Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

For Housing Plan Denial, P&Z Cites Insufficient Information
By Kirk Lang
Printed in the Westport News

Neighbors in opposition to ARS Partners' proposal to erect 22 single family homes on the former F.D. Rich property got what they had hoped for Thursday night. After months of meetings and wondering what the Planning and Zoning Commission would do, the zoning board denied the special permit and site plan application without prejudice.

One reason was that a special permit and site plan application for development is contingent upon approval of the special permit and site plan application for excavation and fill activities. That excavation and fill application was denied by the P&Z, based on insufficient information supplied to the zoning board to determine whether the excavation and fill application conformed to the Westport zoning regulations.

More important, however, the P&Z said that more information is required to determine whether the application conforms to the special permit standards in the zoning regulations that require in part, that the project may not have a significant adverse effect on adjacent area located within close proximity to the use, and that the project preserves features of the environment related to public health, safety and welfare.

Also, according to the commission's resolution of denial, "inadequate information was provided by the applicant."

It said, "Insufficient testing of soils and water was done to determine the presence of contamination, and any potential for movement of contaminants through the soils and water that may result from disturbance of the site. Testing was not done in the area of the tire pile to verify the effectiveness and adequacy of the remedial action taken by the applicant in 2000.

"This testing is needed. Limited testing was done in 1977, 1985, 1986, 1997 and 1999. Limited arsenic testing was conducted during removal of arsenic contaminated soil in the area of the tire pile in 2000, but no testing has been done since, and no reason was provided for the lack of testing to date. The Planning and Zoning Commission needs updated studies conducted in 2003."

In coming up with a denial without prejudice, the P&Z noted reports submitted by environmental experts hired by neighbors in opposition to the project, indicated more soil testing must be conducted prior to any site development, to provide proper verification that there is not a serious potential for disturbance of contaminated soil to expose the public to deleterious effects from arsenic and other materials. The reports were prepared by Michael Hopkins for Environmental Compliance Services, dated Dec. 11, 2001; David William and Robert Stewart for Consulting Environmental Engineers, dated May 8, 2003; and David William and Robert Stewart for Consulting Environmental Engineers, dated June 25, 2003.

The P&Z also said inadequate information was provided by the applicant concerning the effects of blasting on contaminated soils.

"Disturbance of contaminated soils resulting from blasting," the resolution said, "may bring polluted soils to the surface. Once this polluted earth is brought to the surface, water runoff may contain pollutants picked up from this earth and it will have the potential of contaminating the aquifer that supplied drinking water to residents of Westport."

During the public hearings, ARS attorney Larry Weisman said that the developers would conduct further testing during excavation of the 56-acre property on Newtown Turnpike.

However, one of the zoning board's reasons for denial was that the applicant's proposal to conduct further testing during excavation activities is "not acceptable" because discovering additional contamination may require alternate placement of the houses and open space areas in contrast to those locations that would have been approved. The commission added, "The testing must be conducted prior to excavation activities, and prior to approving the locations of the houses and open space areas."

The commission, based on the environmental reports submitted, said if ARS Partners submits another application for development of the property, an independent consultant must be hired to review the environmental reports, complete additional testing for contamination, formulate recommendations for remediation if necessary and prepare a report for the P&Z. Following such work, the P&Z said it will then be able to conclude whether "it is reasonably likely, or unlikely, that the project would unreasonably pollute, impair, or destroy the public trust in the air, water or other natural resources, and if it is likely, whether there are any feasible project alternatives consistent with the reasonable requirements of the public health, safety and welfare, considering all relevant surrounding circumstances and factors," in accordance with the state statutes.

The zoning board's final reason for denial was based on the fact it did not receive clear information on whether portions of the proposed usable open space were within the 15-foot wetland setback. The 15-foot wetland setback was one of a number of conditions in the Conservation Commission's approval of the project.

Matthew Mandell, spokesman for the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund, a group of concerned citizens that opposed the housing project, was pleased to leave Town Hall Thursday night with a victory.

"This is a victory not just for the Partrick Wetlands community but for all of Westport," he said. "The health and well-being of all of the citizens of the town should never be threatened or compromised."

He went on, "A small grassroots movement was embraced by the entire town and stopped a freight train. The next goal is to remove it from the tracks."

If it wants, ARS Partners can come back with another application to the P&Z as soon as it is ready to do so.