Orange scrutinizes proposal for ‘Stew Leonard’ property

Property for sale on the corner of Marsh Hill Road in Orange and I-95 S, Exit 41.

Property for sale on the corner of Marsh Hill Road in Orange and I-95 S, Exit 41.

A public hearing that could propel a proposal for a 40,000-square-foot service/wholesale distribution center and additional structures on property now owned by Stew Leonard Jr. has been continued to Oct. 9, when the Inland Wetlands and Water Courses Commission meets again.

The hearing was continued because of a bevy of questions raised by town engineer Robert H. Brinton Jr. in a memo and by commission members. The Inland Wetlands department is the first stop in the permitting process. The next likely will be the Town Plan and Zoning Commission.

Developer Scannell Properties LLC is looking to build the new complex, which would include a fueling facility, maintenance shop and offices at 161 Marsh Hill Road. The development would total 63,000 square feet.

Attorney John W. Knuff, of the firm Hurwitz Sagarin Slossberg & Knuff, who represents Scannell Properties, declined to comment.

His client has also declined to comment or elaborate on the plan that has already created a stir in town among residents because of the “fueling facility” and “maintenance shop” aspects, leading some to speculate the project is a truck stop.

First Selectman James Zeoli did not respond to requests seeking comment.

The site — which looks like a never-ending cornfield near Interstate 95’s Exit 41 — is where Stew Leonard Jr. had dreamed of building a supermarket and petting zoo for 14 years before giving up in 2010.

The 41-acre property, used for agriculture today and since 1934, remains under Leonard’s ownership. He’s been trying to sell it since 2012.

The Inland Wetlands and Water Courses Commission began the public hearing Sept. 11 after lengthy discussions ahead of time with the developer.

The company the developer is working for has not been revealed, but in an application narrative at Town Hall, it is stated: “Applicant has a strong desire to be part of the town of Orange community.”

Commission Vice Chairwoman Diana Ross requested the applicant bring back a three-year plan for plantings on the east side of the property, the meeting minutes state.

Chairman Rick Mangione was concerned with the ground water and “type of wall that would be erected,” as well as that Kirschner referred to two-feet sump pumps as “deep sumps” that would actually be four feet.

Brinton’s more technical memo to the commission contains 16 suggestions for the developer and Knuff said at the end of the last meeting that they would be addressed at the Oct. 9 meeting.

Included in Brinton’s memo is to consider installing hydrodynamic separators upstream from the underground infiltration systems and the surface infiltration basin, to capture oil, trash, and sediment from paved areas; he asks for additional information regarding construction of the retaining wall in the vicinity of wetlands three and four; he notes the top of pond elevation for the infiltration basin is on plans as 110 feet on two drawings, but the contours show the top of embankment as elevation 100 feet. He also wrote in the memo that a state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection dam permit is “expected to be required” for the infiltration basin; a DEEP construction stormwater general permit registration is expected for the project, and more.

The only resident to voice an opinion on the plan at the hearing was George Finlay of Indian River Road, who commented that it was a “big development,” according to the yet to be approved minutes at Town Hall. Finlay asked the applicant’s team how they were going to take care of cleaning up the oil and handling “toxic solutions,” the minutes state.

One of the developer’s engineers, Nathan Kirschner of Langan Engineering and Environmental Services, answered that an oil and water separator would be used for the garage facility, then that would move into the sanitary sewers, according to meeting minutes.

The property contains five wetlands totaling 6,780 square feet, two of which are manmade and would be eliminated under the plan. Also living on the property are Eastern box turtles and smooth green snakes, both of which are listed as being of “special concern” in the state and “offered protection” by the Connecticut Endangered Species Act, according to a narrative of the plan filed at Town Hall. They are located in an isolated area of the property.

At the requirement of DEEP, the developers have a plan for those species — a species protection during construction, according to the plan’s narrative. That will include avoiding the area where they are located and educating contractors and subcontractors and monitoring of construction activity by an expert.

Experts representing the developer at the public hearing that started Sept. 11 told the commission they have a “robust” storm water treatment plan.

A soil scientist on the team told the commission the plan would not significantly affect the wetlands on the other end of the property.

The property is in a Light Industrial 2 zone. The property price is not listed for the public to see, but at one point Leonard was seeking $14.5 million for the Marsh Hill Road property. He paid $2.2 million for the land in 1996.

Leonard’s plan was defeated largely because of the dogged persistence of the grassroots group Save Our Neighborhood — or SON — which challenged him in court after every approval from a town board or commission. At the time he announced that he was giving up, Leonard said it was clear Orange didn’t want him and he had spent enough on lawyers.

Tangoe, a software company headquartered in Orange, was to move on to the site, but that plan for a four-story office building fell through. Shelton developer R.D. Scinto, had an option to buy the land from Leonard, had hoped to build the Tangoe headquarters, but that has expired.