Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Foes of ARS Partners' Houses Sing Basement Blues
By Don Casciato Of the Westport News
Printed in the Westport News

Opponents of the plan by ARS Partners to develop the F.D. Rich property challenged the need of basements at the site where approval of 24 single-family residences was sought during a Monday hearing of the Westport Conservation Commission.

The basement question was raised because of worries that the water supply would be disrupted as builders blasted rock at the site to make room for the basements.

Representatives of the opponents and ARS agree blasting won't occur anytime soon at the site. Both sides expect court challenges no matter what the Conservation Commission decides.

The Monday hearing lasted for about two and one half-hours and was an extension of one conducted in November.

After the hearing the commissioners started a work session to discuss the many issues that had been raised, including water worries, how houses would be positioned on the site, management of trails and whether a former landfill was leaching toxic substances into the property still known as the F.D. Rich property by most Westporters familiar with the location, which is near Newtown Turnpike.

Commissioner Timothy Walker wanted to know how the houses and the basements would be done without blasting and what it would do to the site.

Responding to the blasting issue later in the hearing, Steven Folb, an ARS partner, said "blasting a huge cavern" wasn't planned. "There won't be a big excavation," he said, pointing out it would be for basements only if feasible.

Beautiful Homes

Folb also took the opportunity to praise the proposed project. "These are going to be beautiful homes," he said to the commissioners. "These will be an asset to Westport. We are trying to do the right thing. The homes will each cost in excess of $1 million, so you'd expect a basement."

At the end of the hearing, Larry Weisman, who represents ARS, said that the ARS would do basements only if blasting wasn't needed. "Our burden is to show compliance with the regulations [of the commission]," he said.

At the start of the hearing, after a brief discussion of maps by the commissioners, Weisman introduced those who would be speaking on behalf of ARS. He then turned to the water quality issue that was a concern voiced at the November hearing. "It is too soon to draw water conclusions," said Weisman.

"We have ample evidence to support our request. There is a significant margin of safety in our favor. I feel we have made a significant effort to address your concerns."

At another point he told the commissioners that it isn't a numbers game a reference to the request for the construction of 24 single-family residences, instead of the originally approved 25 units. "We are doing this in a responsible way and to get the best benefit," said Weisman.

Before the hearings and during them, the water issue was raised especially if there is blasting and rock fragments.

During the hearing, Commissioner Gerald Kagan emphasized the blasting issue and if there would be leaching into the nearby aquifer. He asked the applicants if they were telling the commissioners "they are not going to cause fissure in the aquifer."

Blasting Doubts

The applicant's representatives said that they were confident shallow blasts could be carried out. However, Kagan expressed his doubts about whether blasting would be intrusive.

At another point, when Kagan was told the applicant hadn't received an estimate of the cost of blasting rock at the site, he suggested: "Lets get the facts straight. You can't tell me that. Don't try to pull the wool over my eyes. What blasting is needed to make the project work?"

Weisman replied: "We understand the blasting ramifications."

Kagan countered: "I'm talking about the whole site."

When Weisman questioned why the blasting problem wasn't raised during the previous application hearing, Kagan said: "Because I am smarter now."

The Kagan response delighted the handful of opponents in the audience of the Town Hall auditorium Monday night.

The question of borings was discussed because of an explosion 25 years ago probably due to methane from landfill substances. ARS representatives said most likely the gas isn't at the site now.

Town Attorney Ira Bloom also attended the meeting and "jurisdictional obligations" of the Conservation Commission were discussed. A clear-cut answer didn't appear to evolve, but it led to an exchange with Walker and Weisman about whether the application is new or a request for modification of an old application.

"Don't we have to consider it a new application" asked Commission Chairman Leon Starr, who observed that commissioners were asked to look at a new configuration because the number of houses sought and the location of some of them has changed.

Walker said the difference is there are now at least two applications, with a modification of the original. "It renders it (the original) mute," he said.

Weisman countered: "I don't agree. We merely moved things around. I'm not sure what difference it makes.

Bloom added: "I looked on it as a new application from the beginning."

He also questioned if the commissioners need to know if it is a new application or not.

Commissioner Stanley Freeman pointed out that the court made a previous decision in 1991 when a different proposal had been sought and Kagan also said he thought there have been three plans for the property with conditions.

Enforcement Issues

Turning to another legal issue, Walker asked Weisman about the enforcement powers of the Home Owners Association that would be established if the project was approved and who would enforce association regulations.

"I'm suggesting deed restrictions," said Weisman. "Homeowners could bring lawsuit that's why I suggest deed restrictions."

Walker asked for a "subject matter list" of possible problems.

Starr decided to wait until the work session to analyze the differences between the two applications.