Like a number of buildings on Main Street, #69 is under construction.
Developers are working hard to resuscitate downtown. In addition to the usual retail challenges — online shopping, the opening of the new Norwalk mall, finding the right “mix” — Main Street stores face frequent flooding.
A web of federal, state and local regulations cover building lots near rivers and wetlands.
So when Chip Stephens and Al Gratrix — both members of the Planning & Zoning Commission — noticed excavation work at #69, and saw water being pumped into storm drains in Parker Harding Plaza, they wanted to know more. When they smelled a strong odor in the water, they grew concerned.
That night, coincidentally, the P&Z met. The developer sent a representative to ask for approval of work they’d already begun.
Stephens asked about the pump, and smell. The representative replied that it was seawater, brought in by high tides. She said the work involved removing slab, replacing a drainpipe and bathing the project.
The next day, Stephens and Gratrix returned. This time, they noticed soil work. Town engineer Peter Ratkiewich told them there were 7 fuel tanks there. Two still contained fuel. He said the smell from the excavation reached Elm Street — and one store in the area had to be closed at one point, due to the strong oil odor.
A number of old oil tanks are located by the river. They date back decades, to the days when the Saugatuck River lapped up against the back of stores on the west side of Main Street. Parker Harding Plaza was developed on landfill, in the 1950s.
P&Z staff discovered documents that showed the developer knew back in 2018 that the oil tanks and oil contamination would be a problem. However, at the P&Z meeting the representative simply said that the odorous water — being emptied into storm drains — was “seawater.”
Last night, Stephens and Gratrix requested a new meeting to reconsider the decision; for the developer to explain why the P&Z was not informed of contamination at 69 Main Street, and the remedies required; a timeline of knowledge of contamination, and why excavation and demolition occurred without a permit for new construction — and, most important, an outline of steps going forward for remediation of 69 Main Street, so construction can continue properly under Coastal Area Management code.