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P&Z Might Deny Monroe Gas LLC's Request for a Zone Change

The entrance to Monroe Town Hall.
The entrance to Monroe Town Hall.

After twice withdrawing an application to build a Stop & Shop gas station on vacant land at 528 Monroe Turnpike, Monroe Gas LLC came back with an application to rezone a small portion at the back of its property from residential to commercial to enable the station to hook into an existing septic system.

Attorney Stephen Studer contends a Planning & Zoning Commission denial of his client's request to make the entire parcel commercial amounts to inverse condemnation, taking away an owner's ability to make reasonable use of the property.

But the majority of the commission and Town Planner Will Agresta expressed disagreement to that claim during a hearing last Thursday and Agresta will draft a motion of denial for the P&Z to vote on at a future meeting.

Timothy Onderko, an engineer for the applicant, said there is no place to install a septic system on the commercially zoned portion of the property because of a requirement for naturally occurring soil. Native soils were hauled away and replaced with fill during a clean up of the brownfield — which used to be used to store heating oil, Onderko explained.

Further, Studer said the Connecticut Department of Energy & Environmental Protection would ask his client why it's wasting their time applying to build a new septic system when one already exists on the property.

Complicating matters, existing deed restrictions between Monroe Gas LLC's property and the Sportini family's Cross Hill Road property to the rear keeps the land with the septic system as passive open space in perpetuity (forever).

Studer said this would prevent Monroe Gas LLC from building a driveway to access the leaching fields for maintenance.

"If my client built a house, we wouldn't need a zone change and could use the septic system," Studer said. "But you can't build a house in a B-2 zone. We have a classic catch 22."

After the hearing, Joel Z. Green, the attorney for Phil Prushko, the owner of the Shell station next door to 528 Monroe Turnpike, disagreed with Studer's claim of inverse condemnation, because Green believes a gas station is not the only possible use for the property.

Green also disagrees with Studer's contention that the deed restrictions will be in place in perpetuity, because Green said property owners could change and a new owner could agree to release the restrictions in an instant.

Creating Their Own Problem

When the P&Z began to deliberate on the application, Commissioner James Weinberg expressed his support.

"I believe the zone change is an appropriate one," he said. "I don't think the property could conceivably be used for anything other than what we're talking about: An underground septic field.

"I think that Attorney Green did a great job of bringing up issues. In law, lawyers have a great way of presenting things to their own viewpoint. But I don't feel anything was addressed to make me think this isn't an appropriate zone change."

Commission Brian Quinn disagreed. 

"I feel the zone change effects greatly the people living behind the property and beside it, " he said "It's spot zoning in my opinion and I'm not for it."

Vice Chairman William Porter said, unlike past zone change requests, this is not a case of a burden caused by the town revising zoning maps decades ago causing the split of a property into two zones. Rather, the split was caused by a residential property owner transferring ownership to a neighboring commercial owner.

"This isn't a situation where town zoning maps created the situation," Porter said. "Therefore, they created the split zone on this property. We had made changes to make a property more in line with surrounding zones. In this case it's changing a property to another zone."

Commissioner Karen Martin agreed. She also said an approval of the zone change could set a precedent.

Chairman Patrick O'Hara said, "I'm for the zone change. It's a weird zone change, but the fact that forever it can only be one thing ..." he added, while alluding to the deed restrictions. "I hear the writing on the wall," O'Hara said. "It's 3 to 2."

Weinberg pointed out how the commission had given the applicant guidance, recommending that Monroe Gas LLC come back for the zone change. He said he thought the commission owed the applicant an explanation for a denial. But O'Hara said commissioners had just explained their positions.

Reactions  

Studer had expressed his belief that construction of a five-bay-10-pump gas station with a kiosk — or another commercial use — would enhance the appearance of the property and generate tax revenue and jobs.

"I'm disappointed with the direction this has taken," he said after the hearing.

Studer will discuss next steps with his client.

Green said, "Certainly, we're encouraged by the preliminary comments by members of the commission." But he added that the P&Z still has yet to vote on it.

