Protect the Partrick Wetlands
“You set up a neighborhood — your neighborhood and our neighborhood — for overdevelopment,” said John Pancoast of Westport. “There’s a whole neighborhood on our side of the line and your side of the line that will be under pressure for the next 40 years.”
Pancoast was among nearly two dozen residents — half from Westport — to attend the task force meeting at Norwalk City Hall.
Mayor Alex Knopp formed the task force last fall to examine whether Norwalk should continue its approval for ARS Partners LLC to build a sewer line to serve Poplar Plains — 22 single-family homes being proposed off Partrick Road in Westport. In a larger sense, the task force will incorporate residents’ thoughts about it and other developments into Norwalk’s unfolding master plan.
ARS Partners has said it will pay for the estimated $1 million Newtown Avenue sewer line. Residents would pay for lines from their properties to Newtown Avenue, but not for the Newtown Avenue line itself.
On Monday night, Thomas Closter, health department director of environmental services, delivered a report on septic system usage and reliability in Norwalk. Principal engineer Richard Linnartz of the Department of Public Works gave an overview of city sewer system usage.
Closter’s report suggested no immediate need for adding sewer service to Newtown Avenue and surrounding neighborhoods, which are now served by septic systems. In the last decade, the health department issued 372 repair permits for septic systems, or about 37 permits a year. Of those, five to 10 permits involved septic tank replacement or upgrades — often prompted by house additions.
“We don’t see any high rate of failure in this area,” Closter said.
Linnartz traced the absence of city sewer service in the Cranbury neighborhood to a now-dated report addressing the Norwalk River watershed and flowage capacity of the city’s wastewater treatment plant. The report recommended that no sewers be installed in West Norwalk or north of the Merritt Parkway.
Using a color-coded map, Linnartz pointed out a large green swath extending down Newtown Avenue and adjacent areas that have no city sewer service. Linnartz said a neighborhood must petition to have sewers installed.
The Common Council approved the ARS Partners sewer application several years ago before the Water Pollution Control Authority existed.
Linnartz said his June 2000 letter inviting 50 Newtown Avenue residents to share their thoughts drew one negative response.
Owners of 55 nearby properties and 435 properties south of the Merritt Parkway could choose to connect to the line, after paying private contractors to build lateral connector lines and paying the city sewer-use fee — $185 for residential service.
Residents would be under no obligation to hook up to the Newtown Avenue line unless their septic systems failed, Closter said.
Amy Ancel of Westport found it strange that Norwalk officials are considering a proposal from a private developer, which would add flowage to the city’s wastewater treatment plant, while frowning upon hooking up the Westport development of Saugatuck Shores.
“If there was ever going to be a sewer extension, Saugatuck Shores should be the prime candidate,” Ancel said.
Linnartz said Poplar Plains would not add significant flowage to the treatment plant, which typically runs at 75 percent of its 20-million-gallon daily capacity. He estimated that the 22 proposed homes would add 7,700 gallons per day. Extending service to the 435-plus properties on the Norwalk side would boost total flowage by 120,000 gallons per day, he added.
Many residents fear more cars and homes, if the sewer line is built. One speaker suggested that its approval will embolden other developers to target the semi-rural area.
“Where does it stop? Where do you draw the line between when a developer gets (approval) and when one doesn’t?” asked Chris Vatis of Westport.
Linnartz said city officials evaluate each proposed development and sewer extension on its own merits. He said he doesn’t believe the ARS Partners proposal will set a “precedent for anything.”
Council President Bruce I. Kimmel said sensitivity about development has increased greatly since the council approved the ARS Partners application. Kimmel and fellow council member Douglas E. Hemptead are both Cranbury neighborhood residents who oppose the sewer.
Knopp said Matthew Mandell of the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund and ARS Partners are welcome to make presentations to the task force.
Task force co-Chairman John Atkin said the panel will accept written comments as it gathers information in anticipation of issuing recommendations and a draft report.
At the request of Westport officials, ARS Partners has completed a soil survey of the Poplar Plains area and will resubmit a development application in July. Westport zoning officials rejected the first application without prejudice.