Grassy Plains homes developer admits violating plans
Updated 9:00 am, Thursday, July 16, 2015
The developer of a Grassy Plains Road housing complex admitted violating conditions imposed on the project’s construction during an emotional Conservation Commission meeting Wednesday, where retroactive approval was sought for the infractions.
The developer, Grassy Plains, LLC, the builder of the 13-home “Reserve at Poplar Plains” complex, has been the target of harsh criticism since the unauthorized changes were discovered and its officials were forced to admit they had not followed the approved plan for the project.
On Wednesday night, the Grassy Plain prinicipal came before the commission seeking retroactive approval for constructing a retaining wall and re-grading land adjacent to wetlands, as well as more changes it has planned for other units.
“This should not have happened,” Alan Spirer, the principal of Grassy Plains, LLC, told the commission at a standing-room only meeting where dozens of people turned out to criticize the turn of events. “We should have modified the site play day one … It’s not an excuse. It’s an explanation, and we’re here to change the site plan now.”
Spirer, however, contended that assertions made by what Town Attorney Ira Bloom referred to as the “interveners” are “just not accurate.” He said that fill was not brought to the property for re-grading but was already there; that a fence erected atop the retaining wall was the request of a homeowner, and that inspections of the project were made by the town on numerous occasions.
Spirer described the development as “a unique, anomalous situation for construction” since it couldn’t be treated as a single project given specifics for each of the homes. “These types of adjustments get made on a site all the time and nobody cares,” he said.
“If you realized this was an unusual situation,” asked Commissioner W. Fergus Porter, why didn’t the developer more closely monitor needed revisions as they arose.
“Should more control have been exercised?” Spirer asked rhetorically. “Yes, (but) all I can do is apologize. As I said, I can’t get the toothpaste back in the tube.”
“It sounds like you just decided to build it and then come back and ask for forgiveness,” said Commissioner Paul Davis.
Members of the public appeared to agree, although the meeting ran so long — past 11:30 p.m. — that none of them had a chance to speak. About two dozen letters, however, were read into the record by Conservation Director Alicia Mozian, all of which expressed anger over the situation.
“It is painfully clear that rules were intentionally ignored,” wrote Sally Effman.
“I am appalled by the actions of the developers of this project,” wrote Gary Effman. “This strategy of asking for forgiveness (is) egregious … This was a calculated and cowardly act by developers.”
Many people wrote that the Grassy Plains issue is not the first example of Westport developers acting first and seeking approval afterwards, some citing recent construction at the Compo Acres shopping center, behind Trader Joe’s, as an example.
“We see many examples of Catch Me if You Can, if you notice,” wrote Wendy Batteau. “Legalizing this activity retroactively will be harmful and unfair in so many respects.”
“It sickens us that a cynical, arrogant and calculating developer has so much contempt” for the town and the environment, wrote the Kennedy family.
Bloom, the town attorney, asked to speak to the commission before discussion and noted that the final decision in the matter would have to be decided in court, given the history of the property;s development. However, he said, it was likely that the judge would want the input of the commission in weighing its decision.
Environmental consultant Beth Evans of Evans Associates in Bethany was scheduled to make a presentation on her findings and recommendations about the property, but gave only brief comments, noting that she wanted to look moreclosely at the situation and add to her report.
“I will say in general that I have serious concerns about the construction that I saw at the end of March,” she said. “The site was a mess … The silt fence was down … It was not clear where the conservation easement stopped.”
The commission decided to continue the hearing on the Grassy Plains violations on Sept. 9, at which time members of the public who wanted to speak Wednesday will be invited to comment in the same order they signed in.