GALES FERRY — Neighbors of a 165-acre industrial site on the Thames River being developed by a Massachusetts dredging and marine services company say they don’t want to stop the project, but want the company to compromise by leaving more of a buffer for their neighborhood.
Quincy-based Cashman Dredging and Marine Contracting applied to the Ledyard Planning and Zoning Commission for approval of a 20,000 square foot repair facility for equipment the company uses in marine contracting and dredging throughout the northeast.
Planned for the northern edge of the former Dow Chemical property between Route 12 and the Thames River, it’s the first and smallest piece of what Cashman has said are plans to develop a complex of industrial buildings on the property. Cashman has also proposed a processing facility for dredged materials, but said it is putting that project on hold while the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection works on new dredging regulations.
Neighbors on River Drive, a short street next to the north end of the Cashman property, said they want the company to maintain as much as they can of an existing 300-foot stretch of trees that buffers their neighborhood.
The company is proposing to clear almost all of it to make room for the repair facility and a lay-down yard that Cashman Vice President Alan Perrault said during a public hearing Thursday night will be used to store aggregate that would be shipped out of the site by rail, and for offshore wind materials headed for the New London State Pier.
Stanley Lucas, a River Drive neighbor who said he bought and is making a considerable investment to renovate the 1793 building on the property immediately neighboring the northern edge of the industrial property, said he was concerned the development being so close to the neighborhood would hurt their property values.
“It’s an idyllic neighborhood. Every day of the year is special, regardless of the weather. We see so many animals there, it’s like a zoo, it’s really amazing,” Lucas said. “Anything these gentlemen [at Cashman] are doing, these corporations, these businesses — we understand their motivation in what they’re doing. But we have an obligation to protect our own neighborhood, our neighbors, our quality of life and our investments.”
Lucas said the existing buffer of trees, many of which are old and large, is what is going to block the neighborhood from the effects of the industrial complex. The tree buffer was also the main concern of Dave Harned, another neighbor who said he was speaking on behalf of a group of residents called Citizens Alliance for Land Use.
Harned said it seems “self-evident” that Cashman’s proposals for the site will have a negative impact on the neighborhood, but he said the group isn’t aiming to stop the project entirely. They want Cashman to succeed at the site, and they want the town to benefit from the tax revenue the development would generate, he said.
But they also want to protect their neighborhood, he said, and noted that the building has the same impact on the tax base if it leaves more of a buffer for the neighborhood.
“We want to retain the entire landscape buffer, the company wants to remove virtually all of the landscape buffer — can we meet in the middle?” Harned asked. “That’s what compromise is all about. Maybe 150 feet would be reasonable, and most of those huge trees could be left behind.”
Harned said the group’s primary concern are a group of about 15 or 20 tall evergreens and other large deciduous trees that are about 75 feet inside Cashman’s property from the northern property line, and asked the company if it could shift its plans for the building to keep those intact.
Town Planner Juliet Hodge said she had also asked the company if they could try to adjust their plans to keep those large trees. Hodge said she agreed with Cashman’s attorney Harry Heller that the site is underutilized and that developing it is a great opportunity for the town to diversify its tax base.
But she said it’s important for the commission to keep in mind the full scope of the planned development, beyond the repair facility. Some residents said they were concerned that Cashman was applying for just one small piece of their intended project, making it more difficult to see the full scope of the impact.
Cashman has applied to the Inland Wetland Commission to re-grade nearly 40 acres on the southern side of the property by blasting and clearing the hill to make room for several large industrial buildings the company has said it would lease out. The company outlined its full plans to build several large industrial buildings on the site in February, and said the process could take 10-15 years to fully complete.
Hodge said there are concerns that the site, while having a long industrial history, has not been used intensively in a while. Heller said the Dow plant was shuttered in 2011, and since then the site has been home only to Americas Styrenics, a joint venture of Dow and Chevron that manufactures Styrofoam on the property. Hodge said the committee can require a bigger buffer as a condition of the special permit.
“Fences make good neighbors, buffers make even better neighbors,” Hodge said.
Heller declined to respond to most of the neighbor comments on Thursday night, while the commission continued the public hearing — tentatively to its May 11 meeting, though Chair Tony Capon said it was possible they would hold a special meeting before then.