Orange wetlands commission approves application for Stew Leonard property

The 41-acre property at 161 Marsh Hill Road in Orange.

The 41-acre property at 161 Marsh Hill Road in Orange.

After a public hearing that spanned three meetings and included hours of talking by an attorney, engineers, a soil scientist and one resident in opposition, the Inland Wetlands and Water Courses Commission Tuesday night, Nov. 13, approved an application for the developer of a business-to-business distribution center to build on property owned by Stew Leonard.

The unanimous vote clears the way for the Town Plan and Zoning Commission to vote on an a temporary special use earth materials removal and filling application at the site by Stew Leonards Orange LLC, for the proposed construction of a 47,178-square-foot distribution facility and a 9,680-square-foot maintenance building.

They also submitted an application for sediment control measures.

The inland wetlands commission hearing was continued for a second time last month because of a bevy of questions raised by town engineer Robert H. Brinton Jr., who finally signed off on the project.

The 41-acre property at 161 Marsh Hill Road captivates residents because supermarket mogul Leonard tried to build a store there for years, stirring fierce debate, and since giving up has tried to sell the property for years to no avail.

The public hearing began Sept. 11.

Nearby Indian River Road resident George Finley, an engineer, has been the lone dissenter, claiming the many trucks at the center would put toxins into the environment.

“Who and what are going to protect the wetlands and the watercourses?” Finley asked.

In addition to the distribution center the proposed complex would include a fueling facility, maintenance shop and offices, for a total 63,000 square feet.

Both Attorney John Knuff and his client, Scannell Properties LLC, have declined to comment on what company will settle there, but they said it’s a nationally known firm located in a nearby town.

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 have said they have a “robust” stormwater 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. He paid $2.2 million for the land in 1996.