Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Victory for open space champions
Compromise keeps Partrick Wetlands forever undeveloped

By Lisa Chamoff
Printed in the Norwalk Advocate

WESTPORT - Local residents and officials yesterday applauded the designation of 22 acres of open space at a site that for years was the center of a battle between developers and preservationists.

Known as the Partrick Wetlands, the property was donated to a local preservation group by ARS Partners, a Stratford development company that had planned to build 22 homes on the entire 58-acre site, near Newtown Turnpike and close to the Norwalk border.

The company reached a settlement last year with neighbors and Westport's Planning and Zoning Commission to scale back the project to 13 houses, while keeping part of it as open space.

The land is open and accessible to the public, with some basic trails, said Matthew Mandell, a Westport Representative Town Meeting member and president of the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund, which received the donation of the property.

Dozens of residents came to the property yesterday in the rain to a ceremony marking the donation.

Mandell said the dedication marked the cooperation of neighbors, officials and developers, including those in Norwalk.

"We don't believe that sprawl and overdevelopment respect town borders, and nor should we if we're going to fight them," Mandell said.

Former Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp said with Norwalk's rejection of the sewer extension that ARS Partners had requested there will ultimately be less traffic in the city's Cranbury neighborhood.

The original plan called for extending a sewer line under Newtown Avenue into Norwalk, which sparked fears of overdevelopment.

"I think this turned out very positively, because when I was mayor, (former Westport First Selectwoman) Diane Farrell and I looked at this as a regional growth issue, rather than just each of our towns," Knopp said. Ralph Grasso, one of the owners of ARS Partners, said he was happy with the outcome.

"Basically, we're happy that we've got some closure on it and it's in perpetuity as open space for all to enjoy," Grasso said. "Obviously we're in the business of developing properties. We felt that the 22 acres could easily support eight homes, but the neighbors were quite passionate about keeping it open space, and we ultimately came to an agreement."

Although the deal was struck in November 2005, Mandell said it took a year to get approvals from the state Department of Environmental Protection and other agencies for installation of a private sanitary sewer system that will be constructed for the new properties.

The property had a long history of conflict over its development. Alicia Mozian, Westport's conservation director, said various developers proposed up to 90 units from 1989 to 1991. The Conservation Commission denied those proposals, and a court battle ensued.

By contrast, the settlement worked out between ARS and residents "really was an example of a true compromise," Mozian said.

Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff credited his predecessor, Farrell, with bringing the parties together to reach the compromise.

"It's rewarding when members of the community can come together," Joseloff said. "People should understand that Westport is not anti-development, but we're in favor of smart growth. There's a balance, so we preserved a fabulous property in Westport that people in those homes and others will be able to explore and we've preserved the area for nature."