Hiawatha Lane plan seeks alternative route in Norwalk
NORWALK — Despite repeated denials by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission, a developer’s fight to bring a housing complex to the Saugatuck neighborhood appears far from over.
Summit Saugatuck LLC is looking to Norwalk for help in addressing one of the key reasons for the Sept. 19 denial of 187 rental units on Hiawatha Lane: Safe pedestrian access.
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In 2006, an agreement was made between Summit Saugatuck and the then-owners of the Avalon Complex in Norwalk, which stated both parties needed a secondary access road for the project.
But the city of Norwalk later made 8 Norden Place, the only property viable for such a road, a conservation easement in 2009. On Tuesday, Summit Saugatuck asked Norwalk’s Conservation Commission to amend this easement, in hopes of allowing a roadway to be built.
Shipman & Goodwin attorney Matt Ranelli — who stood in for the absence of the applicant’s attorney Timothy Hollister — said his client looked to provide additional emergency access as requested by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
“The bottom line is the zoning authority for the development portion of our project are in Westport,” Ranelli said. “They won’t be satisfied they said unless there is a secondary emergency access.”
The applicant’s wetland scientist Bill Kenny, of William Kenny Associates, said the current access road would be widened to 20-feet, but the surface material would remain the same.
“Really there is no change to the stormwater run-off from this project,” Kenny said. “It’s our professional opinion that the project can be completed and exist into the long term without adversely affecting the wetlands.”
Members of the Conservation Commission questioned if there were other alternatives, and also asked for more information regarding the plan’s effect on the wetlands. Commissioner Thomas Keegan said he didn’t believe the commission currently had enough information to change the 2009 conservation easement agreement.
“The city of Norwalk and the people living in and near this property have been living with this agreement,” Keegan said. “I think we need as much information as we possibly can about this project and its impact on the people around it.”
While Ranelli asked that a determination for the application be made without a public hearing, Commission Chairman John Verel said a letter from state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-143, requested the contrary.
Tuesday’s meeting did not include public comment due to the commission only receiving the application, but a number of Westporters were in attendance.
Following the meeting, TJ Elgin, a Westport resident and Representative Town Meeting candidate, said the application appeared to be an attempt to make Norwalk use its resources to bend the ruling by Westport’s Planning and Zoning.
“Westport said no, it’s not good for Norwalk or Westport,” he said.
The town’s most recent denial of the project marked the second attempt in one-year to get it through Planning and Zoning, an opportunity afforded due to the plan being submitted as an 8-30g application. In municipalities that don’t have enough affordable housing in the eyes of the state, any 8-30g application brought before a town or city’s zoning board can circumvent local building regulations, and only be denied on traffic, safety or environmental grounds. Thirty percent of the Hiawatha Lane units would be considered affordable, while the remaining 70 percent given market-rate pricing.
The denial also marked the seventh failed attempt by Summit Saugatuck principal Felix Charney to see his proposal come to fruition.
Carolanne Curry, a a resident of 29 Hiawatha Lane Ext., said over the past 14 years she has had to combat repeated proposals by the group.
“It’s been a greed-driven project through an affordable historical neighborhood of Westport,” Curry said. “The developer saw a land at cheap prices and decided he would come to us and say ‘we’re going to make you look more like Westport.’ ”
When asked what was the root for the constant attempts at the proposal, Curry had one word.
“M-o-n-e-y,” she said.
Norwalk’s Conservation Commission will hear the proposal again at its meeting on Nov. 12.