Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Neighbors Stage Protest of Proposed Housing Plan
By Kirk Lang
Printed in the Westport News

Members of the Planning and Zoning Commission were met by protesters at the former F.D. Rich property Tuesday morning.

As the P&Z arrived to conduct a site visit, chants of "save our open space" and "protect the land" could be heard.

Neighbors, many of whom live on Partrick Road, are against a proposal by ARS Partners to build 24 single-family homes on the 55-acre site, the largest open space in town, which also sits on a major aquifer.

Although a large site, the property features vast wetlands, so development will be limited to roughly seven acres. However, it is an area neighbors say is too close to residences. Some are fearful of development because of worries that construction will lead to possible contamination of their wells.

The site for many years was used as a dumping ground. A fair amount of garbage has been cleaned up but according to critics of the housing plan, there is still much to be done.

Matthew Mandell, the most vocal opponent of the ARS proposal, recently attempted to get a text amendment passed by the P&Z that he nicknamed the "No Cluster Buffer." It tried to amend portions of the Open Space Residential District to provide for greater setbacks from residential neighbors and add an 80-foot distance requirement between buildings located within 200 feet of existing residences. The P&Z did not grant the request.

However, he continues his fight. Early Monday morning there were 21 protesters standing out in the cold to greet the P&Z.

"We made our statement that the community is together in not wanting this development," said Mandell. "We were out there for a purpose. Some people brought their kids and they were holding up signs too."

Mandell said he believes development of the environmentally sensitive site could possibly put future generations at risk.

Neighbors were welcomed by P&Z members, who looked at the property with ARS architects and engineers, to join them on their walk of the site.

"It was amazing how much garbage was all over the place," said Mandell. "There were air conditioners, pieces of cars, old paint cans and oil drum cans. If that's what's on the surface, what's buried beneath it?"

Hundreds of tires were removed from the site by ARS, as well as 250 tons of arsenic-laden soil, with assistance from the Department of Environmental Protection. Neighbors, however, have stated their fears that the site is not completely clear of contaminants and worry site disturbance could affect the equilibrium of the site.

P&Z Director Katherine Barnard would not comment on the amount of garbage she saw on the site but said what she did observe was a big improvement from when she last toured the former F.D. Rich property a few years back.

"One of the things I observed previously was much more debris on the site," she said, adding, "I have no idea how it got there."

An area adjacent to the site was once used as a town landfill. The 55-acre parcel, though, was not meant to be one.

Partrick Road resident Jamie Cochrane said the town has to address its former landfill, which has since been capped and is now used as a lay-down area.

"In all honesty, ARS is not responsible for what's in the ground at the dump. I think the town is in a very difficult position and I think the administration glosses over it. There may be leeching from there into the aquifer," he said, adding that if that is the case, then ARS' issues in cleaning up the site would be with the Town of Westport."

As Mandell walked behind the P&Z and Town Attorney Ira Bloom on the site visit, he said he thought some commission members looked surprised where the proposed structures were staked out, including wetland areas and places consisting of many trees and ledge.

"There was hardly any flat land," said Mandell, who is a member of the Partrick Wetland Preservation Fund, a newly formed neighborhood organization. The group's Web site, , details its goals to protect the area and provides information on related public hearings, P&Z information, public opinion and background information on the site.

"We have formed to protect the wetlands from mismanagement and over-development," said Mandell. He said this week was a perfect example of the commitment the neighbors have in trying to protect the site.

"When you get 21 people on a weekday at 8 a.m. in the morning, I think that says something," said Mandell.

1999-2002 MediaNews Group, Inc. All rights to republication are reserved.