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March 27, 2023

Proposed warehouse in Ashford has many in the ‘Quiet Corner’ up in arms

Jim Michaud / Journal Inquirer Signs can be found throughout Ashford opposing a proposed warehouse, like this one a short distance from the proposed site on Wednesday.

Residents of Ashford are in an uproar at a proposal — similar to one that was shot down in Willington — that could place an enormous warehouse in their rural town, raising concerns that it would destroy the character of the “Quiet Corner.”

Massachusetts-based Campanelli Construction is proposing a 1.1 million-square-foot, 55-foot-tall warehouse on the site at the intersection of Interstate 84 and Route 89 in the northern section of town, a parcel that includes the Ashford Motel.

The structure would be about the same size as the Buckland Hills Mall in Manchester.

Any construction is a long way off, as the Planning and Zoning Commission is considering amending its regulations to allow for a building on the site to be as tall as 55 feet.

The current regulation on the Interstate Interchange Development zone, or IID, the only one in town, limits the height of buildings to 35 feet.

The developers initially wanted to extend the height limit to 75 feet, but scaled it back to 55 feet after hearing from the public.

If the rule change were to be approved, the regulations would apply to any future structures on the parcel.

Developers of the proposed warehouse would have to return to get the commission’s approval for a special permit to begin construction, a lengthy process that would also include more public hearings.

An ‘outrageous’ proposal

Hundreds of residents already have attended two public hearings in February and March, with a large majority of speakers opposing the project. A third public hearing is scheduled for April.

“The majority of those who have spoken seem to be negative toward it, but there are also a number of people who are in favor of it,” First Selectman Bill Falletti said.

Speaking as a resident and taxpayer, not as first selectman, Falletti said that he supports the rule change to allow the process to go on to the next step.

He notes that if the proposal were to move forward to the special permit process, it would face more scrutiny, such as environmental and traffic studies, both of which are sticking points for many residents.

Despite the polarizing issue leading to residents calling for a townwide vote, the Planning and Zoning Commission has the final say under state law, Zoning Enforcement Officer Michael D’Amato said.

While Campanelli Construction is seeking a similar warehouse that was proposed in Willington, it is not the same developer and the projects are not connected.

D’Amato, who also serves as a zoning agent in Willington, said the project was scrapped in that town because the developers were seeking to change the proposed area from residential zoning to allow for what would have been a 1.5 million-square-foot warehouse.

No tenant has been lined up for the Ashford proposal, leaving residents to further speculate about the impact to their rural community.

Ashford resident Michael Maglaras, who also serves as the superintendent of the captive insurance company fixing crumbling foundations, said his main concern is that the site off Exit 72 of I-84 is the last undeveloped exit off the highway in the area.

He opines that millions of cubic yards of land would have to be moved from a “pristine” site next to a state wildlife sanctuary.

“This is a massive, massive construction project” with no planned public water or sewer, Maglaras said. “Simply put, it’s the wrong project for a rural environment.”

He said he and his wife moved to Ashford from Greenwich after 30 years specifically because it is rural and quiet.

“We’re going to fight like hell to keep it that way,” Maglaras said, adding that he’s hopeful the proposal doesn’t get past the initial rule change, saying that if the amended language were passed, it would be “opening Pandora’s box.”

Charles Vidich, an Ashford resident with four decades of experience in land-use planning on the local, state, and federal level, also opposes the project.

Specifically, he is concerned that whatever tenant to occupy the building would have to “self-police” their water and septic systems.

“It is a public water supply issue,” Vidich said. “It’s not a question of if a disaster will happen, it’s a question of when.”

He also doubts assertions that trucks going in and out of the warehouse property would only use I-84, saying that many are more likely to take the local Route 89 when traveling south.

“This is really an outrageous urban proposal for a rural area,” Vidich said.

Town impact

John Knuff, an attorney representing Campanelli Construction, said that no public water would be affected as all wastewater would be collected and treated on site, and that 30% of the land would remain open space, according to Planning and Zoning Commission meeting minutes.

Maglaras said he understands some residents support the idea because of the tax revenue.

Knuff said that the expected impact on the town’s tax rate would result in an average savings of about $850 per year on property taxes, depending on the assessed value of a resident’s home.

He said that the location represents only about 0.5% of the town’s land, but could possibly support up to 10% of Ashford’s budget, according to meeting minutes.

Residents of Willington and Stafford shot down a similar proposal last year, as a warehouse was proposed off Exit 70 of I-84.

At that time, developers said they expected at least 900 tractor-trailers a day coming on and off the interstate using local roads.

They also estimated that at least 1,500 cars would be commuting daily to the building as well.

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