Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Critics of Poplar Plains Project Come out in Force

By Kirk Lang

Printed in the Westport News

During previous Planning and Zoning Commission hearings regarding ARS Partners' proposal to erect 22 homes on the former F.D. Rich property, only a few critics of the plan attended.

The amount of opposition to The Reserve at Poplar Plains, however, should not have been judged by those first meetings, when Larry Weisman, the applicant's lawyer and other experts, spoke on ARS' behalf about the plan, which will be situated within a 55.9-acre site, the majority of which is wetlands.

Though neighbors had a chance to speak at a previous meeting, they waited until this past Thursday to fill the auditorium, which they did.

Before the meeting started, P&Z Chairwoman Eleanor Lowenstein pointed out the Newtown Turnpike/Partrick Road property is not "open space," as many have deemed it.

"It's a privately held piece of land and it's not listed in the Town Plan as open space," she said. Still, PWPF spokesperson Matthew Mandell outlined reasons he and others feel the application should be denied.

As part of his argument, he said the project's design goes against the philosophies of an expert from Rhode Island who spoke about the plan earlier this month. That expert was Randall Arendt, a land-use planner, site designer, author, lecturer and advocate of conservation planning. Arendt did not say anything negative about the project, but this past week, Michael Bologna, a lawyer for some of the neighbors, hinted that it would be hard to get a true opinion when someone's on a "retainer to a developer."

Mandell said he believed Arendt would approach the site differently than ARS. Citing Arendt's books, Mandell said the author would have subtracted all unbuildable areas, leaving the "adjusted tract, in this case nine acres."

Mandell then said that area would be cut in half, with one half to be left as usable open space. Arendt, Mandell said, would also situate the buildings 100 feet away from primary conservation areas.

Mandell, whose in-laws live on Partrick Road, noted, "If ARS had followed Arendt's theories, this project would not exist."

Mandell also said the development does not include a centralized area for community gathering. Rather, there are five separate 75 foot diameter circles, the minimum size that is allowed under P&Z regulations, throughout the property. "Every piece of usable open space interrupts the no-disturbance zone set up by conservation," he said. "One of these sections is in the wetlands and cuts across a building property."

The P&Z regulations say that "usable open space shall not include those portions of a lot that are utilized for off-street parking or loading, driveway or building purposes, nor wetlands, waterbodies, watercourses or land of severe topography having slopes of 25 percent or greater."

He said when the Conservation Commission granted its approval of the project, it did not know where the developers would place the circles, some of which are essentially situated in people's backyards, without defined access.

The PWPF also claims a recent P&Z analysis of the property is flawed. According to P&Z regulations, a development such as The Reserve at Poplar Plains has to have frontage or principal access to an arterial road or a major thoroughfare. Presently, both Newtown Turnpike and Partrick Road are designated as collector roads under the latest Town Plan. However, Town Attorney Ira Bloom believes the project can be based on designations in the 1960 Town Plan major thoroughfares, according to P&Z Director Katherine Barnard. The property was rezoned from a Design Development District to an Open Space Residential District in the early 1980s. At that time, the town was still following the 1960 plan, in which P&Z deemed Partrick Road a major thoroughfare.

PWPF representatives showed a videotape at last week's P&Z hearing, shot from the perspective of someone driving down the road, highlighting the fact that it is like the Post Road.

James Cochrane, of Partrick Road, said, "It runs for approximately 1.5 miles and in some places is only 16 feet wide. I have actually seen cars clip mirrors."

Mandell wondered if deed restrictions imposed by the Conservation Department will be enforceable. According to Weisman, homeowners will only own their home, the land under it and the right to landscape 15 feet around it. Mandell said there are "no decks, no patios, no play sets, no use of fertilizer and no pesticides, no rockwalls and no fences.

"People will want to make a bigger backyard," Mandell said. "There will be no sign that says, 'This is the wetlands.' They're going to want to live like normal people with a backyard. You're inviting people to become outlaws.

"Some people will have no front yard and won't have a backyard. If normal everyday life is not allowed, then the houses should not be allowed either."

Mandell also raised concerns about the proposed sewer line to be built for the project, whose waste Norwalk has agreed to handle.

Mandell said of the sewer line: "It will increase density, increase traffic, increase congestion and change the character of ... Westport, Wilton and Weston forever."

Mandell said those living along the sewer line may decide to subdivide their properties to make ends meet. "Allowing the sewer is in direct opposition to the 1997 Town Plan of Development," he said, noting that the plan "does not have a sewer proposed in this area."

He said the proposed sewer has far greater ramifications than the 22 houses being proposed on the "Partrick wetlands." He said ARS Partners could instead have a one-point collection system, where waste is trucked away monthly.

In addition to the numbers that filled the seats in the Town Hall auditorium, a petition against the project, signed by more than 2,000 people, was submitted to the P&Z.

Due to a lack of time, Weisman was unable to respond. The P&Z, which does not meet this week, will resume June 5, at 7:30 p.m.