WALLINGFORD — A developer applying to develop a 25-acre piece of land along Toelles Road has proposed an environmental “mitigation plan” as part of his application to the Planning and Zoning Commission.
The plan would seek to preserve and “rehabilitate” part of the rare sand barren habitat located on the development site, one environmental experts say is among the last sand barren habitats in Connecticut.
The developer, Rusty Rogers, is proposing to leave some of the sand barren area on the site undeveloped and also create an additional “man-made” sand barren area that will reintroduce plants previously found on the site. Project representatives presented details of the mitigation plan Monday to the PZC, which continued the public hearing until next month.
Rogers, in talks with Allnex to purchase the land, wants to excavate sand from the site over four to five years, then construct a 230,000-square-foot warehouse and 21,000-square-foot office building. Environmentalists worry the plan would destroy the rare sandplain and a dry acidic forest habitat on the property, both considered critical by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.
The mitigation plan would preserve the habitat in a 100-foot “buffer zone” that surrounds the perimeter of the property. The outer 50 feet of the buffer zone would be left undeveloped, while the inner 50 feet would be “rehabilitated” as a man-made sand barren after the sand excavation is completed, botanist William Moorehead, hired by Rogers, said Monday.
Moorehead told the PZC that seeds for the man-made sandplain would be collected from the plants currently on the site. He said he also wants to “reintroduce” plants that were previously found on the site but are no longer there, adding the sand barren habitat is still able to support the species.
Host plants for rare insects indigenous to the sandplain would also be moved into the rehabilitated buffer.
Joan Molloy, an attorney representing Rogers, said environmental experts hired to examine the property believe the sand barren habitat on the site has been encroached upon by the dry acidic forest over the years.
Project engineer Richard Couch said the sand barren area is projected to fully “succumb” to trees in 40 years at the current rate.
Molloy said “we want to basically create or rehabilitate an area that will function as a sand barren.”
“If we get to do our development and do the mitigation, we’ll have the sand barren that otherwise would not last,” Molloy said.
Molloy said final details of the mitigation plan are still being finalized, so she could not comment on how much total sand barren area would be left undeveloped. Molloy said she will submit the plan to the PZC prior to its June meeting, when the commission is expected to next discuss the project.
Commission members said they also want to tour the site before voting.
Molloy said she initially planned to submit the mitigation plan to DEEP as a part of the permitting process, but Town Planner Kacie Hand had some questions about DEEP’s authority to require the plan. Hand suggested that Molloy submit the plan to the PZC so the commission could require the mitigation plan as a condition of approval. Applicants typically receive local approval before applying to DEEP for permitting.
Several residents and environmental experts urged the PZC to deny the project during a lengthy public hearing Monday.
One town resident said that, while she appreciated the applicant’s effort to address her objections, “in truth the concern is the destruction of the entire habitat, so it’s hard to find mitigation for that when it’s the whole character that’s being destroyed.”
Rep. Mary Mushinsky, D-Wallingford, who attended the meeting, said she was happy to learn that most of the development will be built on the dry acidic forest portion of the property. There are about 6.9 acres of sand barren on the 25-acre site.
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