After three nights of testimony, a public hearing on a controversial proposal to construct a gas station with five bays and 10 pumps on vacant property at 528 Monroe Turnpike came to a close last Thursday. Now it's up to members of the Planning & Zoning Commission to decide on the special permit application filed by Monroe Gas LLC.
Stephen Studer, the attorney for the applicant, touts a "state-of-the-art" gas station that will offer discounts for Stop & Shop customers. Opponents of the plan have expressed concerns over traffic safety, flooding and pollution. The property is a brownfield that had housed leaky underground oil tanks for decades.
In his closing statement last Thursday, Studer called testimony against the gas station "conjecture" and claimed no hard evidence was presented to back it up.
"Simply suggesting everything that can go wrong will go wrong is not substantial evidence," Studer said. "Stop & Shop has a stellar environmental record."
Bernard Prushko, whose family owns a Shell station right next to 528 Monroe Turnpike, is suing to overturn the Zoning Board of Appeals approval of the gas station. His attorney, Keith Ainsworth, also applied for and was granted intervenor status during the P&Z hearing on Prushko's behalf.
Ainsworth presented traffic photos as evidence and cross examined Studer and the applicant's experts on two fronts, environmental issues and an alleged unfair use of the regulations to create a competitive disadvantage for Prushko's Shell and Big Y supermarket.
'An Anti-Competitive Thing'
"The motivations of Stop & Shop of putting its facility across from Big Y and next to Shell ... it's by places it competes with," Ainsworth said. "Competition is not a problem, but unfair use of the regulations is not right."
Ainsworth contends that the proposed turning lane for the gas station on Route 111 would hurt Big Y, and would make it an easier right hand turn from Stop & Shop's gas station and a more difficult one from Shell.
"That's an anti-competitive thing," he said. "Stop & Shop has another option: To put it on their property," Ainsworth added of the supermarket at 470 Monroe Turnpike.
"The project has to not harm neighboring properties," he said. "You have to consider this."
Studer said Stop & Shop's property is not zoned to allow a gas station, so that is why the supermarket chain is applying for one on the Sippins' property at 528 Monroe Turnpike.
"I can assure you there is no truth to the concern that this site was chosen for strategic reasons, to compete with Mr. Prushko and Big Y," Studer said.
He called Ainsworth's testimony that traffic would be adversely affected "unfounded" and "a distortion and fabrication of the facts."
"If Big Y thought traffic was being used as a weapon, they would be here," Studer said.
Ainsworth peppered the applicant with questions about a Department of Energy & Environmental Protection consent order to clean up the property and of past efforts to remove petroleum pollutants from the soil.
"Was there any indication from DEP that satisfactory remediation was achieved?" Ainsworth asked.
"Not to our knowledge," Studer replied.
During the Inland Wetlands Commission hearing, Aquarion Water Co. had written a letter in opposition of the gas station because it says it is too close to a public watershed. Ainsworth asked if Aquarion's position had changed since that time.
"No, their position has not changed," Studer replied.
Ainsworth questioned the drainage system and how it could handle a catastrophic spill and whether or not existing pollutants in the groundwater could be flowing off of the property.
Studer defended the proposed drainage as "state-of-the-art" with every modern safeguard and he dismissed questions of pollutants in the groundwater flow as speculative, because he said no tests were done for that.
One recurring concern during the hearing was what would happen if a tanker truck has an accident and spilled its entire 8,500 gallon load on the Route 111 property.
An expert for Monroe Gas cited statistics showing major tanker accidents are extremely rare and that most are on highways at high speeds, not parking lots. He added that truck tanks are divided into three sections, making the possibility of an entire load spilling even more remote.
Prior to coming before the P&Z, the Inland Wetlands Commission approved a wetlands permit for the application. In his closing statement, Studer reminded the P&Z that environmental experts hired to represent the Inland Wetlands Commission had concurred with Monroe Gas LLC's experts that the gas station would have no significant adverse impact on the environment.
"You can't disbelieve an expert unless there is evidence that undermines their credibility and conclusions," Studer said.
Other than Prushko's Shell, Studer said neighboring commercial property owners — the owner of Steeves Office Systems, the owner of the Rite-Aid property and David Sippin, who owns 528 Monroe Turnpike and the Big Y shopping center — testified in favor of the gas station, so there should be no concern over negative impacts on property values. Studer had also submitted reports from Real Estate appraisers to bolster his position.
Route 111 is a state road and Studer said the Connecticut Department of Transportation does not believe there would be a detrimental affect on traffic.
Studer closed, "We respectfully request the prompt approval of our application."