Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community

Partrick Settlement Said To Set Example For Region

Printed in the Westport News

Preservation efforts that have resulted over the past 15 years in a reduction of development plans for the 55-plus acres of woodland, fronting on Partrick Road and Newtown Turnpike in Westport, are being hailed as models of municipal land-use restraint for Southwestern Connecticut.

So says Matthew Mandell, a co-director with Sean Timmins of the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund (PWPF), which is in the process of launching phase two of its fund-raising efforts on behalf of the 22-acre parcel on the Partrick site that the most recent prospective developer of the property has agreed to donate as open space.

Mandell noted that in 1991 a previous developer had plans to build 71 houses on the property and that the current developer has had to scale down, first from 31 to 22 houses, and now to 13 single-family units, as well as agree to the open space condition.

"That's the way it should be here and throughout Fairfield County. Many times developers are looking for concessions. Now there should be a cost for obtaining them," Mandell said Wednesday in a telephone interview.

He noted that over the past three years in Westport there have been approximately 35 text changes to zoning regulations, half of which developers had proposed.

"Although the P&Z rejected most of these, it's time now to take back our regulations and be more proactive for the town," Mandell said.

In addition to requiring open space donations or set-asides for single family applications, Mandell thinks that multifamily proposals should be required to have 20 percent of their units dedicated to affordable housing.

He thinks that in lieu of open space concessions and affordable housing restrictions, developers should be required to pay fees into town funds for the purchase of open space or for the expansion of public transportation and the reduction of traffic congestion.

In its first phase of fund-raising, the PWPF focused on efforts to help secure open space on the Partrick property and now needs support for covering continuing legal fees, property insurance, land maintenance and the creation of trails.

He said that letters announcing the second funding initiative have been sent out to Westport residents who live in RTM Districts 2 and 3 that are located in the general area of the Partrick woodlands. Mandell is a new RTM District 1 representative.

In the spring, the PWPF plans to conduct tours of the open space area of the property and hold such events as bird watching as part of the fund-raising effort, according to Mandell.

The agreement with the developer and owner of the property, ARS Partners Poplar Plains (ARS) is still subject to state Superior Court approval.

It calls for ARS to convey the 22 acres to PWPF within 30 days after the satisfaction of a number of contingencies governing the 13-unit development on the remaining 33 acres.

Those contingencies include obtaining approvals from the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection for the developer's proposed sewer line on the property and from the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Town of Westport for the road-opening permits required for connecting the new sewer line to the public sanitary system.

With the contingencies met and the 22 acres conveyed to the PWPF, the not-for-profit organization has six months to re-convey the parcel to a not-for-profit entity, such as a nature conservancy, that has experience acquiring, owning or managing lands dedicated for preservation or use as open space.

The entity found for that purpose must be approved by the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission and ARS, or the PWPF will be required to convey the parcel to the town.

Mandell and Timmins said they were required to start the search for the steward of the land from the date of the agreement, have already made a number of contacts and are confident of finding an acceptable entity.

Although they do not have a definite timeline for proceeding with the project, Mandell and Timmins are hopeful that court approval of the agreement will be obtained and the contingencies will be met within the next six months.