City cracks down on South End rock crusher
STAMFORD — The city Thursday took a hard stance against a rock-crushing operation it has battled for nine years.
The law department filed a contempt of court motion against A. Vitti Construction, a gravel manufacturing plant in the South End, for violating a 2014 order to comply with zoning regulations, which prohibit rock crushing in the neighborhood zoned for manufacturing, side by side with family dwellings..
According to the court document, Zoning Enforcement Officer James Lunney has been investigating complaints from neighbors, who reported that Vitti Construction is crushing material from 7 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., Monday through Saturday.
Workers there have been using a jackhammer to break up large cement slabs that an excavator then lifts into a machine that crushes it into gravel, neighbors reported. One man reported that his mother’s roof and car were damaged by flying stones. Lunney verified the complaints, according to the court document.
Another neighbor filed similar complaints, along with photographs, illustrating violations that date to July. Some of the photographs show trucks belonging to contractors other than Vitti dumping large slabs of cement, the document states.
According to the document, the defendant, owner Antonio Vitti, told Lunney he has been “cleaning up” the premises to comply with a 2016 agreement with the Zoning Board to construct a building that will allow him to move the operation indoors to limit noise, vibration and dust.
But Lunney wrote that “the defendant used this excuse to profit from violating the zoning regulations, the 2010 cease-and-desist order, and the court injunction.” The “defendant’s acceptance to truckloads of material from other contractors and processing it, in the open, without a special exception from the Zoning Board, constitutes a contempt of the court’s order,” he wrote.
In 2010 the city obtained a cease-and-desist order from the court, which a judge enforced in 2014 by issuing a permanent injunction compelling Vitti to comply with zoning regulations and stop using 10 Rugby St. “to operate a rock-crushing enterprise.”
In Thursday’s motion, the city is seeking fines of $250 to $2,500 a day; attorney and court fees; an increase to $5,000 a day for future violations; and a $100,000 deposit into an escrow account to cover the fines.
According to the court document, Antonio Vitti has since 1967 been in the business of collecting excavation materials such as blacktop, concrete and bricks from contractors, crushing it into gravel and selling it. In 1976 he purchased 35 Harbor St., and three years later expanded the operation by leasing the abutting property at 10 Rugby St.
In 1980 the Harbor Street property was rezoned to residential, the document states. In 1998 Vitti bought 10 Rugby St. and continued operations. He stated that he has added equipment over the years but it can crush only construction material, not rocks, so it is permitted.
The city said zoning regulations prohibit any type of crushing. Vitti may sell gravel but not process it, except by a special permit that expires after six months and is issued only when material is dug up and used on the same site.
Michael Adamcio, who lives on Harbor Street across from the company, is among the neighbors who have been reporting problems with Vitti Construction for decades.
“The house is shaking. There are big dust clouds. The crusher is always running. There’s jackhammering. Our houses and cars are filthy,” said Adamcio, who lives in one of two apartments in the house his family has owned since 1948. “Harbor Street is turning into a dirt road.”
Adamcio’s sister, Irene Toigo, who lives in the other apartment, wrote city attorney Jim Minor Wednesday to report that Vitti Construction was crushing rock again in violation of the court order.
“We live with … trucks banging their tailgates, trucks idling in front of our homes, our homes vibrating from heavy-duty machinery … six days a week,” Toigo wrote. “Are we South Enders not allowed a peaceful existence and clean air?”
Adamcio said that neighbors waited for years for a court to order Vitti Construction to stop, but it didn’t — even after a judge ordered it.
“He kept doing it for weeks after the order,” Adamcio said. “We kept telling the city, but nobody did anything. Finally he moved his equipment a few blocks away. But he bought the house directly across from me, and another house near it, and he has big heavy equipment on these residential properties, with trucks going back and forth all day long. Three of my neighbors moved. They couldn’t take it anymore.”
Rock, not rock
The matter ended up before the Zoning Board.
In March 2017, one year after the court ordered compliance with regulations, the board approved a plan that would allow Vitti Construction to move operations indoors, said Ralph Blessing, chief of the Land Use Bureau.
“He was supposed to put up a building to enclose the rock crusher on a rubber platform, to cut down on vibration, with a dust-suppression system. To reduce noise, the crusher was supposed to be enclosed by another structure,” Blessing said. “We want to fix the problem according to what the Zoning Board approved, but it doesn’t seem to work.”
Tom Cassone, the attorney for Antonio Vitti, said seeking a contempt action from the court is not justifiable because his client is complying with the agreement to build “an indoor recycling facility for demolition debris.”
Two years ago the company was about to tear down the existing building to prepare for construction of the new one but neighbors filed for a demolition delay. That has expired, but it set the project back six months, Cassone said. Now work is underway, he said.
“This is a new facility so there had to be a lot of design and redesign. There are fairly strict dust and noise standards that have to be met, so they are having experts design the machinery and surrounding building,” Cassone said. “They have been cleaning up the yard in preparation for obtaining a building permit.”
Vitti Construction processes “brick and concrete, but they never had machinery on the property to crush rock,” Cassone said
“f course you can argue what constitutes rock and what constitutes concrete,” Cassone added.
Adamcio says it’s rock.
“He’s making a fortune crushing rocks illegally, while my house is shaking, all these years,” Adamcio said. “It’s pathetic that this guy gets away with it.”
Cassone said he expects Vitti Construction to move ahead with the project soon.
“The plan now is to get the building permit and enclose the thing and hopefully everybody will be happy after that,” he said. “If the neighbors are frustrated, I can understand, because it’s been a long time. But I don’t think it’s of my client’s making. We have worked with the city to reduce the conflict between a residential zone and an industrial zone.”
No date is set yet for the judge to rule on the motion of contempt.