Our project for the Quinnipiac River Oyster Farm received 3 unanimous city approvals.
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Plans OK’d For Expanded Oyster Farm
by| Sep 26, 2021 4:50 pm
Plans to revive the Quinnipiac River’s bivalve-harvesting heritage took a big step forward, with three unanimous city approvals for an expanded oyster farm on the Fair Haven Heights waterfront.
Those approvals came during the latest monthly meeting of the City Plan Commission. The virtual meeting spanned four and a half hours online over Zoom.
Local land-use commissioners unanimously approved three applications submitted by James Bloom of Copps Island/Norm Bloom & Son Oysters for the planned transformation of four adjacent riverine properties at 576, 560, 536, and 530 Quinnipiac Ave.
In the somewhat abstruse and legalistic jargon of land-use applications, those approvals were for:
• A site plan and a coastal site plan for the rehabilitation and relocation of two existing historic buildings and the construction of three new buildings in the Marine Commercial zone.
• A flood damage prevention ordinance variance to construct an oyster hatchery with wet flood proofing for a functionally dependent aquaculture use below the Base Flood Elevation.
• And a special permit for the operation of an oyster farm within the Marine Commercial zone.
What does all of that mean?
Local attorney Bernard Pellegrino and local architect Paolo Campos spent the better part of an hour at the meeting this past Wednesday night explaining how all of this will—if all goes well—translate into a new, expanded, and thriving oyster farm just north of the Grand Avenue Bridge on the Heights side of the Quinnipiac River.
“Think of this as a 21st century operation,” Campos said. Two of those Quinnipiac Avenue parcels are currently vacant. The other two currently house Copps Island Oysters’ seasonal shell pile, a key feature of the company’s efforts to encourage the natural spawning of oysters.
The renovation and construction proposed as part of this project would make that process of spawning and harvesting oysters “more predictable, more regular, and more of an economic engine” for the business, the neighborhood, and the city, Campos said.
It will also revive a key part of Fair Haven’s history. “Really, Fair Haven started as an oystering hamlet,” he said. The Quinnipiac River-adjacent site in question has been home to some kind of oyster farm operation for a century. “The supporting industries around that grew this beautiful neighborhood.”
So, what exactly will this development consist of?
According to Campos’s presentation and the narrative included in the developer’s site plan application, the current shell operation includes four one- and two-story wood-framed buildings, a curb cut, and an access driveway down from Quinnipiac Avenue. It’s a water-dependent business, whereby shells are unloaded from boats at the pier on the north end of the property.
The proposed new development, meanwhile, would see:
• The construction of a new two-story oyster house on the north end of the property. That building will include a refrigerated storage area at ground level to be used for cleaned, shelled, and packaged oysters, as well as an upper story with an office/visitor center, employee lockers, a meeting room, and space for dry goods storage.
• The construction of a new three-story oyster hatchery towards the midpoint of the property. That will include a ground level with eight larva culture tanks, a second floor consisting of brood stock conditioning tanks, and a third floor with algae growth tanks for feeding the oyster stock below, and a water quality monitoring lab.
“The proposed Hatchery Building will house aquaculture activities—specifically, oyster spawning and growth tanks at the ground level, coupled with an algae production facility above—to enable production of a consistent stock of oysters for distribution throughout the Long Island Sound watershed,” the variance application’s narrative reads. “Functionally, this process involves mechanically pumping large volumes of river water through the spawning and growth tanks in order to simulate the oysters’ natural growing environment.”
• The construction of a new storage shed to the east of the existing shell pile.
• The rehabilitation and relocation of two small buildings of historic significance to an elevated area adjacent to the new oyster house.
• The demolition of the existing garage building on the northern portion of the property.
• The installation of a field of exterior oyster growth tanks, fed via pumps directly from the Quinnipiac River, along the southwestern edge of the property.
When would construction begin? And how long should this take to build? asked Commission Chair Leslie Radcliffe.
Construction would start “at the earliest next spring,” Campos said. He said the developer still has to go back to the city’s Historic District Commission for a further approval. They still have to fully design and engineer the proposed buildings. “This is an early to mid-level schematic,” Campos said. They also still need various state and federal approvals. “There’s a lot of dominoes that have to fall before we can start construction.”
When construction begins, he said, it should take 24 to 36 months to complete.
Heights neighbors Shauna Pinkett and Robert James asked if the expanded oyster farm will contribute any new smells or loud noises to the area.
“I know that the shells are currently sprayed to prevent smells,” Pinkett said. “Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn’t. That is what it is. The new hatchery and the tanks that are being set up, will there be any additional smells?”
Copps Islands’ Lauren Gautheir said definitively that, no, “the tanks aren’t anticipated to create any additional odors because of how routinely they’re cleaned for biofouling,” and because the algae will be consumed at a rapid pace by the larvae. The only smell will be that of the river water, which “you’re getting already from the beautiful river.” And the existing shell pile will continue to be treated for smells.
Copps Islands’ application states that the operating hours for the new oyster house and hatchery will be Monday through Saturday, 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The site will employ roughly 30 to 40 people.
“It seems to me this is a great historical resource which is being redeveloped in a way that, as far as I can tell, is very sensitive to both the neighborhood and to the history of this operation,” Commission Vice-Chair Ed Mattison said in support of the applications.
Fellow Commissioner Carl Goldfield agreed. His one recommendation to the developer: Talk to Armada Brewing, an applicant from earlier in the night, to see if they can “put together a beer and oyster operation there. It would be a great addition to the project.”
With that, the commissioners unanimously voted in support of all three applications related to the expanded oyster farm.