Tolland's quarry is a unique location in town. According to owner Bud Smallwood, scholars can trace the collision of two tectonic plates in the property's rocks. An old garnet mine is left abandoned on the property, a remnant of Tolland's industrial history.
And, in the modern age, the quarry runs a precarious balancing act as a bustling place of business, nestled in a quiet Tolland neighborhood.
The Legal Side
The Midwood Quarry is located in a residential zone on Mountain Spring Road. Smallwood, who also owns the East Hartford based business, Better Stones and Masonry Supply, operates the commercial venture under a special permit. The permit was originally issued in 1991, after he and the Town of Tolland engaged in a court case over the property's use.
According to the resulting permit, Smallwood has to fulfill certain requirements, including:
- The use of a 50-foot anti-tracking pad and the maintenance of the quarry entrance to reduce noise and dust
- The submission of a monthly dust control log
- Regulated hours of operation: Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.
- Well samplings to test for effects on water from quarry blasting
- A ban on bringing in offsite material for processing
The special permit allows Smallwood to use the property as a quarry, since the site has been used as such since the 1930s, which predates the creation of Tolland's zoning regulations in 1957.
The Quarry Next Door
But despite these regulations, which were last updated in June 2010, some Tolland residents have had an uneasy relationship with the business.
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Mountain Spring Road resident Dale Zahner has had issues with the running of the quarry for a number of years, particularly citing noise and dust as being disruptive to the neighborhood.
"It's a matter of what side of the fence you're on. I know that the dust is just normal for those in construction," Zahner said, acknowledging that the dust at the site is probably minimal to those who have worked in the industry for years.
"But in the last six years or so, when they're running like this, the dust problem can be the worst."
Zahner has come before the Planning & Zoning Commission, stating that the trucks running in and out of the site all day create a layer of dust along the entrance of the quarry, and sometimes up and down Mountain Spring Road.
Depending on the weather and the level of site maintenance, he said that the dust can become problematic.
Zahner said that workers from Holden Trucking currently sweep the entrance and take dust control measures, but that the problem persists at times. The required dust control log has also not been consistently submitted to the town on a monthly basis, a fact that Smallwood acknowledged.
"It doesn't mean that we have a dust problem," Smallwood said.
However, he added that the log will be submitted from now on. He has also repaved the entrace within the last two years and said he visits the site at least once a week.
"They're working on it. I feel they've really taken an interest," Zahner said of the recent efforts at the quarry.
But Zahner said that the intensity of the dust problem can vary, depending on the practices of the company which are utilizing the quarry.
He said that a trucking company using the site in the 1990s installed a sprinkler system along the entranceway that would spray down the area multiple times a day, essentially eliminating the problem during their tenure. The system is no longer operating, and for Zahner and his neighbors, the dust and noise continue.
"It just grates on you after awhile," he said.
Smallwood knows that responsibility comes along with his business. He said that he understands the need to monitor nearby well water and blasting.
"I don't want to destroy somebody's well water. I don't want to create any health or safety hazard by what I do," he said.
Smallwood tests a number of sample wells regularly, and works closely with the fire marshal to ensure that the blasts meet safety and noise threshold standards.
In an effort to promote complete transparency, Smallwood said that he has recommended to the town that all warranty deeds for properties within 500 feet of the quarry should contain a notification of the quarry's proximity, so that buyers are fully aware of the situation.
What the Quarry Could Have Been
As a longtime property owner in Tolland, Smallwood said that he does not always agree with the limitations local zoning can create for land owners.
When Smallwood bought the quarry property nearly 30 years ago, he considered the purchase a long-term investment for his family.
"When I first bought it, there was an 86 lot subdivision proposal that was designed, and it was legal," he said of his potential plans to construct a residential subdivision. "I could have been done quite easily in 1984," he said.
But Smallwood said that increasing regulation has limited what he can do with his investments. Zoning changes in property line setbacks, regulations on grade, the designation of a wildlife corridor and more have made any substantial development "unbuildable."
Smallwood said that he believes the quarry is just one example of how zoning can take away the rights of property owners.
"Ask yourself if this private property confiscation has occurred on your property in Tolland," he said. "Do you even know what you can or can't do on the properties that you pay taxes on?"
While he added that health and safety regulations are certainly necessary and positive, he feels that state building codes and other safety regulations should be enough to regulate property owners, without large amounts of additional input from local zoning.
Over the summer, the Planning & Zoning Commission decided to waive the requirement for Smallwood to submit an annual map for this year. According to the special permit requirements, the map may be waived if less than 25,000 yards of stone or stone-related products were blasted or excavated within a calendar year.
Holden Trucking is still working the quarry.