Wilton car dealership wants more parking, neighbors object

A Georgetown car dealership wants to expand its on-site storage capability, but neighbors are hoping the plan runs out of gas.

On Monday night the Planning & Zoning Commission heard a lengthy presentation from the applicant 962 Danbury Realty LLC, which is requesting the expansion — along with a related necessary zoning change — to allow Bruce Bennett Nissan to house 130 more cars on its lot, which is just south of North Main Street.

The proposed project would include removal of some trees as well as blasting to flatten some of the grade.

Neighbors have expressed concerns about the impact of the blasting on wells and historic structures, as well as issues of noise and aesthetics.

Following close to two-and-a-half hours of presentation by the applicant, along with comments from four different neighbors, the commission decided to table discussion and a possible vote until its next meeting.

“There’s a lot to distill too, so I think we’ll all need to go back through … and be diligent about it,” Chair Rick Tomasetti said.

Attorney Jim Murphy presented the case that rezoning a 0.834-acre portion of the property to commercial use would allow the dealership — which he said sells about 240 cars a month — to store more cars on the lot, which now has spaces for 308 vehicles. This in turn, he said, would eliminate the dealer’s need to shuttle cars to and from an off-site storage lot on the nearby Redding-based Gilbert & Bennett property via tractor trailer, reducing traffic in the area.

“We hope to prove to you it’s going to be very effective and leave the neighborhood untouched,” he said of the project, noting it was not out of character with the immediate neighborhood.

His experts sought to quell concerns about water quality being impacted, including acid rock drainage, which could be disturbed through blasting — something they said was not likely but could also be monitored.

“I’m recommending that we do include a pre- and post-blast survey,” said Rob Good, hydrogeologist with WSP, along with a well inventory within 500 feet of the blast area.

In response to concerns expressed by the Conservation Commission about the ecology being changed in the area, consultant Kate Throckmorton, planner with Environmental Land Solutions, LLC, said that though trees will be removed the wildlife itself is “tolerant” of the commercial zone.

“Given on the whole, we believe the ecology will be maintained on the site,” she said.

Michael Galante, traffic consultant with Hardesty & Hanover, took umbrage with the Historic District Commission’s characterization of his report as “misleading,” noting he didn’t actually do a study, but an evaluation.

“I haven’t had someone tell me that in many, many years,” he said, noting that the change will only reduce traffic from the tractor trailers, as there will be no additional staff — or customers — resulting from the change.

“In my mind it’s certainly a reduction in impact,” he said.

“Our experts know what they’re talking about,” Murphy said. “We have the right people to address and analyze the various issues.”

Several neighbors, however, maintained their concerns, noting the dealership has been a careless neighbor for some time in regard to noise and traffic.

“I’m opposed to both applications,” said Susan Robinson, pointing out that Redding government was simultaneously unhappy with the storage of cars on the Gilbert & Bennett property.

“The dealership storage of cars on the mill site is not a welcome one because their tenancy was never approved by the Redding Zoning Commission,” she said.

She said the blasting that was done when the dealership last expanded caused manganese to appear in their wells.

Homeowner Christian Setterlund said the business itself was not empathetic to neighbor concerns, with changes only coming about through complaints.

“Most often our feedback falls on deaf ears,” he said, adding deep concern “for the loss of yet more natural landscape to a commercial entity.”

“My major concern … about this proposed development is that it’s massive in scale,” said neighbor Colleen Fawcett.

“We thought it was massive in scale when Bob Sharp owned it a long time ago and requested for the current building to go up and the parking,” she said, with this “essentially” doubling the size.

Ironically, photos of the dealership pulled from Google used in one presentation showed a number of cars parked on the grass around the front of the building.

“I don’t think you want me to dwell too much on this picture,” Tomasetti said.

Commissioner Doris Knapp took it a step farther, expressing her displeasure.

“The scattering of cars at the front of the site to me was extremely disturbing,” she said.

“We will stop doing that as of tomorrow morning,” Murphy said.

“That’s a tremendous amount of cars for people to drive by and see,” Knapp said.

“Well, we’re luckily doing a tremendous amount of business,” Murphy said.

Source: Wilton car dealership wants more parking, neighbors object