Cautious commissioners OK public hearing for Hiawatha Lane plan
NORWALK — Residents will have their shot at weighing in on a developer’s efforts to bring a housing complex to Westport’s Saugatuck neighborhood, despite the applicant’s push for a closed hearing.
Norwalk’s Conservation Commission unanimously voted on Tuesday to hold a public hearing on the pending application by Summit Saugatuck LLC to create a secondary access road on Norden Place, which is currently prohibited by a conservation easement.
The developer wants the easement amended to allow an emergency vehicle route, one of the key reasons its housing proposal has been denied repeatedly by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission. The denials have stalled Summit’s plan to bring 187 rental units to Hiawatha Lane, near the Westport/Norwalk border, and led to a lawsuit filed on Oct. 21 between planning and zoning and the developer.
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The afternoon meeting drew the audience of several members of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting, residents and state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-143.
However, Norwalk Commissioner Ed Holowinko expressed concern about overriding the 2009 conservation easement for 8 Norden Place.
“We spent a lot of time coming up with that easement, and that particular walkway was designed with the intention of never having a service road put in,” Holowinko said. “As far as I’m concerned, we’re still obligated to protect that easement.”
Shipman & Goodwin attorney Timothy Hollister argued while the road at 8 Norden place has primarily been used as a walking path by residents of the Avalon complex, it has always been some form of an emergency easement.
Hollister noted though Westport’s fire department requested the emergency access road, Norwalk’s fire marshal said it wasn’t required. Despite this, Hollister said Summit decided to “overengineer” the plan.
“This is something that happens sometimes with housing that generates opposition at the local level,” Hollister said. “We do it because we want to solve a problem and put that problem aside.”
The additional emergency route would be constructed in 30 days and widen the gravel access from 10 to 20 feet. A snow removal and maintenance agreement would also come as part of the proposal.
“We’re doing this to address Westport’s demand,” Hollister said.
But several Norwalk commissioners remained wary about changing the easement without more information and hearing from those who could be affected. This included clearly defining what emergency vehicles can access the road, Westport fire’s reason for the access road, and other questions. Commissioners also questioned Norwalk’s involvement in the plan.
Commissioner Thomas Keegan said he didn’t understand why Norwalk was being asked to amend an easement for something to happen in Westport.
“I’m wondering are we pawns in all this,” Keegan said. “That’s my question. I don’t know.”
Summit faced another setback on Oct. 29 when an appellate court upheld Westport’s rejection of a sewer extension for the project.
However, following the meeting, Hollister said he and his applicant were still prepared to move forward with the application.
“We have other ways to deal with the sewer and we will deal with it,” he said.
Carolanne Curry, a resident of 29 Hiawatha Lane Ext., said the public hearing will allow residents from both Norwalk and Westport to articulate why this is an abuse of Norwalk.
“The public comment time will allow us to clearly spell out what they’re saying in words and what is the reality,” Curry said.
The hearing is tentatively scheduled for the Conservation Commission’s Dec. 10 meeting.