Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Neighbors, officials celebrate Partrick land donation

By: Bonnie Adler
Printed in the Westport Minuteman

After more than five acrimonious years, parties in a battle over a proposed housing development on one of Westport 's last large tracts of land celebrated an unusually happy ending on Monday, hailing the final outcome as no less than a "win-win" situation for everyone.

Matthew Mandell, private citizen turned activist, led a 45-minute program under a couple of flimsy tents hastily erected to ward off torrents of rain, deep within the Partrick wetlands land tract, to officially accept and dedicate 22.14 acres of land donated by ARS Partners as open space.

The 22 acres were officially donated to the Conservation Department of Westport and the State Department of Environmental Protection, ending more than 40 years of controversy about the property.

No amount of rain could dim the celebratory atmosphere, as state and town officials, the passionate citizens group known as the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund and a team of civic-minded developers brought to a close one of the most tenacious land use battles in Westport in decades.

The land in question, a 56-acre parcel between Partrick Road and Newtown Turnpike, containing wetlands and uplands, was purchased in 2000 by ARS Partners, which originally hoped to build 31 clustered housing units on the property. By 2001 the number had dwindled to 22. Ultimately, entangled in several lawsuits, the developers pulled out of the courts and settled with the town and the neighbors, agreeing on 13 housing units and donating 22 acres to the town and the state for open space.

Standing symbolically on a knoll overlooking the wetlands, which conservationists feared would be environmentally threatened by the large proposed development, Mandell said he hoped the case would prove to be a model for other communities that hoped to say "enough" to overdevelopment. Mandell, who is now an RTM member, thanked many of the citizens involved in fighting the proposed development, including Sean Timmons, a co-director of the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund.

Planning and Zoning Commission member Helen Block said the land would never have been dedicated as open space if not for the efforts of the citizen group and that their hard work had, in fact, "set a new standard" for grass roots activism.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff called the resolution a rewarding and gratifying one for a property that had been in contention for decades. Former First Selectwoman Diane Farrell, who was in office when the property dispute was finally settled, was present at the ceremony and said, "there seemed to be a moment when we could seize upon a solution. It really was a joint effort. Everyone wanted to a see a resolution."

Steve Folb of ARS Partners joked, "I live in Westport . I do think about open space, even though I am a developer." He promised a "spectacular" project, construction of which is now under way, on the Newtown Turnpike side of the land parcel. The 13 new luxury units will be clustered upon five and a half acres and will be approximately 4,500 square feet. The selling price is expected to be in the low two million dollar range.