Midd. board urged to reject Fenn pit
MIDDLEBURY — Around two dozen neighbors on Monday made their final appeal to the Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) to deny a bid by the Fenn family to establish a gravel pit on a portion of a 70-acre parcel they own off Route 116, just north of Quarry Road.
The neighbors argued the pit proposal violates local zoning laws; would bring dust, toxic fumes and noise pollution to a residential area; and would set up the potential for collisions between trucks entering and exiting the site and motorists and cyclists negotiating busy Route 116.
“If (Middlebury’s zooming regulations) are worth the paper they are written on, this is an application that can’t happen,” said Ron Kohn, a spokesman for a group of 10 neighbors in the Mead Lane, Butternut Ridge Drive, Drew Lane, Lindale Circle and Route 116 areas. Approximately 60 neighbors have been deemed “interested parties” in the proceedings.
The Fenns are proposing that the 16-acre pit be excavated in four, four-acre phases over 20-30 years, during which an estimated 660,000 cubic yards of material would be mined. Such a plan would result in an average of 40 loaded truck trips per day, via a new access road that would exit onto Route 116 about 180 feet north of Quarry Road.
Much of Monday’s testimony centered on the extent to which the new truck trips might affect traffic on Route 116. The neighbors picked Underhill Center-based consultant Michael Oman of Oman Analytics to conduct an independent traffic study based on the Fenns’ application.
Oman looked at conditions on Route 116 near the proposed pit access road, along with a recent Trudell Consulting Engineers speed analysis showing the “85th percentile speed” of traffic on that stretch of road as being 52 miles per hour.
Based on that speed — and the presence of a house north of the proposed driveway that Oman said would limit site visibility for vehicles exiting the proposed pit access road — Oman gave his opinion that:
• Vehicles heading south toward the intersection would not have enough time or distance to safely stop for trucks entering Route 116. Oman said the applicants had projected more than adequate stopping sight distance (95 more feet than the minimum 625 feet required) for vehicles, based on a Route 116 speed calculation of the suggested 45 miles per hour. But factoring in 52-mile-per-hour speeds that most people actually travel on Route 116, the required stopping sight distance escalates to 803 feet — more than is available, according to Oman.
• There is inadequate intersection sight distance for single-unit trucks (the variety the applicants have said are most likely to be hauling gravel form the site), based upon the actual speeds of vehicles measured on Route 116.
“Basically, it doesn’t look like a safe situation to me,” Oman told the crowd.
Meanwhile, Kohn questioned the validity of the application based on several assertions, including:
• The applicant drilled only three test wells for the project, as opposed to the minimum four required under local zoning rules as required for proposed projects in a wellhead protection area. The applicants dispute that assertion.
• The proposed project runs afoul of several municipal zooming ordinances. For example, Kohn pointed to a zoning requirement that a buffer of at least 100 feet be maintained between adjacent property lines and the project. He argued the project, as proposed, does not meet that requirement in several instances.
• Gravel excavation is not permitted in Middlebury’s medium density residential (MDR) district, a zone in which the access road portion of the project would be located. The proposed pit itself is located in the town’s forest-conservation district, where gravel extraction may be allowed as a conditional use. The town’s zoning laws state that “Where a boundary line between districts divides a lot or parcel of land, the regulations of the less restricted district shall be applicable to that part of the lot in the more restricted district, subject to conditional use approval by the DRB.” But Kohn argued that the since gravel pits are not allowed as a conditional use in the MDR district (in which the pit access road would be located), the DRB cannot approve the project.
“Any thorough reading of the application against Middlebury’s zoning laws can only result in the conclusion that this application does not and cannot meet a number of unambiguous requirements and therefore must be denied,” Kohn told members of the DRB. “Your role in enforcing Middlebury’s zoning and subdivision requires you to reject this application.”
Mead Lane resident Virginia Heidke also spoke on behalf of her fellow neighbors. Heidke pointed to the potential noise, traffic, air pollution and safety problems — along with diminished property values — that she said the new gravel pit could bring to the neighborhood.
She said it would be an “illegal, immoral and massive violation of human rights to issue a conditional use permit for sand and gravel extraction on the Fenn property.
“Our laws rest upon notions of decency and protection of the weak against the powerful, and most importantly, on the concept of the common good, where the desires of one person are less important than the needs of the many,” she said. “What would be ‘good’ to have in our neighborhood? An open pit mine? Impossible. The town plan suggests a neighborhood store or a recreational area. That’s what neighborhoods full of families need — not an adjacent gravel pit.”
Mark Hall, the attorney for applicants Ronald and Susan Fenn, promised to submit written counter-arguments to the neighbors’ testimony within the next 14 days. The DRB will then give neighbors 14 days in which to react in writing to Hall’s comments. The board will then decide whether to convene an 11th public hearing, or begin crafting a decision.
If the decision is to craft a decision, the board will formally close the hearing process and have 45 days in which to render its decision.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].