Correction, Aug 13, 2018: Hosten, not Holsten.
NORWALK, Conn. —The Norwalk Zoning Commission is poised to demand that City Carting install sound barriers in an effort to help Village Creek residents.
This action is made possible by an April 2016 Cease and Desist order on City Carting’s Meadow Street business, a ruling that the 30-year old use of the property is non-compliant.
An ensuing Nov. 14 notice informed Meadow Street Partners LLC, an affiliate of Stamford-based City Carting, that its use of the property for container storage was a violation as the company did not permits nor approvals, and carried the threat of a $150 a day fine.
The property has been used the same way for 32 years, storing empty containers, or “cans,” Attorney William Hennessy told the Zoning Commission at its May 17 public hearing. The LeBlanc family owned it, then it was sold to Waste Management, he said, explaining that there was an internal transfer in 1999, and, “My clients purchased it in 2007 and they have owned it ever since.”
City Carting was very surprised to get a Cease and Desist, he said.
“It was a result of activity on site,” Hennessey said. “When the site was transferred from Waste Management to my client, Waste Management had the obligation to bring the site into conformance with DEEP (Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) regulations for environmental hazards.”
A Remedial Action Plan was developed and approved, but there was “one flaw” in the contractor’s work: “He didn’t do a great job with the compaction and the grading of the work,” Hennessey said.
About a year’s worth of truck movements created undulations in the soil, where water collected into muddy puddles, he said.
“My clients run a clean operation, they weren’t happy with that, so they said, ‘We have to fix it,’” Hennessey said.
When the “cans” were moved to the “so-called Grasso site” so the yard could be repaired, “That created a lot of excitement because it was very, very visible. I don’t think ours were visible prior to that,” Hennessey said.
A Zoning inspector asked to see the company’s permit but no one could find it, Hennessey said, calling it a search for a needle in a haystack, made more confusing because the company has been listed with three different addresses.
Meadow Street Partners went to the Zoning Board of Appeals but Zoning Inspector Aline Rochefort suggested that it would be easier just to get a Zoning amendment to permit the use – the longstanding use – of the property as a storage container yard, he said.
While the language looks like an attempt to create a storage yard, “The staff was interested in seeing that there couldn’t be a proliferation of contractors storage yards…. So, the words in this regulation are intended to be limitations, not expansions, limitations of where these could go,” he said.
However, the Planning Commission in February denied the requested change, saying that it was not consistent with the Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD).
“I don’t think the Planning Commission understood … because we weren’t allowed to explain it,” Hennessey said.
DEEP inspected the site and found that, yes, the regrading had gotten closer to the tidal wetlands that was allowed, but approved a Remedial Action Plan, Hennessey said. But Norwalk wanted more, with a suggestion that the entire site be paved.
“We said this doesn’t make sense, we don’t think it’s required in your regulations,” Hennessey said.
Trucks driving over hard, compacted soils, as has been done for more than three decades, works best, and the company offered to build large retention basins to collect stormwater, and landscape the large block wall that separates City Carting’s yard from the neighboring Grasso yard, he said.
“All of the other uses that could be here they would impact the traffic and road systems more than they have many more truck trips would be on the streets of Norwalk,” Hennessey said. “These containers would be going somewhere.”
Zoning Commissioner Lou Schulman asked if City Carting could pave just the driveway; Hennessey said that could be considered.
Commission Chairman Nate Sumpter asked how many containers could be stored on the property and if they would be stacked.
Michael Ferro, a former City Carting member, could not come up with an exact number of containers, but said they are shifted to another lot City Carting owns Milford in the winter.
It’s probably 90-100 containers, and if they were stacked two high it would be 200, he said.
Pressed by Commissioner Doug Stern if they were ever stacked three high, Ferro said, “I can’t answer because I haven’t owned the company in more than a year and a half…. That’s a practice of the new ownership of the company.”
“That is so vague,” Colin Hosten of the Village Creek Homeowner’s Association said later. “I just can’t imagine having to make a decision based on such vagaries … We get assurance tonight from somebody that doesn’t even work at City Carting anymore?”
Village Creek is across the water from 30 Meadow St.; Hosten said sometimes neighbors call police at 5:30 a.m. to complain about noise. The photos presented by City Carting, showing the view of 30 Meadow St. from the marsh, were not relevant as Village Creek is on a hill and residents will see into the property.
While Hennessey painted the proposed Zone change as “simple and easy,” “in reality this actually has a direct impact on the quality of life of the residential neighbors,” Hosten said. “… We hear and see everything. We are not against commercial enterprises in Norwalk. We are not against City Carting or 30 Meadow. The Zoning regulations in Norwalk were created for a reason. It’s not to me acceptable to say, ‘This has gone on for 30 years so it should go on longer.’ It has gone on in violation for 30 years, now is the time to put an end to it.”
Paul Braschi, a Village Creek resident, said at least 20 homes are effected by the yard.
“We have to go to police constantly to ask them to enforce the rules,” he said. “This area, especially the Grasso area, have been a Wild, Wild West with the things that have gone on. We think our new neighbors are going to be much improved but we just don’t know.”
“I don’t deny they (heard noise),” Hennessey said. “Frankly, that is going to happen when an industrial zone abuts a residential zone, especially one as beautiful as Village Creek… It shouldn’t be in the early morning. There is a noise ordinance. That noise ordinance ought to be adhered to by not just my client but everyone of this huge swath of industrial lands out here. … It’s a huge industrially zone swath of land and it’s an historically old industrial area, so a lot of things that create a lot of noise take place out there.”
City Carting will agree not to stack cans higher than two high, he said, pointing out the bright side: the discussion was about levels of cans, not a 4-story building.
“I don’t want to guess as to how tall these things are,” Commissioner Doug Stern said, asking for specific dimensions.
“This is not AMEC (Carting),” Stern said. “It is quite different but it certainly stirs up fears of a company taking advantage of blind spots in zone enforcement and inadvertently wrecking the quality of life for those around it.”
Village Creek has been around for a long time, too, and “I think they are entitled some deference to noise,” Commissioner Richard Roina said, asking about soundproofing.
City Carting is very amenable to raising the height of the wall, perhaps with a wooden structure on top of the concrete block, Hennessey said.
“I would like to know that if we are putting up a wall it will have an impact,” Commissioner Louis Schulman said, suggesting getting the advice of an acoustical engineer.
Hennessey eventually promised to get reasonable suggestions to partially mitigate the sound from the property.
That, and specific information about the number of cans and their dimensions are expected when the Commission resumes its public hearing at its Thursday meeting. Hennessey said he would also check with City Carting’s tenant to see if a prohibition against stacking cans in the summer would be acceptable.
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