Pros and cons aired during hearing for Grillo landscaping operation

Residents had to wait until the new year to comment on a proposed Grillo Services landscaping products operation at 553 West Ave., but when they had their turn at the microphone, they had plenty to say at a nearly four hour Jan. 5 Planning and Zoning Board (P&Z) public hearing attended by about 75 people.

The 13 people who spoke in favor of the Grillo plan on West Avenue said Milford should support a local business, which is attempting to remain in Milford, works with natural products and has supported community organizations with donations.

The 14 people who opposed the plan said they are concerned about the volume of truck traffic passing through a residential neighborhood in close proximity to JFK School and the noise that would be generated by the processing machines.

Speaking in favor, Mary Pedwano of 12 Sharon Court said, “They have been a great asset to the city for 20 years.” She said the company has donated its products to the Boy Scouts, schools and community gardens.

Anthony Paiva of 1107 Naugatuck Ave., said he has been a Grillo customer since the company opened 20 years ago. Paiva also cited Grillo’s community donations, including $500 in ticket purchases for the Jonathan Law community to see the movie Heaven is for Real, following the death of Maren Sanchez.

Paiva said the state has mandated leaf recycling since 1990. Prior to Grillo’s operation, he said the city had to ship its leaves to Lebanon. He said Grillo would plant trees and shrubs, which would offset the carbon dioxide generated by the leaf composting.

Earl Dancy of 1277 Naugatuck Ave., said he is the business manager at Kingdom Life Church. He said he has used Grillo products on a few occasions. Dancy urged the board to support a small business that pays taxes.

“I am not sure why we would create hurdles and obstacles for an existing business in the city.”

Brett Doran of 64 Harvest Lane said he lives within 2,000 feet of the current site. Doran said, “They have been excellent neighbors.” He said Grillo’s hours are early, the company donates to local school and sport programs, and asked, “Think about what else could be there.”

Mark Bernier, owner of Country Meadow Tree and Landscaping, said he is one of many small businesses that uses Grillo’s products. Bernier said, “I have a big problem with where to dispose of logs and leaves, a big problem. I looked into other places and there is no other place to go.” He said the Grillos “are easy to work with” and he purchases mulch and soil from them. “A lot of container companies won’t take what they take. It is not economical to truck it three towns over,” said Bernier.
Traffic, Noise Raise Concerns
The first to speak in opposition was James Trowbridge of 18 Audubon Close, who said he represents the 58-unit condominium association, located at the corner of Naugatuck Avenue and Grinnell Street. He presented a petition opposing the plan, signed by 135 residents of West Avenue, Kendall Green and Audubon Manor.

Trowbridge said the plan would introduce heavy truck traffic to West Avenue with 168 trucks per day coming by JFK School. He said teachers would be competing with the noise generated by truck traffic.

Trowbridge complained about the routes currently taken by Grillo drivers, saying they would use Grinnell Street, Plains Road, and Naugatuck Avenue, despite a city ordinance prohibiting through trucks on these roads.

Trowbridge questioned why Grillo needs to duplicate having a stump grinder and rock screener on the West Avenue site “unless they are planning on moving that whole operation up there.”

Mary San Marco of 27 Lucius Court, located at Gloria Commons condominiums on West Avenue on the west side of I-95, said, “This is not the right location for this project.” She said Grillo’s equipment would be noisy, the piles of materials and the Quonset hut would be unsightly, and there would be smells from compost and diesel fumes.

San Marco said the condominium already has a considerable amount of truck noise and trash from I-95, which borders the property. She said the adjacent city-operated sewer pump station makes a humming noise and can have a strong sewage smell on a bad day.

“West Avenue is mainly a residential area. We already have many speeding vehicles,” said San Marco.

Joseph Bogdan of 3 Audubon Close said he was a Milford police officer for 25 years, 20 of them in the traffic division. Bogdan said there are five condominium complexes within half a mile of the Grillo property.

“The residents of Caswell Cove have long complained to the city about the odors and smells from decaying materials,” he said.

Bogdan said the Grillos were cited in 2009 for expanding their operations beyond the approved 3.7 acres to 11 acres on the current site. “Will this behavior repeat itself on West Avenue?” asked Bogdan.

