August 30, 2007
By JOHN FLOWERS
EAST MIDDLEBURY — J.P. Carrara & Sons officials have offered to scale back their proposed use of an expanded gravel pit they hope to operate off School House Hill Road, in an effort to address neighborhood concerns about truck traffic, noise and dust their project would generate in East Middlebury.
Neighbors remain concerned about Carrara’s plans, however, and on Monday presented Middlebury’s Development Review Board (DRB) with a petition urging, among other things, that the town call for an “independent, expert evaluation of all impacts to (the East Middlebury) community, related to health, safety, traffic, property values, the environment, aesthetics and quality of life that would result from the proposed expansion of the Carrara gravel pit.”
It was earlier this summer that Carrara proposed to extend its 23.4-acre gravel pit by 15.3 acres to the east. The company also wants to excavate sand and gravel on another 5 acres to the west of School House Hill Road.
Carrara officials had originally sought permission to run an average of 4,500 truck trips per year (and as many as 125 daily) from the gravel pit approximately two miles to the company’s processing facility on Route 116.
But on Monday, Carrara property manager Bill Townsend proposed amendments to the company’s gravel pit application calling for:
• A maximum of 3,500 truck trips per year, with no more than 90 round-trips in one day.
• The paving of access roads into the pit area to cut down on dust kicked up at the site. Load bearing trucks would also be covered with tarp, according to Townsend.
• Moving one of the proposed primary access points to the expanded pit further south on School House Hill Road so that it is further from area homes.
• Installation of new back-up signals on loaders that would emit a “static” type of noise that is considered to be less shrill than the “beep, beep” noises that are currently standard in the industry.
• Installation of a 6-foot-tall wooden fence at the southern boundary of the existing gravel pit property, as a safety precaution. The fence would be located on East Middlebury Fire District property.
“We want to make (the project) as palatable as possible,” Townsend said. “We feel like we are a strong part of the community.”
A majority of the more than 50 citizens who showed up at Monday’s hearing listened intently to Carrara’s revised plans, but still weren’t sold on the notion that the project could be made compatible with the surrounding residential neighborhood.
Residents are primarily concerned about the continuation of trucks rumbling close to homes, playgrounds and other public venues along Route 125 and School House Hill Road. They also voiced concerns about whether the new excavation of gravel could deplete or contaminate the aquifer that feeds private East Middlebury wells, and how the pit extension could affect residential property values.
“(The gravel pit) may be part of the character of this village, but I think it is a blight on the character of this village,” said resident Ralph Esposito.
There were no zoning regulations when the gravel pit was purchased by Carrara during the early 1970s. The proposed gravel pit expansion must earn a conditional use permit from the DRB, along with an Act 250 permit.
The DRB will spend the coming weeks judging the Carrara gravel pit application based on how it complies with local zoning ordinances. Carrara officials will have to prove, among other things, that their project will “not cause unreasonable traffic congestion or unsafe conditions with respect to pedestrian or vehicular traffic; and that it will not have an undue adverse impact of the scenic or natural beauty of the area, aesthetics or historic sites.”
Residents on Monday said they believe Carrara’s project will have a hard time meeting those tests.
Piper Road resident Reiner Winkler noted passages in Middlebury’s town plan that speak to “improving community life” in neighborhoods.
“It seems to me that opening the pits runs counter to that, because there would be a lot more traffic and pedestrian activity … will be changed,” Winkler said.
“If we know that tomorrow, 60 or even more trucks are going back and forth, that’s a day not to walk through town; that’s a day not to go out with our day care group to the playground,” Winkler added. “What kind of approach is that to community life. It just won’t work together.”
East Main Street resident Jason Mittell pointed to language in the town plan indicating that the “existence of one conditional use in a residential neighborhood will not necessarily be interpreted as justification for another similar conditional use to be located there.” In other words, project opponents are hoping that the DRB will not be predisposed to approve the pit expansion application just because a pit has already been operating in the vicinity for several decades.
“This, to me, is the ultimate wedge in this issue,” Mittell said. “We need to bracket off that existing pit to think about the new one.”
Mittell added the DRB should consider whether “a gravel pit be permitted in East Middlebury, not ‘should a current pit be extended.’”
At this point, the DRB is treating the Carrara application as an expansion of a single, existing gravel pit — including the proposed new segment on the west side of School House Hill Road. Equipment would not be operating in both expansion areas at the same time, according to the application.
East Main Street resident Pat Berry said he believes the gravel pit extension would run counter to a Middlebury town plan recognition that the Forest Ridge neighborhood (located near the project site) is likely to become a growth center for the community.
“Certainly, the proposal would bifurcate the community,” Berry said. “This either is a growing, mixed-residential area, or it’s not.”
Carrara officials maintained the gravel pit expansion would not hurt the neighborhood. Townsend said East Middlebury property values have remained robust in spite of ongoing activities at the existing pit, which has an estimated five more years of life.
“Whatever effect it has on property values is there,” Townsend said. “A continued use doesn’t have an incremental effect going forward, because it’s already been built in.
“My feeling is that if you look at houses on East Main Street or in that community, property values have appreciated consistent with the rest of the town of Middlebury during the past 30 years,” Townsend added.
He suggested the benefit of the gravel pit can be seen in the local economy.
“I know it’s difficult to see the benefit, because there is no direct benefit to any one of you, and I realize that,” Townsend said. “But it is a benefit to our community to have a company that employs over 100 people and none of the people that have jobs at J.P. Carrara are here to speak to that.”
Townsend acknowledged J.P. Carrara & Sons would probably not go out of business if it fails to secure a permit for the gravel pit extension, though he said “it (would) make it a lot more challenging to be competitive.”
He explained the firm would have to truck in more gravel and sand from New York, which adds miles and expense to Carrara’s operation.
“If we can get them from two miles down the road, that, in a global sense, is a lot better than 40 miles down the road in New York,” Townsend said.
Company officials added they hope to use excavated fill from the expanded pit to use as cover in reclaiming the current pit. Because the existing pit preceded zoning rules, there is nothing to require that Carrara reclaim the site according to today’s standards.
The DRB will reconvene its public hearing on the gravel pit application on Sept. 24. In the meantime, the panel has scheduled visits to the pit expansion sites on Wednesday, Sept. 5, at 4 p.m., and on Thursday, Sept. 6, at 4 p.m.