Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Neighbors Rally Against Developers
By Kirk Lang
Printed in the Westport News

There were video cameras mounted on the wall of the Town Hall auditorium but this was no movie, though it may have seemed like one.

Thirty or more neighbors of the proposed development at the former F.D. Rich property came to Town Hall Thursday night to show their unity and voice their displeasure with a developer's plans to build on the largest undeveloped tract of land in town.

"For every person who's here, there are at least one or two who can't make it," said Kathleen Moriarty, who lives near the property.

Much of the former F.D. Rich property on Newtown Turnpike is wetlands. However, ARS Partners has been given Conservation Commission approval to build 25 units on roughly nine acres of the 55-acre site. ARS attorney Larry Weisman appealed the decision, since ARS had filed an application to build 31 units.

Many neighbors feel the area of approved development is too close to its residential neighbors. Because of this, Matthew Mandell of Partrick Road, has proposed a text amendment to amend portions of the Open Space Residential District to provide for greater setbacks from the Res AAA and Res AA boundary lines and to add 80-foot distance requirements between proposed buildings located within 200-feet of residences. Under Mandell's proposal, accessory buildings, even accessory structures, would have to have a minimum 100-foot setback from residential neighbors.

Mandell calls his proposal the "no-cluster buffer" for short. While he was wrapping up his presentation last Thursday (the second of two hearings) Weisman walked out of the auditorium and returned with a bottle of water he had gotten from a soda machine.

Upon Weisman's return, though public comment was over, one neighbor, Douglas Healy, of Heron Lake Road, who did not listen to P&Z Chairman Eleanor Lowenstein's pleas to be quiet and take his seat, accused Weisman of purposely walking out of the auditorium and making a lot of noise during Mandell's time at the microphone.

After the meeting, Weisman told the Westport News he only got up to get a much-needed drink.

However, neighbors who have seen him throughout many Conservation Commission hearings claim Thursday night was not the first time he made a scene.

"He has done that before," said Mandell. "This is something he does to detract attention from the speaker."

Partrick Road resident Amy Ancel said she watches both the commissioners and the developers and their representatives closely during meetings. She said she has watched Weisman when the neighbors are speaking.

"He laughs. He snickers," she said. "He has a very condescending air to him."

She added, "He's flip, condescending and disrespectful of the public."

Commenting on neighbors claiming he's disruptive and that he plans when to get a bottle of water, Weisman said, "They're grasping at straws. This is a measure of their anger and frustration over the whole thing and I understand that."

Weisman, whose clients have limited the planned development because of substantial wetlands on the property, said Mandell's amendment would be so restrictive that if adopted, "it would constitute a taking," and prohibit any return on the investment.

According to Conservation Director Alicia Mozian a few weeks ago, eight units would be affected by Mandell's amendment.

Town Attorney Ira Bloom and Weisman have differences of opinion on whether the P&Z can approve the amendment before a court does. Years ago, when a previous owner of the property sued the town, a stipulation was reached that changed the site's development standards. The site was rezoned from design Development District (DDD) to OSRD, replacing a commercial zone with a residential zone and allowing cluster development for either single-family, two-family and multi-family housing units.

Bloom is of the opinion that the zoning board can approve proposed changes to the zone before court approval. Weisman believes the courts must approve it first.

"It was done by agreement," Weisman said. "The agreement was approved by the court. To go and get court approval first is the right way to do things."

Mandell just hopes the amendment is adopted. However, ARS would only be subject to the amendment if it submitted a new application after Mandell's amendment was approved. Mandell's reason for the amendment is to remove cluster housing from the perimeter of the development, in order to, he claims, protect the character and lifestyles of the neighborhood and minimize observable over-development.

Weisman is expected to submit a new application to the Conservation Commission tonight showing 24 units, 21 of which have already been approved by the board. The remaining three the commission will be asked to reconsider. Some adjustments were made, according to Weisman, such as reducing the size of the units and pulling them farther away from the wetlands.

While Mandell's amendment proposed a 100-foot setback from all single-family neighbors, Weisman, looking at a map while on the phone with the Westport News, said the closest proposed building on the former F.D. Rich site is roughly 120 feet from Mandell's father-in-law's house.

"I don't think we're any closer than 100 feet from the nearest off-site neighbor," said Weisman.

He added that ARS has done everything possible to be respectful of the property, including enhanced setbacks imposed by the Conservation Department.

"The neighbors like to say this is 24 units on nine acres," he said, "but this is 24 units on 55 acres. It is a very responsible project.

Weisman added that much of the land, which will have walking trails, would be given to the town or some public agency.

The P&Z is expected to make a decision on the "no cluster buffer" amendment Oct. 24.

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