Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

P&Z Hints at Denial for Poplar Plains Plan
By Kirk Lang
Printed in the Westport News

If Thursday night was any indication, it looks like the Planning and Zoning Commission will deny ARS Partners' application to erect The Reserve at Poplar Plains, a 22 single-family house development, on the former F.D. Rich property, much of which is wetlands.

An official vote on the application could take place tomorrow night.

Traditionally, before the zoning board discusses an item in work session, members will make motions whether to approve or deny an application. However, P&Z Chairman Eleanor Lowenstein advised against such action.

"I would like to discuss this so a preliminary resolution can be drawn up," she said. "This way, we can go down the list and discuss our feelings about certain things rather than make a motion."

However, before the meeting ended, it was clear a number of commissioners were leaning toward denial of the project rather than approval. When an unofficial vote was taken to see where everyone stood on denying without prejudice, the vote was 5-2 in favor.

Early on, a number of commissioners felt further environmental study of the site is needed. P&Z member Elizabeth Kuechenmeister said, "I was certainly struck by the memo from the first selectwoman and the comments from Ira [Bloom, town attorney]. I would like to see testing from an independent third party."

Earlier this month, a couple of days before the final public hearing on ARS Partners' proposal, First Selectwoman Diane Goss Farrell wrote a letter to the commission advocating further environmental study. At the time, Larry Weisman, attorney for ARS Partners, said what Farrell did was illegal and improper. However, Bloom said Farrell was within her rights to write the letter.

When Kuechenmeister said Thursday she wanted to see additional testing, commission member Arlene Gottlieb quickly agreed with her. Commissioner Michael Stashower wondered if a consultant should be hired to determine if additional testing is required.

Lowenstein noted the site has been tested since 1977. Since that time, varying levels of methane gas, mercury, lead and arsenic have been found. The P&Z chairman noted, though, that there has been no testing since 1999.

"To me, that was a fault," she said, later adding, "You don't know if this has moved through either water, soil or bedrock."

Lowenstein seemed concerned that if ARS Partners successfully appealed a possible denial, conditions that the applicant has agreed to if the project is approved, might not be adhered to.

However, P&Z member Bill Crowther said any decision should be based on the facts and not fear of what could occur as the result of litigation.

"You can't base a decision based upon what the courts will do," he said.

Edgar Van Gelder wondered who would pay for a neutral party to do a review.

Lowenstein, one of the two unofficial votes not to deny the project without prejudice, noted, "If you approve it, you can require the applicant to do it."

Van Gelder, the man behind the other sense of the meeting vote against denial, asked his fellow commissioners, who are not environmental experts, "What instructions do we give them for testing?"

Stashower, early in the meeting, said even if the P&Z wins in court and the site is eventually mitigated, "when it's all done, there will be 22 houses built."

"I have a problem with that," he said, at which point Lowenstein interrupted him and said, "Wait a minute, Mike."

Stashower was of the opinion that eight of the proposed homes do not have principal access to a major thoroughfare, and thus do not comply with the zoning regulations, since they would be accessed by Partrick Road and not Newtown Turnpike, where the other 14 homes enter and exit from.

Weisman had argued during the public hearings that the Open Space Residential District-zoned site does have principal access to an arterial road or a major thoroughfare, since the majority of the homes are accessed from Newtown Turnpike.

Stashower, during the P&Z work session, disagreed.

"You're saying you can have access to Partrick based on the number of houses that are on Newtown Turnpike?" he asked, seeming to question the absurdity of such a claim.

The homes proposed along the Partrick Road portion of The Reserve at Poplar Plains cannot be accessed from Newtown Turnpike because of the site's layout.

After some debate between commissioners on whether the site has principal access to a major thoroughfare, a vote was taken on whether primary access as laid out agrees with the regulations. The majority of the zoning board members felt it did.

Lowenstein noted that intervention petitions from residents have yet to be answered, to which Stashower responded, "We've answered them by turning it down."