Rainy Day Wetlands Dedication|
By Kirk Lang
A ceremony marking the donation and dedication of 22 acres of open space at the site of the former F.D. Rich property took place this past Monday amid an appreciable rainfall.
Printed in the Westport News
The parcel is often referred to as the Partrick wetlands.
"Standing here in the rain seems appropriate," said Matthew Mandell, president of the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund (PWPF), the community group that, with the town's help, worked out a deal with ARS Partners to limit development on the site.
Mandell added, "Today ends 40 years of uncertainty for Westport and this local community. Today begins a future for the diverse ecosystem and another step in wetlands, aquifer and open space protection."
ARS Partners, at one point, planned to build 31 residential units. However, after former First Selectwoman Diane Farrell led an effort to have the parties reach resolution in their legal battle, the PWPF subsequently agreed to stop fighting ARS Partners' development plans and ARS Partners, in turn, agreed to scale down development to 13 residences, as well as donate 22.14 acres of land to the PWPF.
The PWPF, within 90 to 120 days, will donate the land to either a land trust or a nature conservancy, according to Mandell.
"Today proves a community, a town and developers can work together to achieve a common goal and a common good and today exemplifies what a community can do with vigilance, persistence, tenacity and patience," said Mandell, adding, "Anything is possible when good people work together."
Mandell thanked a number of people for their efforts in assisting with the preservation effort, including PWPF attorney Michael Bologna, ARS Partners, Norwalk and Westport officials, members of the Representative Town Meeting (Westport's legislative body), Norwalk's Save Cranbury Association (which helped to rescind a Norwalk sewer approval that would have served the ARS development) and his father, Mel.
"I'd like to thank my father, the silent member of the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund, for babysitting my kids for these last five years so I could come to all these meetings," said Mandell.
State Sen. Judith Freedman presented the three officers of the PWPF -- Mandell (president), Bert Aber (vice president) and Sean Timmins (secretary) -- with a proclamation from the State Assembly for a job well done.
Freedman said while there will be some houses that will be going up, (construction could be heard on the other side of the wetlands) "the wetlands will be preserved in perpetuity and our children will be the beneficiaries of the hard work these guys did."
The entire PWPF was honored with a proclamation from Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who was unable to make it to the ceremony. The PWPF, a nonprofit formed in 2002, is an advocacy group made up of hundreds of residents of Westport, Norwalk, Wilton, Weston and beyond, all seeking the protection of open space and the prevention of over-development and sprawl in the region, according to PWPF literature.
Thomas Morrisey, bureau chief of land use and outdoor recreation for the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), said the first open space the State of Connecticut purchased became Sherwood Island State Park, which is located within Westport's borders, "so this [town] is a great place to talk about open space protection."
Morrisey added that the state's goal is to have 21 percent of Connecticut's land retained as open space.
"We've actually achieved 70 percent of our goal," he said. 'We're looking at another 200,000 acres to meet that goal and certainly efforts like yours will help us get there."
Farrell, who played a vital role in helping ARS and the PWPF come to a resolution, was given the opportunity to say a few words as well.
"We were at a time in this town where we could finally come to resolution on this particular issue that could really be a win-win for all sides," said Farrell. "And it took some pizza, and it took some phone calls back and forth and Ira Bloom, our town attorney, deserves a lot of credit, too, for shuttling back and forth between the attorneys for ARS Partners, with Mike [Bologna], and others representing the PWPF, but I give everyone credit because it was a joint effort."
She added, "Everyone, at least in their hearts, wanted to see resolution take place, and it was because of that commitment from these individual groups, including the Planning and Zoning Commission, which also had a say in this ultimate disposition, who were willing to compromise, who were willing to talk, who were willing to give up what they had to in order to gain the ultimate solution, which is, to have beautiful residences here, but also to have preserved so much of this extraordinary piece of property."
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff added that it's rewarding and gratifying when a community, developers and preservationists can come together.
"This is a property that had been in contention for decades and it's gratifying to see a final resolution," he said. "It just shows that people who are committed to finding a solution can do so. I think it sends a real message to Westport that we're not anti-development. We're in favor of smart growth."