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Lauricella: Move to expand transfer station shows that Norwalk P&Z needs overhaul

A boy plays Monday at Devon’s Place in Norwalk. Behind him is the AMEC Carting transfer station.

NORWALK, Conn. – An application to expand a private transfer station in the shadow of a Norwalk playground built for children with special needs is being cited by a Norwalk activist as yet another example of problems in the Planning and Zoning Department.

AMEC Carting, which is still in litigation with the city over the Zoning Commission’s refusal in 2011 to allow it to expand its Crescent Street transfer station as much as the company had requested, has a new application for an expansion. That will be the topic of a Zoning Commission public hearing on Wednesday.

“I am here today to let you know that there will be a vigorous effort to implore the commissioners to deny this new permit based on the standards of a special permit,” Diane Lauricella said in a press conference Monday.

“We want them to find a new place. I will help them. Others will help them,” Lauricella said. “Does this sound familiar? With the mosque, with 2 Nearwater Place, there’s a pattern that’s developing… We want the elected and appointed officials to investigate reforming not only the regulations, which everyone is focusing on, but they have to also investigate staff output, especially the senior staff. The time has come. All of this can’t just happen on its own.”

The AMEC Carting transfer station on Crescent Street in Norwalk.

Lauricella said she has been hired by the Gus Scalfani Corporation, a neighbor to AMEC, to raise awareness of the issue and to marshal the people opposed to the 2011 application – the leaders of Lockwood Mathews Mansion, the Center for Contemporary Printmaking, the Stepping Stones Museum for Children and the Norwalk Historical Commission – and get them onboard with a new effort to oppose an application. She attributed a lack of success with that thus far to the busy summertime and difficulty getting ahold of people.

“Nothing has changed on the reasons to deny the expansion,” she said, promising that a 2011 letter signed by all of the above would be updated and sent anew.

AMEC had requested in 2011 to triple its authorized 200 tons of solid waste a day to 600 tons. The Zoning Commission authorized a change to 300 tons, but AMEC sued and has remained at the 200-ton level. AMEC is now requesting to increase the tonnage to 400 tons a day and open the facility to the public. This would include a new paved parking area of 1,700 square feet.

That would allow for 14 trucks to be waiting inside the facility, AMEC president Guy Mazzola Jr., said at last week’s Plan Review Committee meeting as he showed off a the traffic pattern that has been designed.

“The most we have ever seen onsite with our current volume is three or four trucks. So this demonstrates how much more volume we could handle on the site in using this traffic pattern,” Mazzola said.

If there were that many trucks all day it would add up to 2,000 tons before closing, he said. The worst case scenario he had laid out would cause the transfer station to close at 11 a.m., he said.

“Everybody’s concern is if just by bad luck everybody showed up at one time, ‘Well, could you handle it?’ We wouldn’t anticipate that because just by the nature of the business, these trucks can only move one container at a time,” Mazzola said. “So depending on their work radius they’re really only coming in cycles of one load every hour or an hour and a half or so. So once these trucks get going you’re really not seeing that client for another hour and a half… They do end up spacing themselves out throughout the day.”

Lauricella has three points: the application is counter to the plans done by the city; the “bangs” the trucks make when they are unloading can be harmful to autistic children; and AMEC has been in violation of its existing permit, she said.

“I have proof that they are violating their current permit. They are on good behavior this month, but we have photographs that show that for years, on and off, a violation of the permit,” Lauricella said.

That includes doors being left open, dust leaving the property, water running off the property and the station being operated past 5 p.m.

The people who built Devon’s Place, the special needs playground next to AMEC, told her that the bangs the trucks make can shock an autistic child, she said. She didn’t know if there have been complaints, but said it’s surprising that many families don’t know who  to complain to.

Yes, the city’s transfer station is also next door, but sounds are muffled as they are behind the building, she said.

“I am going to make suggestions to green up that little piece of real estate because there are some improvements that can be made to make that better for the neighborhood. They do not have the truck traffic (that AMEC does),” she said.

Lauricella said that at 3:50 p.m. she was standing at the corner of Crescent and Butler and five trucks in a row “zoomed by” on their way to AMEC. The noise level was “quite loud,” she said.

AMEC is proposing a 60-day trial period of allowing the company to open up to the public and increase the tonnage that is allowed at the plant to seeing how much traffic comes in.

Lauricella called that an “unprecedented experiment.”

“We are opposed to any experiments being done on the backs of Norwalk taxpayers and the children using this park,” she said.

A Norwalk man plays with
A Norwalk man plays with his 1 1/2-year-old daughter Monday at Devon’s Place.

AMEC’s transfer station is also in close proximity to the Waypointe development and Oyster Shell Park.

“The expansion is wrong for Norwalk and it’s wrong for the neighborhoods,” Lauricella said. “It’s wrong because people have spent millions of dollars of funds to make this area upgraded and allow for this park to realize its potential. It seems quite the antithesis to allow expansion of a private transfer station to the degree that they are asking for.”

