MIDDLEBURY — The developers of a proposed gravel pit off Route 116 in Middlebury told a crowd of more than 80 neighbors at a public hearing in a packed Ilsley Library conference room Monday that their plan would not appreciably add to noise or traffic in the residential area.
Neighbors, however, weren’t buying those claims and asked for more time — as much as four-and-a-half months — to properly back up their own contentions about how the proposal would detract from their quality of life. They also said the proposal should be dismissed outright since they claimed a portion of it violated town zoning.
At issue is a proposed 16-acre gravel pit that Ronald and Susan Fenn are proposing to develop on a portion of a 70-acre parcel they own east of Route 116, just north of its intersection with Quarry Road. The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) on Monday held the first of what could be several public hearings on the Fenns’ revised project plan. The couple’s development team — including a noise consultant, a geologist, an engineer and a lawyer — spent more than two-and-a-half hours unveiling the project, which calls for:
• The gravel pit to be excavated in four phases of four acres each. Plans call for each four-acre portion to be reclaimed and landscaped before the next four-acre phased is commenced, according to project designer John Petrowski of Trudell Consulting Engineers Inc. Petrowski estimated the 16-acre pit could yield 684,000 cubic yards of gravel during its lifespan, or roughly 35,000 cubic yards per year for 20 to 30 years.
• Twenty round-trip truck trips in and out of the pit, which would be accessed via a new road off Route 116 that would be located approximately 120 feet north of the intersection with Quarry Road. The first 200 feet of the access road would be paved to reduce dust, according to Petrowski.
• The pit to be open from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., 180 days per year. Developers said they would erect signs on Route 116 to warn of entering and exiting traffic from the access road. They said they would erect berms along some of the borders of the pit in an effort to blunt noise and dust from escaping the site. Petrowski added that equipment operating within the pit would be fitted with sound abating devices, such as broadband backup alarms.
Eddie Duncan, a “sound consultant” with the firm Resource Systems Group, said he conducted tests at and near the site that he claimed demonstrated the project would not appreciably add to current noise volumes in the neighborhood, so long as the developer takes certain mitigation measures.
Duncan said he set up sound monitoring devices at the site, 90 feet away and 1,350 feet away. At 90 feet away, he said the projected average daytime noise level was 53 decibels, while the average daytime noise level as 1,350 feet away was 48 decibels. For comparison, he said a typical conversation averages 50-60 decibels and a truck passing by averages around 78 decibels. The state “standard” for noise level, according to Duncan, is a maximum average of 55 decibels.
“The highest (average) sound level modeled was 56 decibels at nearby residences produced by trucks entering and exiting the site,” Duncan said.
Duncan said developers could mitigate noise issues by installing a series of berms shielding the neighborhood from the pit, by “keeping the site as vegetated as possible,” and by limiting any screening or crushing of gravel to one area of the pit.
“If our recommendations are implemented, the proposed project will not have an undue, adverse impact on aesthetics with regard to noise,” Duncan said.
When given a chance to respond to the presentation, some neighbors said the maximum noise levels were how they would experience disruptions, not just the average levels.
Steve Revell of Lincoln Applied Geology said his boring tests have shown the presence of ample “saleable” gravel and stone products, a finding he said dovetails with the presence of other pits already operating in the same area. Among them is a nearby pit operated by J.P. Carrara & Sons, an operation that has applied to the town for permission to expand. Revell added his studies show that operation of a pit on the Fenn property would not affect two nearby municipal wells.
“The aquifer flows to the northwest, away from the town wells,” Revell said.
Advocates for the project claimed the additional truck trips generated by the new pit would not significantly add to the 421 truck trips the Vermont Agency of Transportation currently estimates travel on Route 116 each day right now.
“That gravel is going to be needed whether it comes from this proposed gravel pit, or one of the existing gravel pits already on Route 116,” Petrowski said.
Neighbors pointed out that the proposed access road to the pit would enter Route 116 at a particularly hazardous point, not far from a curve and a hill that obstructs views. Board member Skip Brush noted that there has been a fatal accident in that area.
All of information provided by the Fenn team came as little solace to neighbors, many of whom hail from the nearby Mead Lane, Route 116, Drew Lane, Butternut Ridge Drive and the Lindale Mobile Home Park.
Pit opponents had hoped the DRB would quickly rule on their motions to dismiss the application, or suspend hearings until they had prepared their rebuttal to the recently refiled Fenn pit application. The Fenns had submitted a plan in August 2008, and then again nine months ago, but asked for (and were granted) more time to conduct studies to round out their application.
Resident Barbara Shapiro, among others, argued neighbors should be granted more time to hire experts to rebut the Fenn team’s claims on noise, traffic, pollution and other impacts of the project.
“They got as much time as they needed, and that’s fine, they had nine months,” Shapiro said. “Some of us would like to have at least half that time.”
MOTION TO DISMISS
Neighbors had also argued that while the proposed gravel pit would be excavated in the Forest-Conservation District (where pits may be allowed as a conditional use), the access road would bisect the Medium-Density Residential zone — something that could not be permitted under current rules, resident Ron Kohn argued. For that reason, neighbors last month filed a motion that the DRB dismiss the application. The DRB did not act on that request on Monday, but is reserving the right to “rule on (the neighbors’ motions to dismiss the application or suspend hearings) at any time,” according to Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington.
Mark G. Hall, the Fenns’ lawyer, has argued that the neighbors’ motion to dismiss is based on the opposition’s “misreading of the Middlebury zoning regulations.” Moreover, he argued that the DRB is not empowered to dismiss any application.
Kohn said the DRB — by not acting on the neighbors’ motions and by not offering what they argued should have been a timely notification of the Fenn application refilling — had denied the pit opponents due process.
“This application is totally revised; this isn’t a small revision, it’s a total revision,” Kohn said. “We haven’t had an opportunity to review it.”
DRB officials said neighbors will be given an opportunity to weigh in on the project during upcoming hearings, with the next one scheduled for Monday, Oct. 26.
Although the hearing room was packed when the proceedings started around 7 p.m., some of those in attendance left as the Fenn team’s presentation dragged on past 9:30 p.m. Those that stayed got a little more than an hour to voice their questions and concerns.
TRAFFIC, POLLUTION, NOISE AND MORE
Residents gave some initial reactions late Monday evening after the Fenn team had delivered its project presentation. Opponents voiced concern about adding trucks to a road that they said has already seen its share of accidents; air pollution that would emanate from the gravel trucks; noise disruption; and the potential impact on nearby historic properties, including the Clinton Smith Schoolhouse.
Some neighbors said they are already inconvenienced by noise from the Carrara gravel pit.
“The Carrara pit is about a mile down the road from me and it wakes me up at 7 in the morning, and it is very annoying all day long,” said Route 116 resident Wendy Goodwin. “When there are more and more trucks going by and there are crushers and screeners and all these other things, now we are into a really subjective state of noise.
“I would put forth that that many trucks a day is definitely a substantial, repeated disturbance for all of us who live in that area,” she added.
Resident Virginia Heidke urged the town to consider helping neighbors find the resources to argue their case in future hearings. And she noted that while the neighborhood won’t see any economic benefit from the project, it would have to bear some of the burdens (traffic, noise) that would go with it.
“That seems really unreasonable,” she said.