MONROE — The Planning and Zoning Commission, meeting Thursday, September 2, conducted two Public Hearings, closing one and continuing the other. Commissioners later approved the application associated with the closed hearing.

Prior to the start of the hearings, commissioners heard from a member of the public, Peter Metropoulis, who said he had sent over photographs and submitted a complaint about activity at 64 Cambridge Dr.

Mr. Metropoulis was the intervener in a previous application involving the same parcel. Mr. Metropoulis said he wanted to make the commission aware that the company appeared to be selling native materials from the site during the week of August 16-21.

He said he found it disturbing that the company would be actively selling native materials from the site while pursuing a permit from the Inland Wetlands Commission to fill over-excavated areas on the site.

It appears likely that the Inland Wetlands Commission will require the company to use native materials to fill certain areas of the property, with “native” in this case meaning materials that are from the site and not materials brought on site from demolition.

Mr. Metropoulis said he observed numerous large dump trucks arrive empty and depart with big loads of rocks and soil.

Commissioners later considered the issue along with a discussion on the correct interpretation of certain sections of their regulations referring to stockpiles.

Astro Landholdings had appeared before the commission in July to notify that the company intended to stockpile materials at 64 Cambridge Dr. and at another of its properties, 1036 Main St. Although the company has since begun the process of applying for a permit for 1036 Main St, it has not begun any process to obtain one for 64 Cambridge Dr.

Last month commissioners were faced with what appeared to be two conflicting sections of their regulations. In the first, stockpiling appears to be permitted, but commissioners feel the intent was to allow homeowners to temporarily stockpile materials removed during a project, such as the construction of an in-ground pool.

The materials were to be stockpiled temporarily and then used elsewhere on the property. The second section appears to require a permit to stockpile materials on a property.

Land Use Attorney Barbara Schellenberg said she has researched the issue since the last meeting and feels it is up to the commission to determine the intent of the seemingly conflicting regulations. She said the law holds that if the regulation is clearly written, then the regulation should be followed, but if two sentences contradict each other, then it is up to the commission to “arrive at what the intent was” when the regulation was adopted.

“I cannot tell you what your intent was when you adopted this regulation,” she said. “You should consider what makes sense” and make a “rational interpretation.”

Commissioners then came to a consensus that a permit is required, perhaps even something like a “stockpiling” permit, which doesn’t currently exist. They agreed that the regulation should probably be rewritten to clarify what is meant.

The first hearing that was held was for an application for a “permit approval amendment modification” to change a previously approved 4,950-square-foot restaurant building to a 3,482-square-foot restaurant with an accessory drive-through to be located at 205 Monroe Tpke.

Engineer Kevin Solli, representing the applicant, said they were there to get final approval for a “Panera Café” to be opened in the Town Line Plaza.

The Panera Café is a new concept, he said. This would be the company’s second “café” in the country, the first in the area. The other is being built in St. Louis.

Mr. Solli went over the plans with the commission, including a detailed landscape plan which drew some concerns from the town’s Conservation Commission.

The commission wrote it was concerned with the use of 35% non-native plants and identified two plants in particular as labelled invasives in other states, but not in Connecticut.

Mr. Solli responded that the pear trees and grass noted by Conservation as potentially an issue would be planted in islands within the paved areas and would not have a chance to spread.

The commission received two letters from the public, one in favor of the project and the other, a neighbor, protesting additional development in the plaza.

That second writer said the Noble gas station was already an issue, with glaring lights and a view of a gas station from their yard.

Mr. Solli responded that the Panera Café project includes a landscape plan that would address some of the concerns with a landscape buffer at the side of the parcel.

“It’s been a long road with the project,” Mr. Solli said as he prepared to close his presentation. He speculated the addition of the café would spur additional activities at the rear of the property, as previously planned by the developer prior to the pandemic putting a halt on such activities.

Commissioners asked staff to draft an approval for the project, after closing the public hearing, but upon finding that Town Planner Rick Schultz had a draft prepared, the commission voted unanimously to approve.

The second hearing was for the extension of the Housatonic Valley Rail Trail. The project will connect the existing portion of the trail in Wolfe Park with an existing portion of the trail on Maple Drive. The project will create a new 10-foot wide stone dust trail beginning at the southerly side of the existing pedestrian crossing bridge over the West Pequonnock River just south of Maple Drive, continuing north behind the Public Works facility, across Purdy Hill Road, and through portions of Wolfe Park, ending the existing trail segment located at the north end of the park entrance off Purdy Hill Road.

The town was the applicant, with Town Engineer Scott Schatzlein serving as its representative on the project. Mr. Schatzlein said an application is currently before the town’s Inland Wetlands Commission.

He asked that the Planning and Zoning Commission continue the hearing until Wetlands approval is granted. He said other required permits, such as from the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, would come later.

The project is being funded through two grants, one of which requires either a 20% match or services in lieu of the match. The town will be providing the services in lieu of the match, he said, so the project is 100% funded.

Antonio DiCarmello, who is providing design services on the project, provided details of the path the trail will take. Among design elements, the town will be installing a new crosswalk with solar-powered, flashing on-demand walk signal beacons on Purdy Hill Road.

The goal will be to disturb as few trees and other vegetation as possible. One area of the trail is steep and rocky but walls will be constructed to assist pedestrians. Dead or diseased trees and brush will be removed along the way.

The project has also hired an archeological consultant due to an area of old ruins near Maple Drive. The plan is to avoid the area of the ruins.

The project will require an environmental investigation, a floodplain review and drainage improvements. Construction is anticipated to begin in March of 2022. The total length of new trail will be approximately 4,600 linear feet.

A third hearing that was scheduled, for a special exception permit application for the construction of two buildings at 169 Enterprise Dr., was continued to September 16 at the request of the applicant.

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