WALLINGFORD — Amazon is appealing the Planning and Zoning Commission’s denial of a special permit to develop the property at 5 Research Parkway into a warehouse and distribution center.
Amazon and the property development manager, Montante Construction, filed Sept. 30 in New Haven Superior Court, asking that the denial be overturned and included a request for “other relief,” according to court documents.
Montante, a Buffalo, New York-based developer, applied in January for a special permit to build a 219,000-square-foot, 17-dock Amazon delivery station building and parking lot on the former Bristol-Myers Squibb site.
The commission denied the permit application at its Sept. 13 meeting in a 3-to-2 vote.
Amazon stated in its filing that it believes the commission acted “illegally, arbitrarily and in abuse of its discretion.”
The court documents state that the commission’s denial “was not based upon substantial evidence,” but rather concerns about whether the Office of the State Traffic Administration would allow proposed traffic improvements, the fact that OSTA approval had not been obtained, and the fact that “Amazon did not exist when the surrounding road network was created,” court documents stated.
OSTA has exclusive jurisdiction over proposed developments that may generate enough traffic to substantially affect state highways, but does not undertake its formal review of applications until local planning and zoning commissions grant land use approval.
During the Sept. 13 meeting, commission member Jeff Kohan said that when the zoning regulations were adopted, Amazon didn’t exist, delivery stations didn’t exist, and that the regulations were “not designed to handle Amazon delivery traffic.”
Commission members cited a third-party peer review traffic study that ranked the intersections around the Interstate 91 exit 15 ramps and the Research Parkway and Route 68 intersection with the second-lowest grades possible, meaning the predicted traffic patterns had an adverse impact on drivers.
Amazon’s traffic consultant, BL Cos., concluded that although the proposed development “would result in some loss in the levels of service” at these intersections, the impacts could be mitigated through revisions to traffic signal timing, pavement markings and lane modifications. The consultant reached its conclusions after conducting a traffic study. Changes made, plan denied
The commission opened the public hearing on the Amazon plan April 12, but discussion began May 10. After three hours of discussion, the commission decided to continue talks June 14.
During the June meeting, the hearing was continued again, after more than four hours of discussion. The public hearing closed July 12.
The plaintiff’s representatives made “extensive changes” to the proposal to address the concerns raised by commission members, town officials and the public, court documents state — including reducing the number of parking spaces, adding landscaping, modifying access to parking areas, installing a sound barrier and changing an existing entrance/exit to emergency access only.
The commission held off voting on the plan in August because not enough members attended the meeting, and the special permit denial came Sept. 13.
Amazon said in its court filings that the town-hired traffic peer reviewer raised issues that are within OSTA’s authority, not the commission’s, and that the traffic analysis by BL Cos. with respect to peak holiday traffic found “acceptable levels of service at all nearby intersections other than a single off-ramp from Interstate 91.”
Amazon noted in its court filings that its interests “differ from those of the general public.” Many residents of the neighboring residential area and members of the public who attended the public hearings spoke against the proposal, saying it would affect their quality of life.
The commission rejected an application in January 2019 that would have allowed warehouses covering 1 million square feet to be built at the property. The Amazon plan is roughly 80 percent of that size.
The distribution center and warehouse would have been the third Amazon facility in town. Amazon operates a sortation center nearby at 29 Research Parkway, while Amazon Logistics operates a warehouse and distribution center on South Cherry Street.