Bogdan said he has seen Grillo trucks as early as 6:30 a.m. and they are operating daily at 7:30 a.m. Based on 168 trucks per day, this would mean a truck every three to three and a half minutes on West Avenue, he said.

“Grillo is not a bad operation. It is a bad location for this type of business,” said Bogdan.

Luther Reinhold of 1433 Naugatuck Ave. said he is a retired professional engineer and a former member of the Zoning Board of Appeals. Reinhold said despite signs on Plains Road and Naugatuck Avenue warning of a $100 fine for trucks using these roads, trucks exit I-95 at Plains Road as a shortcut to Bic Drive and Oronoque Road. He said he did a traffic count at the intersection of Plains Road and Naugatuck Avenue on July 10 from 7:25 to 9:55 a.m. He said he counted 16 trucks, 11 of which were going to and from Grillo.

Clifford Mason of 1427 Naugatuck Ave. said the uses proposed by Grillo fall into the category of heavy industry, which he said is not suitable for the West Avenue site, and are not permitted in the current zone.

“You have to protect the citizens of the city of Milford by simply enforcing the zone in the area,” said Mason.

Pat O’Brien of 80 Audubon Close said she is a licensed arborist who had a tree service and landscaping company, and was a customer of Grillo for many years.

“I would hate to see them leave Milford,” said O’Brien.

O’Brien said that she would ask her drivers why they were late in getting back and they told her they were lined up at Grillo waiting to drop off materials.

“The worst time of day at their facility is after 3 p.m. when school kids are getting out,” said O’Brien, who also commented, “It does not belong in a residential area.
Applicant Rebuts Concerns
Responding to public concerns, Stone made reference to a remark made in conjunction with the failed re-election campaign of George H.W. Bush saying, “It sounds like, “It’s the traffic, stupid,” said Grillo’s attorney Brian M. Stone. Stone said Audubon Close is on the other side of I-95 from the Grillo property, commenting, “They wouldn’t do that route. It doesn’t make sense.”

Stone said any comments about traffic on West Avenue being dangerous or congested are “speculation,” saying the traffic report showed, “Traffic levels are an A. This site produces a very modest amount of traffic, lower traffic than a DO zone.” He said the police department did not have any concerns with traffic.

Stone said the Inland-Wetlands Agency, working with wetlands scientist Dr. Michael Klemens, supported the proposal, which includes a site clean-up, followed by landscaping with native plant species.

“Nobody in the surrounding neighborhood will hear noise due to the distance from this property,” said Stone.

Also responding to concerns was company co-owner Michael Grillo who said, “We will not be using Grinnell Street for truck traffic.” He said he has directed his drivers to use Bic Drive and not Plains Road, which he said should result in “a large reduction in my large trucks” and if that does not work, he will again sit down with his drivers to remind them of this.

Grillo said the company might generate 168 truck trips per day in its peak season of April and May. However, he said the company had seven truck trips the day of the public hearing and 12 on a day the week before the hearing. He said Gloria Commons is 300 feet away from the proposed entrance. Grillo said he met with the condominium board members at Gloria Commons and twice invited them to the Oronoque Road site to see the operation.

“They never showed up,” said Grillo. “They didn’t want to be proven wrong. There’s no smell. The smell dissipates within an hour.”

He said it would take a five-year period to have the West Avenue site fully operational, and the Oronoque Road site would remain open. He said there is no way Grillo can move its process facility from an 18-acre site on Oronoque Road to an 8-acre site on West Avenue.

Grillo said, “We have a massive landscaping plan with thousands of trees and shrubs.” He said the operation would be 250 feet from West Avenue and would not be visible. He said the wetlands have 12 feet of silt from I-95, which Grillo would remove. He said Grillo would dedicate $20,000 over a four-year period under DEEP supervision to spray and mow the 40 acres of phragmites, until they are “totally eradicated”, which would create a better wildlife habitat.

“Our benefits to being there far outweigh not being there,” said Grillo, who said the company paid $60,000 in local taxes in 2015 and would pay $30,000 annually on the West Avenue property.