Wallingford wetlands commission may revoke permit for train loading operation

Wallingford wetlands commission may revoke permit for train loading operation

reporter photo

WALLINGFORD — After a property owner failed carry out a significant part of a wetlands damage mitigation agreement, the Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission is considering revoking its permit.

A public hearing is scheduled for Monday to consider the suspension or revocation of the wetlands permit granted in June to Benchmark Land Development, the property owner of 988 E. Center St., and the calling of a $5,000 bond.

Town Environmental Planner Erin O’Hare said Wednesday that the wetlands commission has never revoked a permit during her 15 years in Wallingford.

Benchmark, a North Branford-based company, acquired the property in 2011, according to town property records. 

Palumbo Trucking currently operates a transloading business on the 2-acre site, loading and unloading sand, utilizing a Providence and Worchester railroad spur track on the commercially zoned property. Records list David Palumbo as a member of Benchmark. He did not return a call for comment Thursday.

O’Hare issued a notice of wetlands violation in June 2018 because the property owner had filled half an acre of wetlands, among other violations.

It took a year for the violation to work its way through the wetlands commission. Removal work of the majority of the unpermitted fill concluded in April. Benchmark filed for a wetlands permit in May.

The commission granted its permit in June with several conditions of approval, including a $5,000 bond — specifically a planting plan bond, O’Hare said — that was posted by the developer in August.

The notice of violation remained in place even after the wetlands permit was granted.

The agreed-upon damage mitigation plan included the planting of 55 trees, 60 shrubs, 200 plugs of marsh plants and specialized seed with the understanding that it would be completed by the end of October, O’Hare said.

O’Hare said Wednesday that because they haven’t done the planting plan, at a meeting Nov. 6 the commission voted to revoke the permit and call the bond.

Under town regulations, a vote to revoke a permit does not result in immediate revocation. It starts a process in which the property owner has a chance to respond or comply.

Benchmark applied for a special permit for a non-conforming use from the Planning and Zoning Commission in August.

Attorney Dennis Ceneviva, who represents Benchmark member David Palumbo, said on Oct. 16 during a Planning and Zoning Commission meeting that the site has been used in nonconforming ways historically.

In the 1940s, it was the site of a grain and feed operation that used the railroad spur. After that, the site was used for a woodworking shop and then a construction yard, he said.

When Benchmark purchased the property in 2011, it was an “eyesore,” Ceneviva said. Benchmark removed several blighted buildings and cleared huge piles of debris from the wetlands left behind by the previous owner, he said.

The PZC application for a special permit seeks approval to remove last old building, build a new office and to change from one non-conforming use to another, less impactful, non-conforming use, Ceneviva said.

According to the zoning regulations, such a change is only allowed when the proposed non-conforming use is no more intensive than the existing non-conforming.

At the Oct. 16 meeting, several neighbors with abutting properties spoke during the public hearing.

Some complained about increased traffic to North Airline Road, increased train activity and activity before 6 a.m., and noise and sight line safety at the grade crossing.

Others said they were happy that the site has been cleaned up and that train activity and noise haven’t increased.

The PZC was slated to discuss the application at its Wednesday meeting, but the item was removed from the agenda. Town Planner Kacie Hand said the application is slated to go before the PZC in December.

The public hearing on whether to revoke the wetlands permit is scheduled for 7 p.m. Monday at Town Hall Room 116.

Twitter: @LCTakores