Engineer fields questions on proposed Pepper Street project

In a busy session that spanned more than three hours on June 7, the Monroe Planning & Zoning Commission weighed several proposals from property owners — the most contentious of which was a property at 485 Pepper St., where owner sought permission for the outdoor storage of vehicles.

That measure, brought by Solli Engineering on behalf of businessman Joseph Grasso, involved a public hearing continued from the commission’s May 17 meeting.

Grasso filed a special exception permit application to permit the storage of building materials and construction equipment at the site. That equipment currently consists of four pickup trucks. The property is in an I3 industrial zone but has had a nonconforming residence on it, which is now vacant. Thus, any switch to the industrial use called for by zoning would nonetheless also require an approved change of use. Therein lay the source of contention between the commission and Grasso, Solli and four other partial owners of the property.

P&Z Administrator Will Agresta said that the applicant said the property’s principal use would be the store of materials and construction equipment.

“However, the storage of equipment outdoors is an accessory use,” to interior operations, said Agresta.

In this case there will be no indoor work, countered Kevin Solli, president of Monroe-based Solli Engineering, the project’s engineer.

“Our applicant is not looking to use the single-family residence, but has no plans to abandon it, either,” said Solli. “The regulations don’t say storage has to be indoors.”

Solli added that the property owners are willing to install a fence along the front of the property and to cut down some trees and shrubbery to improve egress from its driveway. The exit is at a slight curve in Pepper Street and poses a sight-distance hazard.

“This could be better addressed by moving the driveway southward,” said Town Engineer Scott Schatzlein.

More development ahead

Solli noted that Grasso has other plans in store for the property, which will be the topic of a separate application, and wishes to keep any current modifications simple. This will avoid the need to install and then remove pavement later this year when that second development project begins.

Grasso needed the change-of-use permit, and to park vehicles on the property, to meet the requirements of an unnamed bank. It is providing financing to Grasso to develop the property.

“But if you go from a residential to industrial use, you have to bring it up to industrial-zoning requirements,” said Agresta, adding that, in challenging Solli’s application, he was relying on comments from the town’s attorney on the matter.

Several commissioners seemed inclined to support the measure, but Chairman William Porter voiced his displeasure.

“You’re asking us to approve an application that meets none of our zoning regulations,” said Porter, who added that doing so could open up the commission — and the town — to litigation from unhappy applicants in the future.

Brian Cummings of Sandy Hook spoke briefly during the public comment portion of the hearing. Cummings is the husband of one of the property owners, and said he could not understand the difficulty posed by this application.

“There is a factory across the street (from 485 Pepper St.) that pulls 40-foot trailers in and out all day long, with no incidents, and there are Dumpsters all over the property,” said Cummings. “If it’s so important to the town of Monroe’s counsel, why isn’t he here?”

Ultimately, the commission moved to continue deliberations through its next meeting, which is scheduled for June 21. The result may be a series of recommended conditions and limitations on Solli’s proposal.

Other P&Z agenda items

Among other business, the P&Z Commission also acted on a host of other applications and requests.

  • 50 Cambridge Drive — This is the site of Axel Plastics, and was the topic of a hearing at the P&Z’s May 3 meeting. The commission approved its application for a permit approval amendment modification, which allows for an exterior chemical storage container exterior storage container; three exterior overflow tanks; chain-link fence storage compound; reconfiguration of parking; and the relocation of its Dumpster enclosure and reserved parking.
  • 233-235 Monroe Turnpike — The commission approved a 120-day extension for this project. The owner of this property wants to convert vacant houses into low-density professional office space.
  • 154 Enterprise Drive — The commission approved a 90-day extension for this project, which is owned by J&S Industries, LLC, a tree-trimming concern. It seeks to add “landscaper or arborist” as a principal special-exception use within a class 2 industrial district (I-2), which is where the property is located.
  • Victoria Drive — The commission gave its final okay to a request to raise the maximum height of industrial buildings, from 45 to 55 feet. The proposal also called for the approval of silos not to exceed 65 feet and 10 percent of the total building area. That measure was also approved. The potential tenant for this property is still under wraps.
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