Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Opponents have their say on Partrick development plan

By:Bonnie Adler, Staff Writer Minuteman May 29, 2003

Opponents were out in force last week as the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission held a public meeting on the site application for the Reserve at Poplar Plains, a 22-unit clustered housing development that is proposed for the largest remaining undeveloped tracts of land in Westport.

Located at Partrick Road and Newtown Turnpike, the 56-acre site was once used as a dump but has been cleaned up and is now owned by ARS Partners, a development company that has been seeking to put a clustered housing development in three areas on nine of the acres in the land parcel.

The project has met with stiff resistance from neighbors, who have complained of potential health hazards from the chemicals in the land and the water, important environmental issues such as loss of animal and plant life in the fragile wetland areas, and traffic overburdening, among numerous other issues. They have formed an opposition group which they have named the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund.

With nearly a full house awaiting the imminent proceedings, P&Z chairman Ellie Lowenstein called the meeting to order and reminded the crowd that the land is privately held and can be developed if the project meets the regulations which the P&Z exists to uphold and consider. She also said that the land is not designated open space, as many have been calling it, but is OSRD, open space residential district.

First Selectwoman Diane Farrell spoke briefly before the public portion began, saying that the Board of Selectmen, acting in its authority as Water Pollution Control Authority, had approved a sanitary sewer extension required by the project, but that approval was by "no means an endorsement of the project."

She also noted that Republican Selectman John Izzo had voted against the sewer extension, and asked to keep the space open. She noted that when the public asks that the town purchase the property, it should consider that at this time there are not ample funds in the Real Property Acquisition Fund, which currently contains $239,000.

The last purchase made by the town, the Jaeger property on Hyde Lane, depleted the fund. Farrell also informed the audience that the town budget had recently been approved and the mill rate set, and next year's taxes would show a 9.8 percent increase over this year, largely due to the town's high debt caused by its huge capital expenditures related to school projects.

The first speaker, Chester Harlow of Wilton Road, presented a petition with 2,000 signatures seeking a denial of the application before the P&Z. He acknowledged that the P&Z is required to work within its regulations and said, "the application does not meet the letter or spirit of the regulations."

Harlow called upon the P&Z to weigh public protection against land, water and air pollution, zoning and arterial access, traffic concerns, wetland degradation, tax considerations, open space development and sewer sprawl.

Michael Bologna, attorney for the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund, followed with a lengthy discussion of whether or not Partrick Road could be designated an arterial street, which is required by the OSRD zoning regulations for its projects.

According to the opponents of the development, in the 1997 Town Plan of Development, Newton Turnpike was designated a collector road and Partrick Road was designated a local road. In the 1960 Town Plan of Development, Partrick was a secondary road. It was proposed to become a major thoroughfare but never became one. Most roads did not get the work after all.

Bologna argued that it was not appropriate to use the definitions of "arterial street" from the 1960 Town Plan of Development, as Town Attorney Ira Bloom had encouraged. He called for the use of current regulations as opposed to past regulations to guide any decisions made by the P&Z.

Mark Van Summern, a neighbor and architect, reminded the commission that the frontage requirements were not met by the proposed plan since the street was not designated an arterial street. "Each lot has to have a minimum of 50 feet on an arterial street," he said.

The land tract is made up of wetlands and uplands, and during the course of the public hearings, the number of houses was reduced and the location of the units was shifted after lengthy and controversial review by the Conservation Commission. According to Van Summern, the developers are now forcing 22 homes on three separate locations, yet they were filing the entire application as a single lot.

He also said the town would be unable to enforce the stringent deed restrictions imposed by the Conservation Commission. "The proposed development pushes the limits (imposed on the project). It would be difficult for the town to enforce the deed restrictions on lawns, swing sets or cookouts," he said.

The original intent of the framers of the OSRD was to allow clustering in exchange for open space. Van Summern said, "This was not the intent of the framers of the OSRD. More houses will jeopardize that same sensitive space."

James Cochran, a fifth-generation Westporter, showed a videotape called "Partrick Road, A Road Under Assault." The video was made to emphasize his warnings that the street was too winding, narrow and dangerous to support a 22-unit development and the resulting traffic.

"It is still the same small winding country road that it was when I was a young boy," he said. "But you cannot step out on Partrick Road without a fear of getting hit. I have seen cars click mirrors because the road is so narrow. If there are 22 more houses and their cars, there may be a tragic event."

He rebuffed the developers claim that new residents would commonly use Newtown Turnpike for their thoroughfare and said, "More traffic will be placed on Partrick Road. It is nothing more than a local road being abused by cut-throughs. It is a road under assault."

Helen Block, resident and opponent of the plan, emphasized the importance of open space in the town of Westport, calling it one of Westportís most important resources. "Partrick Road has been scarred, called ugly and undesirable. Nothing could be farther than the truth. This ugly duckling is slowly transforming itself into a swan. Radically infringing on the wetlands may infringe on the wetlands' task of recharging itself."

Also citing important environmental concerns, Shawn Timmons warned, "What will the world think of Westport, putting the health of its residents at risk for a development?"

Two medical doctors addressed concerns about the potential for the construction to unleash potentially hazardous chemicals in the land. Dr. Minas Lialios, a pediatrician who treats children in Norwalk, called for a thorough study to prevent potential health threats. "Contaminants can degrade when released and create a potential health threat, such as in mercury poisoning," he said. He warned the commissioners, "You have to look at the health and well-being of the children. Your responsibilities go beyond mine. One cannot fully appreciate the potential health concerns involved."

Dr. Jonathan Greenwald proposed that a licensed, qualified, objective firm, agreeable to both opponents and developers, be hired by the town to perform the necessary toxicological and biological tests to the soil and water on the site. "Why another study? Arsenic, lead and mercury has already been found on the tract. Call it a second opinion. You understand that from the health standpoint you have a client, the town, which presents a difficult case, and you should welcome a second opinion, and as a patient will pay for a second opinion, so must the town. The town, dare I say it, could face lawsuits. If all the I's are dotted and T's crossed, we should end up with a reasoned and just outcome. First of all, do no harm."

Matthew Mandel, an outspoken critic of the developer, spoke against the project, saying it was out of character in the neighborhood, and did not even provide the town with any usable open space. Mandel claimed the project overcrowded the land, and predicted that future residents will inevitably encroach upon their deed restrictions and go into the "no disturbance zones" created by the Conservation Commission, setting up a scenario in which Westport would be unable to enforce its deed restrictions.

He also admonished the P&Z that Westport was setting up a sewer extension with no controls over it, predicting the sewer sprawl would continue to extend into Newtown Turnpike into Weston and Wilton and ultimately enable the YMCA to expand at Mahackeno. "TheP&Z must adhere to the Town Plan of 1997 and not allow the sewer. Westport is creating a no-control situation of the sewers coming out of Norwalk. Unless P&Z stops it, there is no control over the sewers."