It’s in opposition to the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD), the Connectivity plan, the Norwalk Valley River Trail plan, the Waypointe Plan and the Lockwood Matthews Mansion plan, she said.

“There are reports and studies sitting on shelves that the staff does not seem to use in advising the elected and appointed officials of this city,” Lauricella said, noting that she was echoing comments made by former Zoning Commissioner Mike Mushak.

“We have professionals that we hired, as taxpayers, that are supposed to do their homework and suggest changes on a regular basis,” Lauricella said. “In all the years I have observed, in committee meetings and the commission level meetings, and I don’t go to all of them, I would say that if anyone could take the time to review all the records for at least even the last three or four years you would find that most of the changes to the zoning regs come from the regulated community.”

Last week, representatives of Spinnaker Real Estate Partners pitched a zoning regulation amendment concerning parking and affordable housing requirements.

“While property rights are important, and indeed the AMEC company is an assertive, aggressive company – they have some new projects at Lowes and at POKO  – it doesn’t mean that they should expand or that they ever should have been allowed to be here,” Lauricella said. “So we are calling upon the mayor’s office to begin an immediate investigation and review of land use enforcement and land use collaboration.”

Norwalk WPCA 091514_0014
There weren’t as many children playing at Devon’s Place as usual Monday because the Stepping Stones Museum for Children was closed, Diane Lauricella said.

Comments

10 responses to “Lauricella: Move to expand transfer station shows that Norwalk P&Z needs overhaul”

  1. Harold F. Cobin

    The city’s transfer station is next door to AMEC and open to the public. What purpose would be served by AMEC also being available to the public? Does AMEC handle some type of waste the transfer station doesn’t? H.F.C.

    1. @Harold,
      AMEC takes in construction and demolition waste, as I understand it.

  2. diane lauricella

    Good point Harold. However the AMEC facility mostly takes in Construction and Demolition Debris (C&D), although recyclables are allowed for some materials. The City transfer station handles trash, recyclables, waste tires, oil , electronics… not C&D.
    This is mostly about the problem with allowing expansion of a landuse that is incompatible with certified land use plans for the City and the lack of due diligence to reduce impact.
    *
    Thank you NON for running the story.
    *
    Folks, please come out to speak or write letter to Zoning Chair Joe Santo before 3 pm Weds.
    c/o [email protected]
    Mention AMEC Carting LLC #4-14SP and #15-14 CAM
    For clarification, the City’s longtime transfer station is not actually next door, but located across the train tracks and at least 1,000 feet from park border. Also, most of the regular “noisy” work takes place indoors before 3 pm on the harbor side of building so there is sound muffling and fewer trucks.

  3. diane lauricella

    Oh yes, this is also about a lack of enforcement of the Zoning regulations, private transfer stations (amongst other sectors) and an odd enforcement track record of slamming folks for minor sign issues instead of important major permit violations.
    *
    Reform of regulations is definitely needed, but please do not forget ALSO staff influence and accountability in all of this and over a long time.

  4. EveT

    The capricious and vindictive enforcement of zoning rules has a chilling effect on homeowners’ willingness to come and testify or send in a comment. If you are seen as a troublemaker, someone on P&Z might decide to go measure the setback for your front porch or scrutinize your driveway to see if it’s supposed to be blocked by a flower pot.

  5. TLaw

    I would not go messing around with Mike Greene. He’ll make your life miserable.

  6. One and Done.

    Who was the genius that put the playground next to the dump anyway. And why would a warehouse owner really care? It’s not a storefront.

  7. John Hamlin

    This article and this string clearly point to a need for zoning reform. In most towns there would be a trained and experienced expert staff to take on the challenge. Either we lack that here in Norwalk or there’s some other political reason this isn’t happening. It’s such an obvious need — what’s the problem?

  8. jlightfield

    The site where AMEC is located is zoned industrial. Transfer station operations are a permitted use in industrial zones. The Industrial zone designation predates, Waypointe, Stepping Stones and Devon’s Place. The Master Plan supports this area to continue as an industrial zone.
    .
    In 2005/6 when the Zoning Commission approved AMEC carting’s industrial use, it did so with reservations and specific conditions. The Industrial zone committee looked at all parcels in the designation and made specific recommendations about which parcels could be rezoned. This was not one of them.
    .
    Since then, the City has chosen to close the part of Crescent street that connected directly with West Ave. The Zoning Commission then approved the current configuration of Waypointe which made little attempt to connect to Mathews Park, citing of all things, truck traffic running through Butler.

  9. Lisa Thomson

    Here is another example in P&Z of one set of rules for developers or ‘big guys’ and another set for the rest of us. Is it about poorly written code or downright cronyism?
    *
    Residential properties fund 89% of the city and is it not time for the residential homeowners in the different Norwalk neighborhoods to come together? How many more BJs, Lowes, 95/7 Wall Street, Mosque, 2 Nearwater and now AMEC situations are going to arise? The issue of planning and zoning isn’t going away anytime soon – as people are now paying attention. P&Z won’t be fixed over night and I see all of these issues impacting city elections next fall.

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