Windsor's Town Planning and Zoning Commission (TPZC) voted unanimously to approve Dollar Tree's site plan for its proposed 1-million-square-foot distribution center on Stone Road and International Drive, effectively giving the company a green light to break ground (save for a few loose ends that must be tied).
The commission made several decisions Tuesday, including a decision stating that Dollar Tree's construction will not pollute the public's trust in the quality of air, water or natural resources, and another stating that the company has submitted a complete application that complies with regulations set forth under town planning and zoning regulations.
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The commission also voted to grant the company a waiver for the requirement to hire a landscape architect, provided they hire a professional such as an arborist or someone else with knowledge of the flora planned for planting.
The other waiver Dollar Tree was granted Tuesday was for the height restriction on lights to be installed on the property.
Dollar Tree's site plan first came before Windsor's TPZC in March with hopes of a speedy "okay" from town commissions and eyes on breaking ground in April.
Two months later, Dollar Tree, Inc. cleared the hurdles in its path, but certainly not without a fight from concerned citizens, who continued their fight Monday evening.
Those residents, many of them Rainbow residents and informal members of Save Windsor's Neighborhoods (a group of residents who will be the distribution center's new neighbors), were not allowed to directly address the commission Tuesday.
On the advice of the town's lawyer, Ed McAnaney (who is also Suffield's first selectman), TPZC Chairwoman Anita Mips announced that the commission would not "entertain any communications from anyone who wishes to speak on the site plan we have for 105 International Drive because we have a petition to intervene here."
Acting on the group's petition, Save Windsor's Neighborhoods' attorney Keith Ainsworth presented an argument to the commission on the basis that the development of Dollar Tree's proposed project would negatively impact natural resources present on the site, namely birds.
In particular, Ainsworth, calling on expert testimony from his witness, Michael Parks, vice president of Great Ecology, argued that the Dollar Tree's proposed activities would disrupt the environment to the extent that the native bird population, especially the savannah sparrow (a species of native concern), would be unable to carry out its natural behavioral patterns.
Ainsworth's argument proved ineffective, as Dollar Tree's attorneys, Tom Fahey and Carl Landolina of Windsor Locks, referred to the site plan they've presented, which includes landscaping and manufactured wetlands designed to increase the variety and number of food, water and shelter sources provided to local wildlife.
Ainsworth's aviary argument was a final stab at what could have been seen as an Achilles heel in the site plan.
To date, the attorney's arguments regarding the dangers of the site's contaminated soils, the potential for contamination of groundwater and the affect on surrounding wetlands failed to sway those sitting on town boards and commissions.
Residents' pleas for plans with what they see as having less of an impact on their quality of life and property value were unsuccessful as well.
"I'm extremely disappointed," said Bob Wallick, a Stone Road resident. "I'm disappointed because there were certain things on the site plan that were not addressed, such as the 150-foot buffer required by town statute between any turnaround parking lot and the nearest property line. That's been violated and the fact that they allowed a waver for the landscape architect bothers me because a landscape architect takes into account a lot of things that they're actually voting on, such as the lighting, aesthetics and how it's going to impact the property values."
For many of the Windsor residents who live next to or around the corner from the roughly 93 acres of land Dollar Tree will develop, the disappointment is shared, but it extends far beyond the Tuesday's approval handed down by Town Planning and Zoning.
For Stone Road resident Deborah Bologna, the disappointment can be traced all the way back to a meeting at the Rainbow Fire House, to which some of the residents in the area were invited by Dollar Tree and the project's engineer, Ed Lally.
"The invitation to a select group of individuals for the Dollar Tree presentation at the fire house was nothing more than a fishing expedition to find out what the opposition was," Bologna said about the meeting to which many residents complained they never received an invitation to, and only learned of the project from a neighbor or when it appeared before the Town Council.
"I think this is an irresponsible development. I think it's in the wrong place," Bologna added, Tuesday. "None of us here spoke out and said 'You can't develop this.' We wanted to work with the town and the applicant."
According to both Bologna and Wallick, while the Town Planning and Zoning Commission essentially ruled Ainsworth's argument to be outside of the commission's purview, there are issued directly related to the site plan that the commission should have taken into account when making their decision.
"Stone Road is a very small, two-lane, country road. It is not suited to tractor trailer traffic. In fact, we have a weight restriction — that wasn't even brought up tonight," said Bologna. "You can't accomodate the traffic that we will end up with. We're going to have 150 tractor trailers on our roads."
In Wallick's view, residents could have had increased access to plans regarding a project with the potential to change their quality of life.
Plans are available at Town Hall, but for himself, and many of the other families in the neighborhood, getting down to town hall to review plans and learn about the potential changes to their neighborhood during town hall hours isn't feasible, he said.
"With today's technology, why couldn't those things have been posted on the Website for the Town, allowing us adequate time to look at it when we have the ability?," Wallick asked.
The Town Planning and Zoning Commission's decision is pending review of the company's plans to bury and contain in a plastic membrane-like structure the contaminated soils.
Windsor Environmental Planner Cyd Groff, TPZC members said, has requested she be able to review the possibility for trees planted atop the membrane device to grow roots through its surface, releasing the contaminated soil.