Protect the Partrick Wetlands
and our Community
The Sumation for the "No Cluster Buffer" text change to the OSRD before the Planning and Zoning Commission
Good evening. Matthew Mandell 38 Partrick Road, Bert Aber is sitting right over there.
The character of a neighborhood, its trees, its views, its overall spirit is one of the most important aspects of a community. It’s the reason people choose to continue living where they do, it’s the reason they choose to come to be there in the first place.
Property values are the economic foundation of a neighborhood, and their needless erosion would cascade throughout the community. Undermining people’s investments and their very security.
The many letters, now numbering 26, you have received from our community and the group of neighbors who have spoken and are sitting here tonight stated those ideas clearly and precisely. They have sent an urgent and unified message, do not allow over-development, do not allow clusters near our borders, please protect us at all costs.
Nothing that has been said or questioned so far in these hearings refutes the fact that the character of our neighborhood and its property values won’t be harmed by development in the OSRD. High density over-development, through clusters, built along current AAA properties and directly across the street from AA properties will be a reality. This situation will have an adverse effect on our neighborhood and in turn all of Westport.
The current OSRD regulations governing this property do not protect the very people it should, those encircling it. People who have lived here before it was an OSRD and those who have come since. Families who live on low density 2 acre and 1 acre properties surrounded by trees and open space.
Through this text change, by initiating a no cluster buffer around the perimeter, the neighborhood will be spared this grievous impact, while at the same time fulfilling the spirit of the OSRD by allowing the development on its interior.
Creating the OSRD zone was the right decision and the right idea in its day. It was a grand vision for protecting the wetlands, but it is old and out of step with current thinking and current open space plans around this country. It needs to be modified and the community around it has asked you to do just that.
Allow me to do a little house cleaning here before I continue. That’s whether we should be hearing this text change and that of the stipulated court order.
Hearing this Text Change:
Now IS the right time to hear this text change. Waiting any longer would not be helpful, certainly not after houses were built. Sure years ago would have been better, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t now. The ARS proposal laden with discrepancies was rushed in to cut me off at the knees, but I’m still standing. That proposal will lapse before hearings are even scheduled and this commission is under no obligation to accept any offer of extension. To do so when legislation is pending would not be appropriate or justified. Time of course is of the essence, but it is on my side, my neighbors side and your side.
The Stipulated Agreement:
The question of the stipulated agreement was answered soundly by the town attorney this week No one intended the agreement to last forever, and by law it can’t. He said be cautious, by in that only seeking the courts approval after you have acted, not before. As for the current owners, they have already come to you twice seeking changes to the OSRD themselves. So obviously they didn’t believe in its strength.
So that clears up those matters. This commission has an obligation to hear this text change and can act freely upon it and should.
Larry Weisman spoke on behalf of the current owners. He said that this should be looked at in the abstract and that is why he did not show his proposal. I would agree with him, but then he spent the majority of his time speaking about the proposal. I tried to keep this hearing solely about the zoning, but he didn’t. Why? Because he had no real reasons that the zoning should not be changed. He deflected your attention from the real issues at hand, that of property values, the character of the neighborhood and how this old OSRD does not protect its surrounding community from encroachment. He knew you’d be thirsty for information about the proposal and what his clients have done. So instead of staying on the topic of zoning, he took you on a public relations tour.
ARS did not come to the neighbors to work amicably. They showed us their proposal and that was that. When asked why are you doing this. They responded “because we can.” Why could they say this? Because the OSRD allows it, the OSRD fails the very people it should help, its neighbors. Present day OSRDs are not made to solely protect the land, though that is their primary objective, they are there to protect the community which surrounds the land as well. And so should ours.
ARS’s proposal intends to build houses on every available and accessible piece of upland, even if that means shoe horning them in where they are obviously undesirable and counter productive. These are not boy scouts, they are speculative real estate developers and it matters not to them who they hurt.
The conservation commission which he said dealt them such a harsh blow in reality bent over backwards to work with them and approved over 80% of their proposal with the crossing of wetland setbacks and the actual filling of some wetlands to do it.
Mr Weisman said that adopting this text change would constitute a taking. And threatened a suit. This is not a surprise, Mr. Weisman is a very litigious individual. But this text change does not prevent an owner from building on the property, it merely spaces a few house farther apart and still allows full development in the interior. And based on their new proposal a maximum of three houses would be in jeopardy. This is a very tangible difference from their old proposal where 5-6 could have been involved. Again it shows the text change is reasonable and fair and not overly restrictive.
