Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

P&Z Gives Partial Approval to Open Space Proposal
By Kirk Lang
Printed in the Westport News

Neighbors of the proposed development at the former F.D Rich property got a sandwich without the meat this past Thursday from the Planning and Zoning Commission. The crux of what they had been seeking was not delivered to them.

The key objective of Patrick Road resident Matthew Mandell's proposal was to secure more significant spacing between buildings than what currently exists in the Open Space Residential District. The former F.D. Rich property is the only OSRD in town. Presently, ARS Partners' plan shows two buildings, of the roughly two dozen that would be placed on the site, only 24 feet apart, according to Mandell.

Mandell had been hoping the P&Z would approve an 80-foot distance between buildings within 200 feet of surrounding residential properties. It did not.

Instead, the zoning board approved sub-elements of the proposal, one of which asked for an expanded buffer between any internal perimeter road or accessory structure for multiple or community use and surrounding residential properties.

The other item the P&Z approved was a request to add a minimum 100-foot setback between neighbors of the development and any accessory buildings or accessory structures for multiple or community use, such as tennis courts or swimming pools. The ARS proposal, however, does not include any swimming pools or tennis courts in its plans.

Mandell said what the P&Z elected to adopt does no good. He said what was approved were just "riders to the bigger piece.

"While the commission gave us two small parts of the amendment, they did not adopt the section with teeth, that of the spacing, the no cluster part," said Mandell. "By not adopting the spacing aspect, the clustered houses will still be on the perimeter of the property and along our borders. They will still be out of character and have a negative impact on our community.

"The suggestion that screening these clustered monsters would solve the problem is unworkable and unacceptable as an option.

The Partrick Road resident told the Westport News, "The OSRD was originally and improperly based on the PRD [Planned Residential Development]. It is flawed and needs to be changed. The zone was supposed to be something better, something more like other OSRDs around the country. By saying it can't be changed because it would then be inconsistent with other zones in Westport handcuffs the spirit of what an OSRD is supposed to be and achieve. That is, allowing some development, but protecting not just the land, but the residents around it."

While P&Z Chairman Eleanor Lowenstein argued that adopting Mandell's amendment as proposed would have made it inconsistent with other town zones, Commissioner Bill Crowther said the property, which is mainly wetlands and the town's only OSRD, was unique enough to make an exception.

Some commissioners said if an 80-foot spacing between buildings was approved, the developer might be forced to create multi-family housing units, which are allowed under OSRD regulations.

"You would end up with a much more massive building," said P&Z member Michael Stashower. ARS Partners' plan calls for roughly two dozen single family homes on a nine-acre portion of the 55-acre site.

While giving her reason for denial, Lowenstein said the "change to the building spacing doesn't achieve what the applicant wants. It becomes multi-family housing. Multi-family buildings can be built."

She said the commission should not "tamper" with the OSRD, if the PRD regulations, which the OSRD was built under, were not changed.

P&Z Commissioner Elizabeth Kuechenmeister, however, felt differently, noting that she, as a P&Z member, pledged to protect residential property owners. She pointed out Mandell's proposal also was supported by the South Western Regional Planning Agency and the Greater Bridgeport Regional Planning Agency. "I don't believe what they're asking for is outrageous."

P&Z members Bill Crowther and Arlene Gottlieb both said immediately afterwards, "I agree."

There had been opposing viewpoints from both Town Attorney Ira Bloom and ARS Attorney Larry Weisman during the public hearings on whether on the commission could make any changes to the OSRD without court approval first. Weisman claimed the town couldn't. Bloom said there was no problem in doing so.

A previous owner of the ARS property sued the town. The town, in 1984, reached a agreement that changed the site's development standards. The site was rezoned from a Design Development District (DDD) to OSRD, replacing a commercial with a residential zone.

Weisman believed a court should have approved any changes before the P&Z. Weeks ago, he said, "It was done by agreement. The court approved the agreement. To go and get court approval first is the right way to do things."

This reporter tried to talk to Weisman after the zoning board's decision but he refused comment.

Mandell offered a final thought. "The P&Z owes our community and all of Westport more than they gave tonight," he said. "We will reach out to the entire town of Westport to seek its support in protecting the Partrick wetlands and our community."