Protect the Partrick Wetlands
The Westport Board of Selectmen has voted to meet with a Norwalk panel to discuss and possibly rescind a permit to extend a city sewer to a proposed residential development in Westport opposed by its neighbors.
The selectmen, acting as the town's water pollution control authority, voted early yesterday 2-1 to arrange a meeting with Norwalk's Water Pollution Control Authority. Selectman John Izzo voted against the motion because he wanted to rescind the permit immediately.
The Norwalk Common Council approved the permit in 2000. It would allow ARS Partners of Stratford to extend a sewer line under Newtown Avenue into Westport to service houses the developers have proposed building on a 60-acre site on Partrick Avenue.
ARS Partners would pay for the extension, and the permit is predicated on Westport approving the residential project.
The Westport Zoning Commission denied ARS' previous plan to build 22 luxury single-family houses, clustered on the 9 acres of the property that are not wetlands. ARS has appealed the denial and has submitted a new plan for 22 housing units.
Neighbors have fiercely fought the proposed development and Westport selectmen who approved the permit for the sewer extension last year are reconsidering their decision.
Selectman Carl Leaman voted for the sewer extension permit last year but voted yesterday to meet with the Norwalk panel. He said he originally thought the board was simply obligated to protect the town's wastewater treatment plant.
Since the extended sewer line would connect to Norwalk's plant, Leaman said he felt the board "didn't have any real say in the matter."
But a recent state Department of Environmental Protection memorandum stated the board is empowered with deciding what areas of town are to be sewered, regardless of where the sewer line originates or how it is funded.
The memo suggested that Westport amend its facilities map -- a planning document which shows the parts of town that should have sewers -- if the Partrick area gets sewers.
"This has led to a reopening of the subject," Leaman said.
Izzo, the Westport selectman voted against the sewer permit last year and proposed rescinding the permit at Wednesday's meeting, which lasted about six hours and ended after midnight.
Town Attorney Ira Bloom, recommended the board not act on Izzo's motion, though about 20 residents urged the board not to follow his advice.
Westport First Selectwoman Diane Farrell said a pivotal moment in Wednesday's public hearing occurred when Bruce Kimmel, the president of Norwalk's Common Council, told the board that the city no longer wants to extend the sewer but did not want to kill a project in Westport.
"We had never heard from anyone in Norwalk saying that they had had regrets," Farrell said.
Kimmel said the city did not consider land-use planning when it originally approved the sewer extension. He said the extension was viewed as a free infrastructure improvement. But in the past four years, he said, Cranbury residents have grown concerned about development pressure and argue that an extended sewer line will propagate sprawl.
Kimmel said the municipalities' respective water pollution control authorities should simultaneously rescind the permit. "Can we rescind? Yes. What we have to do in this case is bite the bullet," he said. "There is no way out unless we act in harmony and present a strong case."
Farrell said she hopes to establish a joint meeting of the panels in October.
Mayor Alex Knopp has formed a task force to make a recommendation regarding the sewer permit. Neither Knopp nor several task force members returned phone calls yesterday seeking comment.
Lawrence Weisman, a Westport attorney representing ARS Partners, said yesterday he plans to wait until an action is taken by the Westport and Norwalk panels.
"Right now, my instinct is to let them do their thing and then we'll see what our options are," Weisman said. "The property is not going away, the people are not going away, and this thing will end up in court."
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