By Lauren Takores
WALLINGFORD — The Planning and Zoning Commission voted Monday night to deny a special permit to build two warehouses on the former Bristol-Myers Squibb property.
The 4-1 decision stops a plan for the largest industrial buildings in town. The crowd gathered at Town Hall reacted with a standing ovation.
Residents who opposed the plan rallied outside before the meeting and displayed signs inside during the meeting. Their main concerns were quality-of-life issues, including truck traffic, increased noise and light, and water protection.
The public hearing closed last month and no further public comments were heard Monday night. Commission members discussed the proposal with town officials.
PZC Chairman Jim Seichter appointed alternate Steven Allinson to vote in his place, since he missed last three meetings due to business, he said. He also chose commissioner Rocco Matarazzo to chair the discussion.
Commissioner Jeffrey Kohan said he believed that the board did not evaluate all the criteria and instead focused too much on truck traffic.
Under IX zone regulations, warehouses are a permitted use, but anticipated traffic triggered the special permit review.
Commissioner James Fitzsimmons made the motion to deny, citing the information presented related to traffic, the criteria for evaluating special permits, specifically appropriation of location of use including the size and intensity of the proposed use, maintaining the characteristic of the existing neighborhood and the effect on the neighborhood, the capacity of the adjacent streets to handle peak traffic and hazards created by the use, the impact on noise, light, air “in addition to all the comments that have been raised.”
The sole dissenting vote was from Armand “Frenchy” Menard.
“I’m basing my decision on the regulations, our staff, the engineers,” he said. “They’re the ones who know more about this than I do.”
Calare Properties, owner the former BMS campus at 5 Research Parkway, applied for a special permit to build two warehouses and offices on the property in July 2018.
Calare’s attorney, Dennis Ceneviva, said Monday after the vote that he plans to talk with his client before announcing the next steps.
The commission’s decision, he said, “was expected as it went through the night.”
Calare purchased the site for $5 million in February 2018. The approximately 180-acre campus consists of the main building, maintenance building and power plant, which were built in 1985, and a preschool that was built in 2000.
Calare’s redevelopment plan would raze the current buildings and build two warehouses totaling 1.1 million square feet, which would more than double the developed space on the property.
According to a traffic study, the warehouses would generate around 1,800 trips daily, from 4 a.m. to midnight. A trip is either in or out of the property. About a third of that traffic would be trucks.
Because the developers would need to level the hillside through a cut-and-fill process to build the warehouses on flat land, they proposed both ripping and blasting the bedrock.
The property is in the Wallingford Watershed Protection District, 3.5 miles north of Mackenzie Reservoir. Residents with property that abuts the site raised concerns at public hearings about proposed cut-and-fill operations, and whether blasting would contaminate their water wells.
BMS announced plans to close its Wallingford plant in June 2015 and planned from the start to leave by 2018. At the time, BMS was Wallingford’s top taxpayer and one of the town’s largest employer with about 900 local employees.
The company paid $2.96 million in local taxes in 2014. In the years that followed, BMS sued the town to have its local taxes lowered to reflect the property’s drop in market value.
In February 2017, the PZC changed the industrial zone regulations to eliminate religion, education and philanthropy as accepted land uses, which prevented the sale of the property to a boarding school. BMS appealed the decision, but a Hartford Superior Court judge dismissed the lawsuit in June 2018.