Developer ripped by petitioners over Grassy Plains ‘violations’
Published 5:37 am, Wednesday, July 8, 2015
Construction of a 9-foot-tall retaining wall and 6-foot-high stockade fence along a conservation easement line at an upscale housing development on Grassy Plains Road is the target of a petition drive by a grassroots organization, which contends the work is illegal.
“An outfit called Grassy Plains LLC, headed by lawyer and principal Alan Spirer, and Wright (Home Works), has ignored the town’s Conservation and Planning and Zoning approvals and regulations as well as a stipulated court judgment,” according to Matthew Mandell, a District 1 member of the Representative Town Meeting.
Mandell said because of this, the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund is re-organizing as an ad hoc group to “once again protect the land, the community and the environment from overdevelopment and abuse.” The housing development is adjacent to the Partrick Wetlands area.
Mandell, the fund’s director, said he spoke only as a member of that group, which has also launched the petition drive about the issue.
“This is the largest transgression I have seen by any developer against the town and its regulations in the 15 years I have been following Planning and Zoning (Commission),” said Mandell.
“The entire town should be outraged by these selfish actions,” he added. “To add insult to injury, just last week, a huge amount of this illegal fill washed into wetlands due to the neglect by these individuals.”
Mandell said the alleged violations at several homes in the development, known as the Reserve at Poplar Plains, were done “without regard for any rules or the environment to solely improve the sale prices of the 13 house cluster development.”
Mandell listed the items of concern, including a 9-foot high retaining wall built along a conservation easement line more than 150 feet long and which comprises more than 125 concrete blocks weighing almost two tons a piece. This is not allowed, Mandell said.
Also not allowed, he said, is the 6-foot-tall stockade fence on top of the retaining wall.
He said the developer also brought in “tons and tons, truck load after truck load of dirt to back fill to the height of the wall to flatten the backyards and encroached deep into a deed-restricted conservation easement with a boulder field to then back fill it to flatten another backyard.”
He also said decks were extended by “as much as two times the size as approved.”
Mandell said the developer is coming to the Conservation Commission for a hearing July 15 to “legalize” the alleged violations and “ask for even more concessions.”
Mandell said that in “an unprecedented alliance transcending political and geographic borders,” Save Westport Now, the Coalition for Westport, the Greens Farms Association and the Save Cranbuy Association of Norwalk “are all joining together to oppose the legalization of these violations and any further requests.”
Denise Torve, chairwoman of Coalition for Westport, said her group will be requesting that the Conservation Commission “opens a thorough investigation” of the matter. She said it also is urging residents to attend the July 15 hearing to “voice their opinions.”
She added: “The coalition notes the efforts undertaken by the Partrick Wetlands Preservation Fund to bring the public’s attention to the unapproved development and apparent multiple violations of prior agreements and stipulated agreements in the Partrick Wetlands.”
Jeff Block, co-chairman of Save Westport Now, said, “SWN supports the most effective enforcement of conservation and zoning regulations,” and urged the public to become aware of this issue and other similar problems in town.
The community spent seven years fighting to preserve the Partrick Wetlands and the neighborhood around it, Mandell said. “A fair and equitable deal was negotiated with then developer ARS Partners and all seemed good,” he said. “Grassy Plains took over the project three years ago and, instead of following the rules, took matters into their own hands, without any discussion with the town and residents.”
Spirer, the Grassy Plains principal, agreed Monday there is a problem. “We should have asked for permission and approval before, and not after,” putting up the fence and retaining wall which, he said, were needed after fill was brought in to level backyards.
But, he added, “none of this is in a sensitive area.” He contended there are “no environmental issues here.”
He also disputed the claim that there were truckloads of fill brought in, as well as that the additions were done to improve sales prices of the homes. “There is no economic benefit,” Spirer said. “The houses were already sold. The owners just wanted level backyards.”
Spirer added there have been meetings with town officials, including the directors of the Planning and Zoning and the Conservation departments on the issue.
As for potential impact to wetlands, an independent review of the site was conducted, he noted. The review found that “because the site was originally impacted by gravel mining activities, upland habitat in this area near the wetland would also likely have been already highly disturbed.”
It also found that loss of “this small area of upland (changing sloped to level) will therefore not adversely impact the adjacent wetlands with are vegetated by second growth forest that has regenerated since the gravel operation was abandoned.”
Furthermore, it said, the wall would “offer some protection for the wetlands by forming a physical barrier between the residential activities and the wetland while, at the same time, allowing more usable yard space and keeping people and pets out of the wetland.”
Spirer said he plans to attend the Conservation Commission meeting. “I would like to have everyone operate with a true set of facts,” he said.
Meanwhile, Mandell said more than 81 signatures have been collected on the petition within the first three days.
The petition signers, according to its language, oppose all actions and requests by Grassy Plains LLC and Grassy Plains Development LLC to legalize work already done and/or to modify the current site plan.
“We specifically take issue with the illegal construction of a retaining wall and fence, encroachment into the restricted conservation easement area and the extensive excavation and fill which all violate the current site plan, approvals by both commissions, the rules and regulations of the” town and stipulated judgment signed by the town and residents, the petition states.
The PWPF was formed in 2002 to preserve 55 acres of land from the development of 31 houses. The Conservation Commission approved the development in 2002 with a long list of constraints and requirements, according to information supplied by Mandell. In 2005, the Planning and Zoning Commission denied the application, but a later stipulated agreement was negotiated for 13 clustered houses on 33 acres with 22 acres donated to the PWPF. The PWPF then donated that land as permanent open space to Earthplace.