Foes point to fill on Gaida housing site

How much and when fill material was placed on a Long Hill Avenue property was debated during a hearing on a proposed four-house development.
Property owners Jack and Josephine Gaida have proposed the Brookview Heights development at 405 Long Hill Ave.
Neighbor Joseph Bienkowski, who opposes the project, said filling occurred on the land from the 1950s until a few years ago.
This has included dumping of “clean and contaminated earth materials, rubber and latex, industrial waste, tires, barrels of unknown chemicals, foundry slag with its metal residue, and demolition material from various sources,” Bienkowski said at the Feb. 27 Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.

Neighbor Steven Kampler said any problems with fill must be determined before construction begins, asking that the developer be required to do deeper ground testing now. “Why not find that first?” asked Kampler, who also said the housing plan is too dense due to wetlands on the land.
But developer attorney Dominick Thomas said aerial photos indicate filling took place between 1973 and 1988, well before the Gaidas bought the land about 15 years ago. He said the current owners received a 2007 fill permit for limited grading work and he’s unsure what may have happened prior to 1973.
Whatever fill has been put there “is fully stabilized” now, Thomas said, based on photo evidence and test pits dug a few years ago that found no major issues.
Numerous developments have been proposed for the Gaidas’ 3.96-acre site in the past, with the latest being a six-home plan that was withdrawn last year. Prior applications included an 18-unit condo and small commercial building. The Gaidas have one pending zoning appeal against the city to use the property for industrial use.
The new application seeks to create a Planned Development District (PDD) to build four homes on lots from 0.3 to 0.4 acres each, with 2.1 acres set aside as a common area with a walking path. A driveway with a cul-de-sac would access the lots.
Most of the land is zoned for light industrial use while a thin strip connecting to Long Hill Avenue is Residence-1, requiring almost one acre per house.
The land is across from Sylvan Drive and borders existing homes, the Route 8 highway and a Sikorsky Aircraft building on Platt Road.
Thomas said about a year ago, city officials indicated having four houses on the parcel would be acceptable during discussions concerning litigation.
He said questions about density are off base because the surrounding area includes homes on quarter-acre and half-acre lots and the property is large enough to fit four R-1 lots. Critics noted his calculation includes wetland-regulated areas.
Bienkowski said periodic enforcement action was taken to stop dumping on the land in the past, but “within a few weeks or months the illegal filling would always begin again.” He’s lived next door since 1955 and asked for “corrective action” to remove “this non-permitted and uninspected fill material.”
Kampler said he’s seen trucks dumping material since moving into the neighborhood in 2008.

Thomas said claims of massive dumping, particularly in recent years, is “pure speculation” and this “anecdotal evidence” contrasts with the ”facts” he presented. He pointed to expert testimony on the test pits, topographical maps, periodic aerial photos and new forested growth.
When asked, Thomas couldn’t say for certain what material was used for fill material but said no recent filling occurred near wetlands.
Tom Harbinson, Conservation Commission chairman, suggested requiring the developer post an “environmental bond” to cover the cost of any future problems that arise due to the fill.
Member Mark Widomski asked for additional fill testing but Thomas said that is unnecessary and would be expensive for his client.
Alternate Nancy Dickal said the P&Z should know what’s in the ground, especially because of neighbors’ claims. “Start digging and you might find something you don’t want to find,” Dickal said.
Opponents also asked about the proposal’s impact on wildlife and potential need for better screening from nearby homes.
The land includes wetlands and the applicant has a pending application with the city Inland Wetlands Commission. Most of the wetland-regulated area would become part of the common area.
The zoning hearing was kept open for additional information and comment.