Connecticut Light & Power Co. wants to replace power transmission towers dating back to the 1940's with new monopoles as part of a line improvement plan going from the Stevenson section of Monroe to Watertown. The company is eyeing the former Stevenson Lumber Co. property at 1585 Monroe Turnpike as a temporary staging area for the project.
David Bjorklund, an engineer with Spath-Bjorklund Associates who was hired to represent CL&P before the Planning & Zoning Commission, discussed its plan to enter into a three-year lease with the property owner to use 5 acres for storage of materials, supplies and equipment.
"This is a great location to serve the southern end of this proposed project," Bjorklund said. "What attracted CL&P to the site is it's an existing commercial site and the infrastructure is there. It's well-suited for what they want to do."
No new buildings are proposed. The power company would use an existing building and garage, stripe parking spaces for 15 trucks and ensure there is access for town emergency vehicles. The existing paving and lighting would also be used.
But CL&P needs a text amendment change that would allow state licensed utilities to store materials on the site and a special exception permit approval from the Planning & Zoning Commission to make it happen.
The commission held a hearing on July 19 and may render a decision at its meeting this Thursday night at 7 o'clock in the Town Council Chambers of Monroe Town Hall. However, a decision does not have to be made then.
Touting the Proposal
Though a regulation amendment to Section 117-1102 (permitted uses in a DB-2 District) is needed, Bjorklund said the proposed use is similar to what the lumber company did on the same site, but far less intensive.
For example, the power company is proposing to use only five of the site's 40 acres and while the lumber company used about 80 trucks, Bjorklund said CL&P would use 15.
He said the site is near a railroad track and the Boys Halfway River with the nearest house being 900 feet away. "I don't see how this is going to have an impact on the residents," Bjorklund said.
However, screening the outside storage on the property presents a challenge.
"There has been storage in this place since the mid-80's," Bjorklund said. "We can't screen this area from cars coming down the hill."
Bjorklund said there is a good buffer of pine trees, but during six months of the year there are no leaves on other trees, making the storage area more open.
CL&P is proposing to plant hedges along an existing fence on another part of the property.
The Stevenson Lumber Co. property has been dormant since the business closed several years ago, but Bjorklund believes having some activity on the site can spark future activity there.
"I think if you get something happening here, people won't see it as a vacant commercial site," he said. "They will see it as a place where something is happening."
Permanent Changes, Temporary Use
During the July 19 hearing, P&Z Commission alternate, Jane Flader, asked what would happen if the building CL&P uses falls into disrepair. Would the power company make repairs or move on to another building on the site?
Commissioner William Porter brought up health department concerns over the well.
Bjorklund said, "We may not even meet the 25 person threshhold. If remedial work is needed, it will be done."
Though CL&P only intends to use five acres, Porter questioned whether the regulation amendment and special permit would apply to the entire 40-acre-property, since there is no plan to subdivide.
Bjorklund said the site plan is only for the five acres.
Commission Vice Chairman Patrick O'Hara asked is the power company can take down existing signage left over from the lumber company and if the lighting could be reconfigured to reduce glare. Bjorklund said yes to both questions.
The commission pointed out that CL&P is asking for changes that would be permanent for a use that is temporary.
"This is a specific text amendment," Bjorklund said. "It can only be used by a public utility, not a construction company. You have to be a registered utility. It's specific to what can be stored."
"If we did do a complete site plan with landscaping ... we could bond the site plan," he said. "After three years, CL&P would clean up and leave. We could write a letter abandoning the use. That would be a way the town could get the security and assurances they need and CL&P can get what they're looking for."
Town Land Use Dir. Scott Schatzlein asked if Bjorkland planned to bring in a site plan before or after the fact, and Bjorklund said he prefers after the fact. "The owner wants assurances going forward before spending money," Bjorklund said.
Schatzlein said, "I would have a problem with that, because then the commission doesn't know what it's approving."
Porter asked Bjorklund if CL&P is willing to put fencing around the entire area of use.
A Gateway to Monroe
Quinn expressed concern that the property would represent sprawl for three years, then a blight. "I don't like it as a gateway to Monroe," he said.
Quinn also said there is no way to hide some of outside storage with the screening. Porter suggested changing the language in the proposed amendment to say the outside storage should be shielded to the satisfaction of the commission.
But Quinn said if the amendment is made too loosely, it could be interpreted the opposite way that the commission intends.
"You don't want to see that when driving into Monroe," Quinn said.
The commission has until Sept. 1 to decide on the amendment, which is needed before the special permit could be approved, so commissioners voted to table it on July 19.