Mr. Weisman said the clusters they were building were not high density since most of the land in the OSRD would not be developed. They are high density. It is not the relationship with their houses to the OSRD it is the relationship of their houses to the neighboring properties that matters. It’s wonderful that there will be space within the OSRD, what is bad is that space won’t be next to the neighbors.
This was a question posed by a member of the commission and Mr. Weisman said I chose that number because it was for my convenience.
Convenient would be 200 foot setback, pushing all the houses away from us, but that is not what I proposed. What I have proposed is reasonable. They can still build a house 50' from any property and a second house can be 50' from the same property, these houses just have to be 80' apart. Just like all the other houses in the neighborhood. I am not being selfish and it is not that convenient, and as one neighbor said to me. “Matt, you have 21 letters of support how could you have this if your were being selfish.”
So Let’s review it again. This is what’s on the books now.
1. AAA to AA front to front is 80' of space and side to side it’s 75'
2. AAA to AAA is 100' of space.
These are the regulations that now exist. 80' is on the books in the setbacks between the differing zones. I could have asked for 100' which would have be justified since the entire surrounding abutting zone is AAA. But since I felt that was too restrictive I went with the 80' to be more in tune with the varied properties. It is completely reasonable, based in existing code and fair.
What the OSRD allows is 24' of spacing based on the height of their proposed buildings. And that is exactly what would be built. Two 4000 sq foot homes 24 feet apart right in our back yard. As well as across the street from numerous neighbors. Now let’s look at what is 24 feet.
(Pull tape) and walk it.
This is 24 feet. This is what the OSRD allows. Not very far apart is it? Less than most people’s living rooms, about the width of a driveway and less than the alley between tenements in New York City. Now see the wall in the back. That is about 50 feet away. Double that. That is how far apart all the houses abutting the OSRD are from each other.
This is 24 feet. Double that is what exists in our neighborhood. What would you rather live next to. This, or double that.
(Wind tape and walk back)
The question was asked about non-conforming lots. A really good question and I didn’t have the answer. So I went to the P&Z office and drove the ladies nuts. I pulled the files on every house surrounding the OSRD. There were some non-conforming lots. Ours was one of them. Remember our house was built in 1898. We are 30 feet from the road and 30' from part of our side border. BUT the house next to us is over 80 from their border, creating over 110' of spacing. And the next house and the next house and so forth all the way around the property were all 100' apart. There was one house that was closer, but that was by variance.
And that anomaly should not be the basis to allow what fundamentally does not exist within the community. Even 7, 11, and 15 Partrick all meet their setback requirements.
80' is on the books, it is less than the norm for the area. It is the right spacing.
(Set up pictures)
Aber Backyard after Proposed Cluster is built (artist rendition, based on proposal)
Let’s go back to this 24 feet separation and see what it looks like from a different perspective.
This is what two houses 24 feet apart would like from our back yard and from ours neighbor’s houses across Partrick. Sure it is an artist’s rendition, but it’s based on their proposal. Mr Weisman objected to these pictures since angles and height could not be proved.
Fine. This is their artist’s rendition of houses for their proposal. I wouldn’t want either of these two in may back yard either. Now if they believe you can decide a 30 million dollar project based on this artist’s rendition, then I don’t see why you can’t decide a zoning change based on mine.
Look at them. This is not right. It is not fair. You will not find houses this close or in such proximity to any AAA zoned property in the area. It is out of character and it will hurt our property values.
So at this point, I don’t see a single reason why you would not adopt this change. The harm has been proven and the solution is clear. But there is one remaining issue, that of the comprehensive plan for Westport, the idea of consistency of zoning regulations. In other words, how can we change the OSRD without changing the PRD.
I believe you have three options. Three you say, yup three.
Option 1. You send me packing and tell me nice try, but we can’t leave the PRD hanging.
I’d say this would be wrong and not the right solution. There is only one OSRD and there are multiple PRDs. The OSRD is big enough to support this text change while the PRDs could not. And that would be justification enough. The OSRD is totally surrounded by residential properties while the PRDs are all on Post Road and will have commercial aspects to them, certainly not the sleepy bedroom world of Old Hill. I could get into ridiculous nuances by saying that the heights of the buildings allowed is different, but that really doesn’t matter does it.
