Protect the Partrick Wetlands
The well organized neighborhood opposition took on new political dimensions when the Planning and Zoning Commission met in a public hearing Thursday and heard protests from two political heavyweights, state Rep. Ken Bernhard and State Sen. Judy Freedman.
Bernhard, who lives on Kings Highway North, called the development plan "too aggressive," with "excessive building and excessive coverage," and said it was "too intense." He called on the commission to see that from a planning perspective "the effect cannot be anything but unacceptable," and asked the commission to exercise the discretion it has in favor of scaling down the project.
Freedman, who lives on Crawford Lane, was unable to attend the meeting, but sent a letter to the commission which was read by her neighbor, Rhoda Burke. Freedman, who is an advocate of the preservation of open space, has lived in the area for decades. She chose the northwest quadrant of Westport because of the woods and natural beauty of the land. She asked the commission, "How many of you have moved here from other congested places because of the character of Westport?"
Freedman also noted the impact of the development on the safety of the water supply, the fragile ecosystems in the wetlands, the resulting additional traffic and the increased tax burden on the town as new homes add the burden of providing additional services.
"The town has reached its development limit. We need to preserve the land," she said.
Burke said, "We are horrified and saddened by the ARS application. Twenty-two houses on nine acres is an outrageous thought. It is in the public interest to preserve the residential character of Westport." Burke said the developer purchased the 56-acre property at a bargain basement price. "They could care less about what they are destroying. They want to destroy our last large green and open space in our beloved Westport. Does anyone think that this is a good thing?"
Sidney Kramer, chairman of Save Westport Now, a political group that rallies around endangered neighborhoods, called the regulations imprecise. Kramer said that single-family residences must have frontage on a direct thoroughfare (street nomenclature that has received considerable scrutiny by the town attorney, the developer ARS Partners and the opponents of the plan), and that there must be a minimum of 50 acres for the development.
Kramer those 50 acres must be "buildable," excluding the wetlands which are not "buildable."
He also held the commission to the highest standard, asking them to accept nothing less than a zero possibility that the acquifers (which provide well water for neighbors) on the land could be contaminated with surface water.
Kramer argued against private ownership of a municipal sewer line. "The sewer arrangements bother me, and they should bother you," he said. Kramer argued that Westport should negotiate its own terms if it wants a sewer line with Norwalk, and urged the P&Z not to grant an easement for such purpose, which he said should be part of a plan to serve the whole community.
"An easement should never, never be given away without consideration, money and control," he said.
Arthur and Claudia Cohen, of Old Hill Road, filed a lawsuit against the town after the Conservation Commission restricted the development. Mr. Cohen asked, "Why has the property never been developed? No rational person could legitimately ever expect that a development such as this could be perpetrated on the people of Westport. Visualize it, 22 houses on nine acres in the middle of wetlands on top of an acquifer. None of us can sit idly by and let this happen."
Chris Vatis, of 64 Partrick Road, pointed out that Partrick Road is a dangerous street which is hard to cross even without the burden of additional homes and vehicles. "The problem is, you can look, but you can't see anything. You can't see when you cross the street. It's impossible."
Ralph Hymans , an outspoken advocate for the causes of senior citizens, complained that multi-family housing on the site will cause even greater pressure on the taxes of seniors, who he warned are being taxed out of town.
"We lose a lot if seniors leave - we lose values, volunteerism and the character they bring to the town," he said.
Another resident read from a letter he had received, announcing the formation of new plans to renovate the White Barn Theater and add a new 5,000-square-foot theatrical school for children. The plan also calls for a donation of part of the land for a Norwalk municipal park and part for the development of additional single family residences. Two of the acres in the 18-acre parcel are in Westport.
"The neighborhood is under attack," said Matthew Mandell, a leader in the fight against the development.