Protect the Partrick Wetlands
ARS Partners, with its hard-won approvals from the Conservation Commission and the Water Pollution Control Board, has now taken the next legal step and applied to the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission for a site plan and special permit review for "The Reserve at Poplar Plains," its 22 single-family-home project on the 55.9 acre site between Partrick Road and Newtown Turnpike.
The application was filed in spite of the vociferous objections of a group of local residents, who show no sign of giving up their battle to oppose the project and who have formed a protest group called the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund.
Despite a veritable tome of approvals and modifications by various town bodies that have reviewed the project, which is situated on property with wetlands, the neighbors maintain that the potential remains significant for environmental damage, such as possible contamination of the water supply, disruption of the fragile wetlands, destruction of the aquifer, release of contaminants from the soil as a result of the inevitable blasting at the site, and loss of precious wildlife, just to name a few.
There is currently one lawsuit pending against the town, filed by residents Claudia and Arthur Cohen, which was filed after the Conservation Commission reviewed and ultimately restricted the development from 31 to 25 units. ARS partners also filed an appeal, which it later withdrew, after the Conservation Commission made its decision. Subsequently the developer reduced the number of proposed units to 22.
Most recently, the Water Pollution Control Authority grappled with the issue of whether or not the sanitary sewer extension posed a real threat to the water supply. Relying on the expert recommendations of the Conservation Commission and the Department of Public Works, the WPCA last week approved the sanitary sewer extension by a 2-1 vote, although it imposed a condition calling for a requirement that should a private well be impacted, the hookup to the public water supply be made at the developer's expense.
At this time, the developer maintains that the each of the town's numerous requirements have been met. The developer now faces another sometimes unpredictable panel, the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Matthew Mandell, an outspoken opponent of the development, called the decision by the Water Pollution Control Authority "difficult to comprehend" and said that "in no way should (the decision) be considered an endorsement of the sewer or the development of the Partrick Wetlands - the real questions concerning well water contamination, public health, sprawl and loss of open space went unanswered and sloughed off to Planning and Zoning. It is there where the citizens of Westport will finally find justice in an elected commission whose regulations are clear and broad."
Kathy Barnard, director of the Planning and Zoning Department, said that the application would probably come before the commission by the end of March, but said that because of the Staples High School application zoners are working on at present, it was not clear exactly when the project would be before the commission.
Mandell fully intends to present the concerns of the residents to the Planning and Zoning Commission. "We don't believe the property should be developed as proposed and we will fight it until a proper resolution is found," he said.
"We believe the planning and zoning regulations, as well as the town plan, gives the commission far-reaching areas to view. Well water quality is certainly within their purview, traffic, character of the neighborhood, overdevelopment, and loss of open space, are only some of the issues that we will be bringing to the commission."
Mandell explained his motivation for fighting the development. "I love that land, and I find it very difficult to believe that the developer can put those houses there." He said that there had been no effort made by the developer to sit down with residents to do what is best for everyone involved. "They should be working with the town and the community to do what is best for everyone involved. There will be no access for the community, no trails, or a nature center."
Mandell said he intended to focus some of his statements to the P&Z on the need for open space. "If all open space is gone," he said, "that is a horrible occurrence for a town such as Westport. Westport has the lowest percentage of open space of the towns around it. [First Selectwoman Diane] Farrell campaigned on open space."
Barnard, the P&Z director, predicted that many of the same issues brought up by the opponents will come up before the P&Z as it faces its decision. "They [zoning commissioners] are required to rely upon what is already in the record, such as previous reviews by other agencies. But they also call in their own experts," she said. "They must take into account reviews by other agencies as well as testimony by neighbors and the applicant."
Barnard said the P&Z won't do a total conservation review. "They could, however, ask the health department to do additional things. The commission is used to hearing a lot of points of view. They do a good job of filtering through all of that. The commission will of course have to review the project's setbacks, coverage, density, and the impact on the land itself."
The land is zoned OSRD-one family single residential development. The regulations for land zoned OSRD allow up to 100 units on the property. "That has been substantially diminished along the way by conservation," said Barnard. At this time, most of the units are planned to be 4,200 square feet. The houses will be clustered together on less than 10 acres of the 56-acre parcel, which contains 36 acres of wetlands and 20 acres of upland.
©Westport Minuteman 2003