PZC tells landscaper to shelve trash bins; Famous Johnny’s applies to covert to Food Mart
By Kym Soper
VERNON — A local landscaper got the green light to operate his business on Dart Hill Road, but the Planning and Zoning Commission nixed his bid to store any trash bins on the site, which borders a playground and a hiking trail.
Ellington-based Timber Ridge Landscaping has been under a cease and desist order since December following complaints from neighbors that the new business in the former carpet and flooring showroom was little more than a landfill operation.
When owner Ben Carlson first moved into the 6,000-square-foot building at 670 Dart Hill Road last winter he had workers clear trees and brush and filled the yard with more than 30 empty trash bins, earthmoving equipment, and trucks.
Residents immediately complained, saying the new business brought blight, noise, and safety hazards to their bucolic neighborhood.
The property is near the entrance of a playground and the Hockanum River Linear Trail in a residential area just west of Skinner Road and east of the Quail Hollow subdivision for residents age 55 and older.
Carlson owns up to 66, 14-by-8-foot trash bins he rents out to homeowners and construction contractors. He had planned to store up to 28 of his rotating stock on the Dart Hill Road site, with the remainder left on job sites.
Since the cease and desist order went into effect, Carlson said, he has been storing the bins at other various locations. But the busy summer season is about to start and he wanted them all centrally located at Dart Hill Road for pick up and delivery.
He told commission members that should they deny his application to store up to 28 trash bins on site, it would put him out of business.
According to Carlson’s lawyer, Walter A. Twachtman, Timber Ridge listened to the concerns of the PZC and neighbors and made significant and substantial improvements to the business plan. Those changes include installing a stockade fence around the trash bin area, a filtered drainage system to handle any hazardous runoff, and landscaping to screen neighbors from the operation.
But most commission members said they had environmental concerns, as there are no controls over what’s thrown into the trash bins, and also worried about noise levels as trucks load and off load the trash bins as early as 7 a.m.
It was not a good fit for the neighborhood, they said, voting 5 to 1 to deny only that aspect of the business.
“This is a tough application,” Watson “Chip” Bellows said before voting it down. “It would have been a great opportunity for the Economic Development Commissioner to coordinate with this young man trying to start up a business in this town.
“But the storage of Dumpsters is not conducive to the surrounding neighborhood,” Bellows added. “It’s a good business but the wrong place.”
Commission member Ralph Zahner agreed.
“I’ve been wrestling with this one,” Zahner said. “But I can’t see allowing 28 Dumpsters there if there’s a secondary location now for him to store them. It can’t be too much of a hardship.”
Commission member Sarah Icobello disagreed, however, saying the applicant should have received more guidance from town staff.
“Something went very wrong in the Planning Department when this was brought forward,” she said.
As to the issues of blight and security, Icobello said she recently visited the site and found a neighboring property where “junk” was stored in the yard.
“I don’t see the issues of safety as the park is separated by a parking lot and drive, and I didn’t see it as such an impact on the neighborhood as the Dumpsters will be screened and limited,” she said.
Chairman Lester Finkle was the only commission member to vote in favor of the application, agreeing with Iacobello who abstained.
In a separate matter Thursday night, the PZC accepted an application to convert the Famous Johnnies gas station and auto repair shop at the corner of West Street and Route 83 to Dania Food Mart, replacing the empty garage bays with aisles of snacks, milk, bread, and other convenience store items.
Because it is merely a conversion of an existing building, no public hearing is needed.
The gas pumps would remain, owner Mohammed Shoaib said, but the entire front window layout of the store would change.
Commission members voiced concerns over traffic congestion in the already overcrowded intersection. They also questioned if the business needed three entrances and exits.
“The traffic authority should really be brought in on this application. This is a significant spot,” Commission member Pat Settembrino said.
The application was continued to the commission’s May 15 meeting.
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