If you are looking for the out, then this is it. But if you take this out you are not doing it because over-development and unnecessary encroachment won’t exist. If you use this technicality, its not because the character of our neighborhood won’t be damaged. If you chose this easier path, it’s not because property values won’t be harmed. By taking this out you will be abandoning a neighborhood and a community that has turned to you for help. And that would be a shame.
But I am not that much a fatalist. And since Ms. Lowenstein peppered me with questions about the PRD, I knew I’d find the answer there. Maybe not the one she expected and maybe not the one any of you expected. But I did and it is the right answer.
The PRD zone was created in 1979 and now there are 11 of them all along the Post road. The OSRD zone was created in 1981 under pressure from the neighbors and the town at the time not to allow commercial development. The idea to create an Open Space area was visionary at the time, there is no doubt about it. But what did they use for its basis? Did they have experts as they do now on such zoning? No. But they wanted to create it nonetheless. So they turned to the PRD and they lifted its text, massaged it a very little bit and they created the OSRD. But that’s the problem the OSRD is not really an OSRD it is a BPRD a Big PRD.
So here is:
Option 2. Adopt the text change and in doing so create differences in the OSRD from the PRDs and the rest of what is similar zoning.
The OSRD is supposed to be something different and it’s not. Instead of looking to keep things homogenous and in lock step, here is your opportunity to let the OSRD fulfil its intention. The framers wanted to make something different, but didn’t know how or were scared to actually take that giant step. You can.
The OSRD is not supposed to be a Big Planned RD, its supposed to be Open Space RD. One where the open space is supposed to be preserved for the community for its enjoyment its enhancement not is detriment. The legal definition of cluster, says clusters can be created in exchange for open space for the community. This OSRD doesn’t do this.
What we are looking at is just another PRD, sitting on wetlands and surrounded by residential properties. It shouldn’t be that way. The OSRD should read like any of the ones around the country that I brought to your attention at the first hearing. It should be its own zone and should have its own separate rules for spacing and use of open of space.
Just as an example of how similar they are and how flawed using the PRD’s text was, take the Usable Open Space Section 15-11 of the PRD and 17-11 of the OSRD they are essentially identical. Actually the only difference is that the OSRD is less conservative than the PRD. Both say 450 square feet must be set aside for each house, but the OSRD allows this space to be 750 feet from the closest house. Take 25 houses times 450 feet and you get 11250 square feet. That’s a quarter of an acre. That’s a farce. There will be no open space for use by the community, both theirs and ours. And if there is this one little spot it will be 100s of yards away and completely inaccessible even by its own residents. Why does the OSRD’s text say this, because they took it from the PRD and didn’t write language that was specific for it.
The OSRD’s text is defective. It begs to be fixed. The text change we have proposed at least begins to create some of the changes that are so desperately needed. It creates the difference between a PRD and what the OSRD is supposed to be. There is a reason they are under two different sections, they are supposed to be different.
If you are beginning to see the light here and believe that the OSRD is flawed. Then I offer:
Option 3: Re-write the entire section.
I realize that this is a lot to swallow, but any developer knew this development was by special permit, so you could use that, hold them off and then set things straight. Bring in experts in OSRDs, rewrite the regulations, have the developers, the community and the town all work together to create something that everyone would be proud of. Maybe it could be pointed to by the rest of the country as a model for harmony of development, nature and community. Its just a dream, but it certainly is not a nightmare which is what we have in front of us.
But barring that adopting the text change at least relieves part of the pain that will be suffered by a community that treasures its open space. Maybe there won’t be the trails that there should be, but out of character homes would not be in our faces, our property values would be protected and we’d feel a bit less uneasy about the unending development which has encompassed Westport.
So before I finished, let me just run down what we have.
1. We have 26 letters of support from the community for the no cluster buffer.
2. We have had numerous people speak in support of the text change
3. We have many silent people who have come to support this.
4. Both planning agencies, SWRPA and GBRPA you submitted the text change to support it.
5. There are no legal barriers to adopting it.
6. Randel Arendt the noted expert in OSRDs said clusters often don’t fit with the neighborhood and that buffers are sometimes needed.
7. There is no downside to adopting it, there is only a downside if you don’t.
Please adopt this text change. Don’t allow any developer to run amok and be allowed to put houses where they shouldn’t because the zoning regulations are weak. Step up and protect the people who voted you in. Protect the very people this commission is supposed to protect the citizens of Westport. We are not asking for a lot we are just asking for a buffer, just a buffer.
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