Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Arsenic, Coyotes, Sewers and Traffic Remain Concerns Among Neighbors of The Reserve at Poplar Plains

By Kirk Lang

Printed in the Westport News

Larry Weisman, attorney for ARS Partners, never got out of his seat at last Thursday's Planning and Zoning Commission hearing to defend his client's proposal to build 22 homes on a nine-acre portion of the former F.D. Rich property.

He did not to comment on or rebut any of the more than three dozen speakers who took to the microphone and spoke out against the project. Perhaps he will use tonight's special meeting of the P&Z to respond to critics of The Reserve at Poplar Plains (the P&Z does not normally hold meetings Wednesdays).

The only time this reporter heard any words from Weisman was during a meeting break. Huddled in the back of the auditorium with a few of his associates, one of them, referring to speakers comments about arsenic that had been found on the Newtown Turnpike property in the past, said, "Westport is a beautiful town."

Weisman responded, "Just don't inhale any arsenic."

Some of the speakers last week also read letters of dissent from those unable to attend the meeting. Two letters came from state Sen. Judith Freedman and state Rep. Kenneth Bernhard.

Bernhard said in his personal opinion he though the applicant was being too aggressive, which would result in a project that would be "too intense."

He knows the P&Z can only do so much but, he said he hoped the zoning board, in its power, could find a way to scale down the project. Freedman said no matter how big or small the development, it will have a negative impact.

Sidney Kramer, chairman of Save Westport Now, argued that the development does not have the 50 acres an Open Space Residential District requires.

"A 50-acre site must mean a usable, buildable and spacious site," said Kramer. Much of the site is unsuitable for development because of wetlands and uplands, one reason development is limited to 9 acres and why two homes will stand alone, away from the locations of the other 20. He also said the site does not have frontage on or direct access to a major thoroughfare or arterial street. He brought up the fact that the P&Z staff recently made a correction to their research that the Town Plan being used as a basis for this application does not list Newtown Turnpike as a major thoroughfare.

A closer look at the 1960 Town Plan, which was in effect at the time the OSRD zone under which the former F.D. Rich property falls was created, revealed that Newtown Turnpike was actually considered a secondary thoroughfare.

Chris Vatis, of Partrick Road, the road where two of the entrances to the development may be, was one of the first to bring up the arsenic concern. Many neighbors of the property are worried construction may stir up contaminants on the property and affect their well water. The former F.D. Rich site sits on top of a major aquifer.

"I have a 3-year-old," said Vatis. "Maybe my body could take a little more arsenic than his could."

Other neighbors stated they don't like how many of the units are clumped together. Some felt some units should have been sacrificed to provide more recreational space for the future homeowners.

John Blossom, a 12-year Westport resident, said the project has "no character."

Oakwood Lane resident Brian Ill had concerns about the development displacing coyotes that reside within the 50-acre site. Ill attended with his three eldest daughters but has a total of nine children.

Of the coyotes, he said, "We hear them howl, not one or two of them, but packs of them."

A subsequent speaker, Amy Ansel, also brought up the coyote issue, and touched on deer as well.

"The displacement of deer and coyotes will have a negative impact on surrounding properties," she said, adding that even without the project approved yet, some coyotes "have even chased a few neighbors into their homes."

Another issue brought up was the sewer hookup from the City of Norwalk that will service the property. Some said the sewer extension will allow other properties in the area to subdivide lots and create more traffic problems than already exist. Last week, neighbors of the famed White Barn Theatre were invited to see the proposed development slated for the 18-acre parcel, less than a half-mile from The Reserve at Poplar Plains. The plan for the White Barn property calls for 13 homes and a drama school.

Real estate agent Peter Corrigan said he felt the development was a bad idea and predicted some of what is now dry land on the property will turn into wetlands. He urged ARS Partners to donate the property to the town or the Aspetuck Land Trust.

"As my 90-year-old grandfather would say, 'It's a swamp.' "

Diane Lauricella, a Norwalk resident who doesn't live far from The Reserve at Poplar Plains and is chairman for the Fairfield County group of the Sierra Club, said more thorough research needs to be on the ARS-owned site.

While Russell Slayback, a geologist who testified on ARS' behalf a few weeks back and said that drillings that located iron, phosphates, nitrates, arsenic and benzene were well below allowable levels and standards, Lauricella believes an independent study needs to be conducted.

Although she respects Slayback, she believes someone other a person hired by the applicant should investigate possible contaminants on the property.

"Maybe they didn't drill deep enough," said Lauricella, former senior environmental inspector for the hazardous materials unit of the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).

She said there is a group known as the Kings Mark Environmental Team, "a state and federal cooperative," that will assist towns on aquifer problems and other matters at no cost. She urged the P&Z to have an "adequate review" of the site take place.

While nearby Westport residents are concerned about well water contamination, Lauricella said Norwalk residents are fearful of the extension of the sewer.

"The City of Norwalk doesn't understand the implication of extending this sewer line," she said.

Bert Aber, a retired investment banker who lives on Partrick Road, brought up the two homes that would be isolated from the other 20 structures.

"Larry Weisman called the two houses a 'neighborhood' and due to their proximity [to me] I'd be forced to join it," he said.

Oakwood Lane resident Andy Fowle admitted his opposition to the project was in fact a case of NIMBY (not in my backyard). An earlier speaker said opposition to the project is not a NIMBY issue because it's a development that "threatens the entire Town of Westport."

Toward the end of the meeting, a Westporter who commutes to New York City argued against the project, saying that the additional traffic created by the project would make him spend an extra 40 hours a year in his car.

"I'm not anti-development," said Jeff Aber. "I'm anti-overdevelopment."

Partrick Road resident Scott Beach said the layout of Partrick Road and its traffic already makes it dangerous, without an additional 22 homes in the area.

"I have a daughter who just turned 6 and she can't understand why she has to ride a bike around in her yard and not in the street," he said. Barry Kresch said he lost two cats to Partrick Road.

Chester Harlow, who spoke out against the proposal at Citizens' Brown Bag Luncheons early on in the application process, spoke shortly before the end of the meeting and noted that not one person got up and spoke in support of the project.

The public hearing on ARS Partners' proposal will continue tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.