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P.I. claims lead Norwalk Zoning Commission to delay vote on AMEC transfer station

AMEC Carting owner Guy Mazzola
AMEC Carting owner Guy Mazzola addresses the Norwalk Zoning Commission Wednesday.

NORWALK, Conn. – A private investigator helped build a case against expanding a private Norwalk transfer station Wednesday, presenting the Zoning Commission with evidence that suggested there have been violations of the company’s permit.

AMEC Carting LLC will have to wait a month to defend itself from charges levied by Kane Winn as the Zoning Commission elected to continue its public hearing about the transfer station application to give it time to study the evidence, and for the staff to research the compliance of the application with the studies and plans done by the city.

That last request was pushed mostly by Commissioner Nora King.

AMEC is requesting to increase the amount of construction and demolition debris it accepts at its Crescent Street transfer station from 200 tons to 400 tons a day and to do this on a 60-day trial basis so it can study the amount of traffic this generates. The transfer station would be open to the public; everything that goes there now is in trucks owned and controlled by AMEC.

The application comes as litigation between AMEC and the city continues over the Zoning Commission’s refusal in 2011 to allow AMEC to go from 200 tons a day to 600 tons a day.  Attorney Christopher Smith said AMEC had taken the 2011 complaints about the possible effects of the additional traffic and come up with a creative traffic pattern within the transfer station to make it work. The scale would be at the rear of the lot and there would be space for up to seven trucks to sit in waiting, then back up onto the scale and into the transfer station. Leaving the station and going over the scale again would be easy under the traffic pattern that has been devised, it was said, partially because of the paved turning area that is opposite AMEC.

Smith said the Mazzola family had been authorized by the Zoning Commission in 2005 to construct a $2.6 million building, but with the 200-ton condition.

“It’s like having a retail store but you’re limited to who you can sell your products to,” Smith said.

AMEC owner Guy Mazzola described the family-owned business and all of its projects in Norwalk – the four Wall Street buildings owned by POKO Partners are all now rubble, he said – and said that the company wants to maintain its good relationship with Norwalk.

“If we tell you we are going to do something, we take that very seriously,” he said.

Matt Brown of Anchor Engineering compared AMEC’s transfer station with City Carting’s Meadow Street transfer station, zeroing in on the part of the property that handles construction and demolition (C&D) debris. City Carting is authorized to take in 500 tons per day in an area that is only 1.6 acres, he said. The C&D material is handled in half the building, which is about 10,000 square feet, he said. AMEC’s transfer station also is about 10,000 square feet, he said.

But pushback was swift. King said the area, in close proximity to the Waypointe development, the Stepping Stones Museum for Children and the planned Norwalk River Valley Trail, is increasingly popular for pedestrians and bicyclists. The city’s plans call for it to become more active in that way, she said.

“You never want a business owner to not be able to expand their businesses to their full capability,” King said. “However, you have to realistically look at the surrounding neighborhood and all the development and everything that has gone on in the last few years, which I think all of us Norwalkers are pretty proud of, and it’s going to increase traffic going down there. I don’t mean to be harsh, but there’s never a traffic study that I don’t see that talks about it’s not going to happen, but we all know that’s what happens.”

She continued, “My biggest concern, which has not been put to rest in some of these discussions, is the amount of traffic that is going to be coming through things we fought hard in the city for, like Stepping Stones Museum, now Waypointe, and that’s where I feel like all of this information isn’t strong enough to convince me.”

“You are not committing without having a demonstration that will prove it will not have an adverse impact,” Smith replied. “… If it doesn’t work at 300, doesn’t work at 400, we’ll go back to what works.”

King said it would be tough to put the cat back in the bag, but Commissioner Linda Kruk defended AMEC’s proposal, with references to Mazzola.

“It’s done in good faith,” Linda Kruk said. “He’s been running his business for quite a while, he should know what his capacity is and I think it behooves us to give him a shot. It just seems like the right thing to do.”

“I haven’t seen anything like this in 31 years,” Smith said. “It’s somewhat argumentative and a lot of it is ‘well, how are they going to do this’ and ‘how are they going to do that.’ That’s what we’re asking for the opportunity to do. … It’s easy to throw paint at this, but we are here saying we’ll do the study. Let us do the study. We’re going to have real counts, just let us do it.”

Then followed more intense push back.

“The applicant has made a wonderful presentation tonight. Like any other presentation it is a sales job,” said Attorney Joseph Capalbo, representing the family-owned Sclafani Foods, which is next door to AMEC.

“The warehouse that is located right next door to this facility is loaded with food,” he said, expressing concern about possible infestations.

He said the Zoning Commission didn’t have a key piece of information – the City Carting-owned BNS transfer station in Stamford will be closing, he said. That will mean more people looking for a transfer station, and more potential vehicles coming and going to AMEC.

The most damning attack came from Winn, a private investigator hired by Sclafani.

Winn said he had observed AMEC on nine different days, at different times of the day. He had noted several violations of AMEC’s permit, he said – the water misting system wasn’t working and there was a cloud of dust coming out of the bay doors, he said. Two or three of the four doors were open with little or no activity, he said. One door had been open for an hour and 21 minutes during one of his visits, he said.

One door had been open continuously, he said, finally being shut on Sept. 15.

He had parked in the paved turning area that is meant for trucks. AMEC employees are parking there also, he said.

AMEC was open well beyond its 5 p.m. closing time, he said. One day it was open to 5:30 p.m., and, on Sept. 11, it was open until 7:30 p.m., he said.

Winn provided the commission with a DVD that he said had half an hour of videos to back up his claims.

It went on.

Mary Therese “Missy” Conrad suggested AMEC was looking to expand now because the traffic will be increasing with the improvements courtesy of Paxton Kinol and the Waypointe project. The company wants to get established before it becomes obvious that allowing more trucks to come and go will not work in the newly bustling neighborhood, she said.

