Protect the Partrick Wetlands
A very organized group of Westport residents who are collectively known as the "Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund (PWPF)" have been speaking out at various meetings against the project and organizing protests to ""raise awareness to the plight of the Partrick Wetlands," according to PWPF spokesperson Matthew Mandell.
The group's most recent demonstration was in front of the Post Road offices of William Pitt Real Estate Saturday.
"Companies who would aid ARS Partners in their attempt to bring clustered housing to and destroy one of the last and largest pieces of open space in Westport will be singled out and brought before public scrutiny," said Mandell. He added, "Any company that would harm Westport will be a focus of our attention."
When Mandell was questioned as to why the group chose that spot to protest, he said agents of the firm had represented ARS in the past. The Westport News called the William Pitt offices for a response to Mandell's claim, but did not receive one as of press time.
ARS Partners Attorney Larry Weisman refused to comment on the issue. Ever since the first town meeting regarding development of the former F.D. Rich property, it has been an intense battle between the developers and Weisman and those seeking to stop the project. Neighbors filed a lawsuit against the Conservation Commission. Weisman filed a lawsuit against the commission and some neighbors filed notices to intervene. And, this paper has been accused of giving the PWPF too much press.
Mandell's response? "We don't get enough."
He added, "I think what we're talking about here is newsworthy. It's the largest piece of open space in Westport and it's about to be destroyed."
The proposal is to build 22 single-family units within nine acres of the 55-plus acre site, which sits on a major aquifer. Most of the site is unsuitable for development because of wetlands. Neighbors of the site feel the proposed area for development is too close to their homes. Other residents of the town, who do not live in proximity to the planned housing, are concerned about the open space being lost.
Last summer, when the Representative Town Meeting Environment Committee was going over the proposal because of a petition it received to review the project, RTM Environment Committee Chairman Michael Rea said, "This is important to not only the neighbors but the whole town."
The committee made a decision not to exercise its right of review. It did not find evidence of wrongdoing by the Conservation Commission, which has approved the project. However, Rea said, after listening to audiotapes, it was clear the way meetings are conducted needed to be improved.
He added that he regretted the town never bought the F.D. Rich property when it had the chance in the mid-1990s.
"We botched this," he said, pointing out the town's failure to acquire it.
The property is currently zoned "Open Space Residential District." The only zone of its kind in Westport, if ARS Partners wanted to, it could also erect multi-family housing. The developers however, want to create more upscale residential units.
The property has been zoned for residential development since the early 1980s, when it was rezoned from Design Development District to OSRD. Under the DDD, "an office building could have gone in," said P&Z Director Katherine Barnard.
Members of the PWPF have been fighting developers who purchased a piece of property that both the town and the neighbors, who are concerned about the environmental impacts of a site that was found to have arsenic-laden soil a few years back, passed up.
When asked why no attempt was made by citizens to purchase the property before ARS Partners got a hold of it, Mandell said, "We always thought the town would buy it."
The P&Z will hold its first special permit and site plan application on the ARS proposal next Thursday but there will probably be more time for public comment a week later. That's when Mandell plans to fill the auditorium with those who share his concerns about the project. He will also make his case for why the project should be denied.
Mandell believes the P&Z has more power than some might believe it has over the private development that is expected to conform to zoning regulations.
"They have the power to protect people and protect Westport," he said. "Their special permit regulations are to protect the public health and public safety of property owners, the character of the neighborhood and to abide by the Town Plan."
Since ARS technically has the right to build multi-family housing, Barnard said what is being proposed has "less of an impact" than what could be built.