Gaida plan: State environmental officials to weigh in

Some of the tires found buried on the property at 405 Long Hill Ave., where a four-home development has been proposed. — Contributed photo

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) will be asked to weigh in on a proposed housing plan for 405 Long Hill Avenue due to multiple tires found buried on the site.

The tires were discovered on the 3.96-acre property when the most recent test pits were dug. Plan opponents have raised numerous environmental concerns related to past filling on the land.

The Planning & Zoning Commission put off a vote on the application to seek guidance from the DEEP.

At the April 24 meeting, developer engineer Fred D’Amico, right, and attorney Dominick Thomas explain the findings of the most recent test dig on the Gaida parcel, where a four-home development is proposed. — Brad Durrell/For Hearst Connecticut Media

Applicants Jack and Josephine Gaida want to establish a Planned Development District to put four single-family houses on the parcel, most of which is zoned for industrial use. A small portion near Long Hill Avenue is zoned for one-acre houses.

The April 24 meeting focused on the four most recent test pits dug on the land, which found the tires in the ground near where the existing driveway is located. Other test pits previously were dug elsewhere on the parcel.

Developer engineer Fred D’Amico estimated about 100 tires filled an area 25 feet long and eight feet wide in the ground. D’Amico and developer attorney Dominick Thomas said it appears the tires were used to create a retaining wall, mostly likely in the 1950s when the existing house and driveway were built.

They said the tires could remain in place and wouldn’t impact the new shared driveway for the development, which is slightly more south.

“They’re not hazardous,” said Thomas, stressing no evidence exists that a larger tire dump exists on the property.

Neighbor Joseph Bienkowski, at the April 24 meeting, presents P&Z members and staff with a bucket filled with materials he said was unearthed during the most recent test pit dig on the Gaida land. — Brad Durrell/For Hearst Connecticut Media

P&Z Interim Administrator Ken Nappi, who observed the test pit digging, said the tires weren’t found where the new driveway would be constructed.

Member Mark Widomski asked whether the DEEP had been contacted about the tires, and wondered if the site might be “an undocumented landfill.” He said tires can rise to the surface over time.

Widomski said “a reasonable solution” would be to have the DEEP check the site and offer “their professional opinion.” Perhaps the agency will conclude the tires aren’t an issue and can remain in the ground, he said. “I want to do it the right way.” Widomski said.

Thomas implied the P&Z was overreacting to the tires. “I think the DEEP would just laugh at us,” he said.

Alternate Nancy Dickal said she’d like to see the tires removed and asked if there’s been a high incidence of cancer in the immediate area. “Cancer is nothing to play around with,” she said, noting playground surfaces made from shredded tires have raised legitimate health issues.

“We just want to do our due diligence so it doesn’t turn into another Independence Drive,” Dickal said.

Two undeveloped lots on Independence Drive were filled with buried scrap rubber and related materials, which has since been unearthed but not removed.

Thomas said the developer would be willing to remove the tires, but that means a mature tulip tree would have to come down.

Member Charles Kelly said he’s OK with DEEP coming in but said “no one is trying to hide anything” based on all the testing and reports that have been done.

Neighbor Joseph Bienkowski said he believes about 1,000 tires are buried there, not 100, and claimed the equipment used for the test pits was inadequate to find them. He said allowing a housing development was wrong because of “unknown buried materials.”

Bienkowski presented the P&Z with a bucket of materials he said came out of the most recent test pits. He was among neighbors who observed the digging from an adjacent property.

Neighborhood resident Stephanie Thompson, said the tires could cause environmental problems for people living in the area, having been in the ground so long. She said tires are considered “a serious environmental concern” due to their “chemical makeup,” and can lead to soil, water and airborne contamination.

“I can’t express how concerned I am as a mother of a small child,” said Thompson, calling for a complete environmental cleanup of the Gaida land before any construction takes place.

Neighbor Steven Kampler said he observed tires protruding from the ground elsewhere on the Gaida property.

P&Z members agreed the DEEP could provide expert guidance on whether the tires are a serious problem. “They might settle this,” member Elaine Matto said.

Members decided to close the public hearing but allow a DEEP report to be admitted and considered before a vote on the application is taken. This means no more comments will be allowed by the public or developer.

The Gaidas have been trying for years to develop the land, which is across from Sylvan Drive and borders the Route 8 highway. They have proposed an industrial building, condominiums and more houses than the current four-home plan, all without success.

The newest Brookview Heights plan would set aside 2.1 acres as an undeveloped common area for the homeowners, with the houses clustered together off one driveway. Some P&Z members are concerned about the project’s density.