours are subject to change and asked the commission to allow the gas station's hours to increase if the supermarket's hours do.