STONINGTON — A third try at enlarging a former mom-and-pop gas station into a convenience store with three gas pumps faces a legal challenge by the owners of a neighboring gas station.
Jannat LLC, of Waterford, and its principal, Ahmed Choudry, first proposed a 3300-square-foot convenience store with three fuel pumps on the .8-acre at 54 S. Broad St. in 2021, and have resubmitted the application twice with changes requested by the town engineer.
“There was an application a year ago that had to be withdrawn because there were changes in the design that had to be made. Since that time, we’ve got a new wetlands approval that was granted on May 4 that encompasses all the design changes that impacted the wetlands,” explained Attorney John Casey, of Robinson Cole, who represented Jannat, at a public hearing of the Planning and Zoning Commission on Aug 1.
In 2021, Aldin Associates Limited Partnership, of East Hartford, which owns Chucky’s Food Store and gas station at 60 S. Broad St., filed an appeal against the town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission, alleging that the wetlands behind Jannat’s property were within a 90-foot radius of the wetlands on 60 S. Broad property. At the time, Judge J. O’Hanlon dismissed the case for lack of proof and said Aldin did not have standing to pursue the appeal.
Jon Chase, the attorney for Aldin Associates, filed another appeal on May 20 alleging that the wetlands behind the two properties are connected and that the connection is not depicted on the plans, this time adding Jannat and CLA Engineers, the engineers on the project, to the suit with the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission.
Chase also filed a “Verified Pleading for Intervention” for his client on April 6, asking that Inland Wetlands withhold approval of Jannat’s application “unless and until all unreasonable pollution and all impairment or destruction of the public trust in the natural resources of the state is proven to be completely avoided.”
Chase wrote that the Inland Wetlands Commission approved the application despite testimony that the project “may result in discharge of petroleum contaminants and/or surface water carrying suspended petroleum contaminants into the adjacent wetlands.”
The May 20 suit also claimed that the applicant’s site improvements “remain substantially the same” as previously approved by the Wetlands Commission in 2021. Chase said he would address the Planning and Zoning Commission at the continued hearing on Sept. 5.
Chase also claimed in the filing that the commission’s findings and decisions were “clearly erroneous in view of the reliable, probative and substantial evidence of the whole record; and/or capricious or characterized by abuse of discretion or clearly unwarranted exercise of discretion.”
Right-hand turns only
At the Aug. 1 public hearing, Kyle Haubert, a principal of CLA Engineers, presented a new traffic plan for the proposed gas station and convenience store that limits both incoming and outgoing traffic to right turns.
Haubert told the commission that the design was the result of working with the Connecticut Department of Transportation to address concerns that left turns would require an additional lane on the Boston Post Road.
“DOT was okay with us doing the right entrance only and there will be signage placed in the DOT right of way that indicates no left turn is allowed. And also the skew of that driveway entrance will discourage people from trying to turn left into the site,” Haubert said.
Haubert said the exit was also a concern of the police commission given limited sightlines and a traffic light to the east of the site.
Commission alternate Andy Meek asked about enforcement and whether the curbing will discourage or “make it almost impossible” entering from the left.
Haubert said that if somebody wants to “hop the curb, they could try that, but the curb will discourage people trying to make that left turn.”
An existing use?
Commission member Lynn Conway questioned whether the site had maintained its use as a gas station given that the building had been rented out as an office to a roofing company in recent years.
Attorney Casey said the gas station was established in about 1953, 10 years before a former owner applied for a “certificate location approval” that was needed for a repairs license in 1963. The town’s regulations were originally passed in 1961.
Casey said the evidence shows the site was a gas station predating the town’s zoning, making it a preexisting, non-conforming use, which also exempted the site from the town’s requirement of a 1500-foot separation distance between gas stations.
He said that, according to a case from the Appellate court, the gas tanks on the site were removed in 2016 because of their 30-year lifecycle, which did not indicate an abandonment of use because the removal was required.
Casey said that a relinquished use is typically accompanied by physical change to the property.
“It would be if you’ve had a gas station and you tore it down, tore out the tanks and built a McDonald’s – built something – a physical manifestation,” he said.
Checks on pollution
Haubert said the Inland Wetlands Commission had requested an additional monitoring well be installed on the site and that the applicant would monitor the groundwater for volatile organic compounds, or VOCs, semi-volatile organic compounds, and extractable petroleum hydrocarbons.
“These tests will also be sampled yearly, the test results will be reviewed by the licensed environmental professional, and the results will be submitted to the town staff for their review as an ongoing measurement on that site,” he said.
Commission member Lynn Conway asked whether the project will include an analysis of the soil for contamination, given a gas station had previously occupied the site.
Haubert said the old tanks were legally removed from the site and that the removal met all the requirements of state agencies.
“As part of this excavation there will be a licensed environmental professional that will review both the dewatering if it’s needed for the tank installation or footings as well as the excavated materials,” he said.
During public comment, Carlene Donnarummo, who lives across the street, asked the commission to require testimony that stormwater will not flow onto her property.
Charles Caldwell, who lives at 50 Broad St., said that when he purchased his house in 2006, next door was a “mom and pop gas station” with a single pump and two garage bays “where they would work on cars, fix tires, that sort of stuff.”
Caldwell said that with global warming, storms are increasing in frequency and intensity. He said he was concerned that increasing amounts of stormwater runoff will flow into the wetlands, especially given that the proposed convenience store will be larger than the existing building and located closer to the wetlands at the back of the site.
“You’ve got a hill coming down on Route One and when it rains and when it pours that turns into a river of rain, and it goes down and comes over my property on the corner, and then runs over that entire gas station. So I’m not sure how you’re going to be able to contain that much water without overflowing and spilling it into the wetlands,” he said.
Donnarummo and Caldwell also said that it was unrealistic to expect drivers to enter the site solely using a right turn, given that traffic already backs up at the nearby shopping center stoplight. Donnarummo also questioned whether fuel delivery trucks would attempt to make a left turn into the site.
Haubert told commissioners that the proposed hours of operation would be from 6 a.m. to midnight and that fuel deliveries would be conducted outside of the hours of business. He also said that the project would need to modify the sidewalk currently being installed along Route one, and will conform to all regulations and ADA requirements.
The hearing was continued to Sept. 5.