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Industrial Mega-Project A No-Go For Hawleyville

Published: March 11, 2019 at 02:35 pm

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Following their review of a Hawleyville proposal to construct what would be the largest industrial/office complex ever built locally, Inland Wetlands Commission (IWC) members have unanimously rejected the project, turning down a requested wetlands/watercourses protection permit.

Voting in opposition to the development proposal from Hawleyville Properties LLC were IWC Chairman Sharon Salling, Craig Ferris, Michael McCabe, Kristen Hammar, and Vanessa Villamil. The March 1 vote came at a special meeting that was held after an initially planned February 27 session was canceled due to adverse weather. No representatives of the developer attended the March 1 session.

The development firm proposed construction of a warehouse/medical office complex that would contain 583,500 square feet of enclosed space in the form of three warehouses and one medical office building at a 138-acre site near Exit 9 of Interstate 84. The rugged site is comprised of 10 Hawleyville Road, 90 Mount Pleasant Road, and 1 Sedor Lane.

A modified version of the project proposed by the developer had reduced the amount of wetlands at the site that would be filled, cutting it from 2.98 acres to 2.55 acres. The entire 138-acre site contains 15.6 acres of wetlands.

The project that was rejected by the IWC on March 1 represented the proposed construction of nearly 20 percent more enclosed space at the site than the IWC had approved for the property in July 2018. The developer never sought required Planning and Zoning Commission approval for the 2018 project.

In that earlier development proposal, Hawleyville Properties LLC received a requested wetlands/watercourses protection permit from the IWC for a 490,000-square-foot version of a warehouse/medical office project. That project initially was proposed as 525,000 square feet of new buildings but was reduced in scale by the developer after IWC members said a project of that size would result in too much wetlands filling. In the 490,000-square-foot version of the project, no wetlands would have been filled, compared to the 525,000-square-foot version of the project in which there would have been 0.11 acres of wetlands filling.

Before the IWC’s March 1 vote, Mr McCabe said, “It just seems to me that there are alternatives to developing this [site] that do not involve [filling] wetlands.”

The project could be developed differently than was proposed by the applicant, he said. “I do not feel comfortable with [the project] as presented.”

Ms Salling commented, “We approved a previous application for that property.” She added that the developer declined to provide the IWC with a time extension for the public hearing process on the latest application, as was requested by the IWC. During such time extensions, modified development plans typically are explored. Developers almost always grant time extensions for additional public hearings when they are requested by local land use agencies.

Rationale

In rejecting the 583,500-square-foot development proposal on March 1, IWC members provided detailed reasons for their action.

IWC members agreed that the developer did not provide suitable alternative development plans for the project that would have fewer adverse effects on wetlands and watercourses. Also, the developer’s modified plans, which reduced the proposed amount of wetlands filling from 2.98 to 2.55 acres, amounted to “a negligible amount of alteration relative to the scope of the entire project.”

Also, IWC members stated they had made various suggestions to the developer concerning wetlands/watercourses protection at the site, which the developer did not pursue. Those suggestions included reducing the size, configuration, and/or number of buildings proposed for construction; alternately developing and providing access at the eastern section of the property near Mount Pleasant Road; considering some other commercial use of the site that would not generate as much traffic as was anticipated for Mount Pleasant Road; and constructing a wetlands crossing on the property’s central wetland with the goal of reducing the overall wetlands impact of the project.

In reference to recent comments from the developer concerning the high development costs of the project and thus the need to construct a large project for economic reasons, IWC members agreed that “A mere showing of expense will not necessarily mean a (developmental) alternative is imprudent.”

The steep, rugged terrain at the site contains extensive wooded wetlands and areas with very dense to impenetrable brush. The site is bordered on the north by eastbound I-84 and its Exit 9 on-ramp, on the northeast by agricultural open space land, on the southeast by the residential Whippoorwill Hill Road neighborhood, on the south by Mount Pleasant Road, and on the west by Hawleyville Road.

The version of the project rejected by the IWC on March 1 would have provided vehicle access via a dead-end street extending from the east side of Hawleyville Road, across Hawleyville Road from Covered Bridge Road. The version of the project that was approved by the IWC in 2018 provided that access point as well as another access point via dead-end street extending from Mount Pleasant Road, west of Whippoorwill Hill Road.

Town officials have long considered the site to be an obvious location for economic development in light of its proximity to Exit 9 of I-84. The town’s 2016 extension of the Hawleyville sanitary sewer system to the Exit 9 area sparked several development projects for nearby land.

 

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