Gerald M. Gaynor January 27, 2014 at 06:40 AM
No doubt consideration was given to maintaining the delicate balance of gas station to nail salon to pizza parlor formulas...
Geezer January 27, 2014 at 08:36 AM
Sippin must be happy that the "permanent" restriction was discovered after the sale.
Rich January 27, 2014 at 08:44 AM
sounds like another lawsuit against town. Why not make an offer to Cross hill to build a new station for him in the old spot, and use the spot he is in for a gas station?
Crown Royal January 27, 2014 at 08:54 AM
Rich, that still leaves the septic as an issue. Without a zoning change, this lot will forever remain a vacant eyesore that is not generating any real tax income.
Gerald M. Gaynor January 27, 2014 at 08:59 AM
Looks like another argument in favor of sanitary sewers for Monroe...
Bill Bittar (Editor) January 27, 2014 at 09:56 AM
The headline was wrong initially, should have had the word "might" in it. The commission will vote on a draft decision for denial at a future meeting. But unless any commissioners change their minds, the application would go down 3-2.
Joe Mancini January 27, 2014 at 10:41 AM
Should have presented it as a Walmart. It would have passed.
Bobbie January 27, 2014 at 12:31 PM
A paper shredding facility? I would be willing to pay an attendant to shred by either weight or volume my private documents or personal paperwork while I personally observe the shredding. Also, it would be of great appreciation to be able to bring cardboard boxes to a facility wherein they would remove the whole boxes from a vehicle and prepare and recycle said boxes. Either or both of these services would be of value for me and other residents.
Crown Royal January 27, 2014 at 12:41 PM
Bobbie, Without the ability to utilize that existing sewer system, this will only be a vacant lot. Unless they can get a special exception from someone regarding the need for a new septic to have naturally occurring soil.
Gerald M. Gaynor January 27, 2014 at 01:14 PM
More pressing than the septic system issue is the traffic impact in that area. The geniuses at the State DOT somehow overlooked the Prushko's gast station egress when installing the traffic light for the Big Y Plaza. In light of the inability of many drivers to understand where one is allowed to pass and/or turn left across a traffic lane, the addition of another gas station in that already congested area is an invitation to an accident.
Jim beam January 27, 2014 at 02:13 PM
Good. Hopefully, the P&Z follows through with their expressed sentiments. If the developers of this site can't even get the planning aspect of this right, how much comfort are we supposed to have that they will build this so that the Beardsley Brook and aquifers won't be negatively impacted and flooding problems of residential neighbors won't be exacerbated? Never mind that the traffic aspect of this plan was a clusterfudge waiting to happen. Good riddance.
lmf59 January 27, 2014 at 05:59 PM
Well since Walmart was just approved, Monroe is only 50/50 for stupidity now. At least for now.
Bruce January 27, 2014 at 06:18 PM
lmf59 - I guess Monroe can't win with people like you. You complain that your taxes are too high and you complain when new business come into town to expand the tax base.
Jim beam January 27, 2014 at 07:09 PM
I subscribe to intelligent planning, not merely adding a commercial property for the sake of addition. This development will add little to the tax base because of the nature of the property. Most of the improvements are not deemed real property but personal property (conduits, tanks, pipeline, etc.). The nature of municipal taxation allows the cost such personal property to be depreciated over a few short years. Thus the taxes derived from this development will be less in four years than it would be taxed now; and even less in ten years. That is why the town has an economic development plan; something that taxpayers have paid good money to have prepared. Sound planning allows for sound development. The exacerbation of traffic woes and the risks of environmental degradation make this project even riskier to taxpayers. I'm for smart development, not development at any cost. Only then are taxpayers' long-term interests benefited.
Crown Royal January 28, 2014 at 09:56 AM
But Jim, from my understanding, with the inevitable denial of this application it will effectively shut the door on any development on the site until the town gets sewers, as there is no land in the commercially zoned portion to put a septic system. Honestly sewers are very unlikely to ever happen in my opinion.
Jim beam January 28, 2014 at 10:04 AM
CR, you've nailed the crux of the problem. The shortsightedness of the lack of sewers on Rte. 111 has allowed Trumbull to foster well-planned commercial development on their side of Monroe Tpke and Monroe, not so much. Trumbull's development on Rte. 111 is not predicated on strip malls, gas stations, or pizza parlors. Their commercial properties are substantial, well-designed, and bring in significant tax revenue. For Monroe to be depending on an ill-advised, economic loser like the S&S gas station proposal illustrates the disparity in our economic development vision.
Crown Royal January 28, 2014 at 01:27 PM
Realistically though Jim, we are talking about sewers, that are at minimum 5+ years away and that is a very very expeditious estimate. Depending on which system we connect to, sewers may never make it that far up the road, as that is effectively the northern edge of commercial properties on that strip. Then once the sewers do eventually arrive what is stopping Monroe Gas from building the same station? In which case you would have just delayed the town from receiving the taxes (however minimal) for those years while waiting for the sewers. And if those sewers never arrive? Well then we continue to look at a giant For Lease sign for the next 20 years.
Jim beam January 28, 2014 at 01:35 PM
CR, perhaps with eventual sewer installation, a more creditable project can occupy this lot, in the future. This project is awful for reasons I've elaborated upon in previous posts. For me, I prefer that the lot remain vacant rather than have this misbegotten project go forward. The impact on the ground water, flooding, and traffic will make the costs of this development exceed any potential returns to taxpayers.

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