Diane Lauricella had a more nefarious suspicion – most of the people who came out to speak against the proposal in 2011 were under a court-issued gag order, she said, and could not offer their opinions about this new application.

“I was interested that an application should be being made when they haven’t withdrawn the lawsuit against the city from 2011,” Conrad said. “It doesn’t seem very polite if you are suing the city and then sort of going around it and coming in with a new application.”

Comments

4 responses to “P.I. claims lead Norwalk Zoning Commission to delay vote on AMEC transfer station”

  1. Don’t Panic

    Will there also be an analysis of the potential impact on the pricing offered to the city by city carting if AMEC cannibalizes their business at meadow st?
    .
    it’s outside the scope of the zoning commission, but now that the city has put all of its trash collection eggs in city carting’s basket, this has the possible impact of costing every resident in the City more money.

  2. EveT

    Isn’t the name of the family-owned food company Sclafani? (not Scalfani)?

    1. Mark Chapman

      @Eve

      You are correct. We apologize for the misspelling.

  3. Mike Mushak

    We all witnessed the broken planning process in Norwalk in all of its glory last night. We have the $200,000 Connectivity Study from 2012 that recommends Crescent Street be widened and reopened and turned into a major pedestrian and bicycle link, and return to being an alternate for West Avenue overflow car traffic as it once was, between South Norwalk, Waypointe, and Wall Street, regardless of the future of the 95/7 site. We have another $200,000 study, the 2012 Norwalk River Valley Trail (NRVT) Routing Study, that shows the 26-mile Norwalk-Danbury regional multi-use trail crossing the street almost directly in front of the AMEC site where trucks make sharp turns across 2 lanes of traffic and 2 sidewalks.
    .
    We also have the estimated $30,000 Bicycle and Safety Engineering Study from this year that doesn’t mention the widening but mirrors the Connectivity Study recommendation to turn Crescent St. into a major bike and pedestrian link (to the NRVT) in what is rapidly becoming the densest part of the city with thousands of new housing units and hopefully hundreds of new businesses. Is this the right place to double the capacity of a transfer station with a steady follow of large trucks making sharp turns as they entering and exit across sidewalks and two travel lanes, dumping and retrieving sometimes toxic demolition and construction debris, right next door to a huge imported food distribution warehouse (Sclafani) that was there first and that the city helped relocate there? That’s a question the Zoning Commission will have to decide on their own, with what appears to be little help from the staff. I have nothing against AMEC, a reputable business by their own accounts last night, but they have a lot of explaining to do in their upcoming rebuttal about multiple permit violations that came up in the hearing last night.
    .
    Zoning Commissioner Nora King asked the Planning and Zoning Director Mike Greene about those planning studies, and how that were affected by the AMEC proposal.
    .
    Mr. Greene appeared like a deer caught in the headlights, and was clearly NOT aware of any of the expert studies (mostly paid for by the Redevelopment Agency) looking at future plans for the Crescent Street corridor, and so the traffic studies offered by the applicant assumed Crescent Street would stay a dead end and have no thru-traffic at all and little bike and pedestrian traffic (Crescent was a very busy short-cut before it was closed, as was put into the record last night). Mr. Greene should have been fully aware of those taxpayer-funded studies and their recommendations, in detail, and he should have advised the applicant to do all of their traffic studies based on both scenarios (one, the street stays closed, or two, the street opens to traffic again, and in either scenario becomes a major pedestrian and bicycle link (since the NRVT will feed that flow up towards Harbor and Commerce Streets regardless).
    .
    Mr. Greene should have advised the Zoning Commission as to the potential impacts of all of these plans to the application, as PLANNING and Zoning Director. But then, Mr. Greene isn’t a professional planner. Shouldn’t all taxpayers and businesses in our once-great city expect, at the very least, that our well-paid Director of Planning and Zoning ($165,000 a year) be a qualified professional?
    .
    Perhaps people like me, who travel around the country studying cities just like Norwalk and seeing how amazing they have become with smart planning decisions following expert recommendations, are just expecting too much here in Norwalk. I mean, why should we expect our PLANNING and Zoning staff to be licensed professional planners like they are everywhere else? Why should we expect staff being paid generous 6-figure salaries and promised guaranteed pensions to be properly credentialed and reviewed annually like all other employees in any private or public organization? I mean, how unfair of me, to expect excellence in a city where dumbed-down mediocrity is the standard we accept, millions of dollars of studies are just ignored with impunity, and the lost potential to be a truly great well-planned city is accepted as our failed destiny, as our taxes go up every year and the staff who have worked for the city for decades get guaranteed raises without any performance reviews.
    .
    What a sad mess we are in. The lawn signs sprouting all over town demanding reform in our Planning and Zoning Department are spot on. No amount of retaliation by staff or a couple of corrupt thuggish commissioners, as I was subjected to for years (and others as well) for demanding changes, can stop this movement now. Last night was Exhibit One as to how screwed up our planning process really is. It just can’t get any worse that this. It has to get better. We deserve excellence in our planning, and the only way to get there is to get the existing staff to shape up fast, or ship out, and get qualified planning experts in to make recommendations through an operational audit on how to begin to clean up the decades of mismanagement and cronyism, and fix the broken zoning code.
    .
    Whatever is decided on AMEC, I am confident the current commission will make a well-informed decision despite the staff’s lack of help, and any local business providing jobs and paying taxes deserves no less than a decision that considers all the facts presented in the hearing, as the commission is required to do by law. What a shame Mr. Greene was not aware last night of the $430,000 in professional taxpayer-funded studies that affect the very street commissioners are making a decision on that will impact that street and neighborhood for a very long time, with permanent impacts on public health and safety.

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