Ceremony Honors Partrick Wetlands Preservation|
By Jennifer Connic
The steady rain today did not dampen the celebratory mood at a ceremony at the Partrick Wetlands honoring the donation and dedication of the property in northwest Westport.
Printed in the Westportnow.com
The Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund formally received 22 acres of the 55.9-acre property at the ceremony from Stratford-based ARS Partners LLC. The Westport Conservation Department and the state Department of Environmental Protection will oversee the conservation easement for the property.
The event ended 40 years of uncertainty about the property. As part of a negotiated deal, ARS Partners donated the 22 acres to the preservation fund and will construct 13 single family luxury homes on the balance of the property closest to Newtown Turnpike.
Matthew Mandell, preservation fund director, said the property will be a showcase of what can happen when parties can work together for a common goal and common good.
He hopes the process can be a model for others in working together, he said.
People could hear during today’s ceremony the sound of the blasting necessary for the new homes.
It took a long mediation process between the preservation fund, which is mainly comprised of neighbors, and ARS Partners to get to the deal, Mandell said.
Ralph Grasso, of ARS Partners, said he appreciates the efforts of the preservation fund to protect the wetlands.
“Without them and their interest in preserving the property, we would still be working on this,” he said. “This should be enjoyed for many years to come.”
Steve Folb, of ARS Partners, said he and his partners live in Westport and want to do the best for the property.
“I am not unhappy with how things turned out,” he said.
Former First Selectwoman Diane Farrell helped move the process forward when it nearly stalled, Mandell said.
Farrell said at the ceremony said when she took office in 1997, the property and its future was one of the lingering items on her agenda.
“It was one of those moments in time where we could seize the opportunity,” she said. “There was strong advocacy and recognition by the owners.”
First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said it is rewarding when members of a community can come together like they did with the deal for the property between Partrick Road and Newtown Turnpike.
Town officials are not anti-development, he said, but they are in favor of smart growth.
State Sen. Judith Freedman, R-26, who lives on nearby Crawford Road, said there have been various battles over the property in the 38 years she’s lived nearby.
“Of all the things that have been suggested, this is a wonderful compromise,” she said.
While the preservation fund is the steward for the property until a new one can be found, the town’s Conservation Department and the state Department of Environmental Protection will hold the paperwork for the open space.
By doing so, the town and state agencies will oversee how the property is used in the future protecting it from development.
Thomas Morrissey, state DEP bureau chief for outdoor recreation, said it’s fitting that he should be in Westport honoring the protection of the land because Sherwood Island State Park was one of the first open spaces the state purchased.
State officials have a goal to protect 21 percent of the state’s space as open space, he said, and they are 70 percent towards their goal.
“The remaining will be hard,” he said. “You can help us get there.”
He also said the effort isn’t over once the land is made open space, he said, because more work is necessary to protect it.
Conservation Director Alicia Mozian said she remembers when more than 70 units of housing was first proposed for the property in 1989-91, and there were 31 units proposed in 2001.
“It was an improvement, but not quite acceptable,” she said of the original plan from 2001. “If someone had told me it would end up with 13 units on one-quarter of the land, I would have never believed it.”
The settlement was a victory for the ecosystem, she said, and the plants and animals now have a protected home.