Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Over Development Affects both Norwalk and Westport
Commentary in the Norwalk Hour

Early last spring I noticed several houses were under construction on Crawford Road in Westport. A few weeks later, this time on Partrick Avenue, I noticed about a dozen Save Westport lawn signs. I contacted a website and learned that the proposal to cluster 22 homes in the Northwest section of Westport, near the Norwalk border, had been revived and was moving through the approval process, much to the dismay of local residents in both towns.

While making inquiries about the cluster proposal - which requires an extension of Norwalk's sewer system - I learned that another plan was in the making, this one for Norwalk: As part of an effort to refurbish and revive the White Barn Theater, between 11 and 13 homes might be built on property in the Cranbury section of Norwalk, which happens to be next door to the above-mentioned Westport plan.

To add insult to injury to this section of Fairfield County, five homes are being squeezed onto the property next to the Country Store, located on Newtown Turnpike across from Partrick; and three more homes could be built on Cranbury Road between Partrick and Newtown Turnpike. Seems properties are being subdivided right and left.

All told, these proposals could lead to somewhere between 45 or 50 new homes in this section of Norwalk-Westport. Currently, most of the area is wooded, with brooks and wetlands. The roads are narrow, generally without sidewalks or footpaths, with dozens of blind curves. All the proposals must thus address a variety of environmental, traffic and zoning issues if they are to pass muster with each town's agencies and commissions.

Neighborhood groups in both towns are challenging the proposals. Unfortunately, under prevailing rules each proposal is likely to be judged on a variety of narrow criteria, such as traffic counts, relationship to wetlands, zoning regulations, etc. The fact that the proposals, together, will change the basic character of this part of Fairfield County - which is the single most important issue - may not be deemed relevant.

(In this regard, the situation is similar to the rules under which the state Siting Council recently approved Phase I of Northeast Utility's power line proposal. Following an antiquated and illogical set of rules, the Siting Council refused to look at the impact of the entire plan, which originally had three phases. Norwalk is appealing the decision. Fortunately, the state legislature has changed the rules for reviewing these kinds of multifaceted proposals; in the future, various phases can be reviewed simultaneously.)

Interestingly, the Master Plan of Development for Norwalk, which provides the broad framework necessary to address the merits of development proposals, is rarely invoked by the approval agencies. One would think the guidelines in the plan, which require the city to make efforts to maintain open space, would be used as a counterweight against the narrowly construed arguments around zoning and traffic issues.

Relying exclusively on zoning, traffic, and wetland criteria - however important these criteria are - will inevitably lead to sprawl. Most proposals that come before city agencies can be tailored to meet the existing rules, so long as those rules are narrowly written. The larger and more important questions, such as the character of an area, need to become part of the equation if Norwalk, as well as Westport, are to maintain their distinctive character, quality of life, and high property values.

Fairfield County is rapidly losing its open space and rural character. The old rules and regulations need to be adjusted to preserve what little we have left.

Bruce Kimmel
Norwalk Common Council