Housing access road request met with fierce opposition
NORWALK — A request to create a secondary access road on Norden Place for a housing project was met with fierce criticism by Norwalk and Westport residents during a Norwalk Conservation Commission meeting Tuesday.
Building the road has been a key part of developer Summit Saugatuck’s efforts to bring a 187-unit housing complex to Hiawatha Lane in Westport, a plan which has been denied repeatedly by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission.
SIGN UP here to get daily Westport News and alerts on breaking news
Currently, a Norwalk conservation easement stands in the way of establishing this emergency vehicle route, which would run through both towns and satisfy one of Westport’s reasons for the application’s denial.
Norwalk and Westport residents were joined in opposition to the easement’s amendment by state Sen. Tony Hwang, state Rep. Gail Lavielle, representatives from the Norwalk Land Trust and members of Westport’s Representative Town Meeting.
“Changing this easement, like any other, would violate the intent of that conservation easement and create a precedent of doing the same thing for other conservation easements,” Lavielle said. “I find that rather daunting and contrary to the way our laws are set up.”
Many echoed Lavielle’s comments, noting the importance of protecting open space.
“Conservation easement is part of the public trust,” Hwang said. “That is never ever to be taken lightly.”
He added there was a history of intent with the conservation easement. “That’s really important when you look at the weight of this,” Hwang said.
Matthew Mandell, a Westport RTM member, argued the easement has been long established and recognized by both Norden Place and the nearby Avalon Complex.
“Everybody believes the conservation easement should be in place and it’s going to stick,” he said. “To change that would be a complete breach of the public’s trust.”
He noted this proposal was connected to the developer’s application that has been repeatedly denied in Westport.
“We’re here because a developer made a terribe business decision 10 years ago,” Mandell said, while pointing out the applicant recently lost an appellate court decision for a sewer system on the property. “This project is not going anywhere.”
Presented to the Conservation Commission was a petition signed by over 300 Norwalk residents and another signed by 38 residents of 8 Norden Place, the property in question.
Commissioners again questioned the impact on the road if emergency vehicles are allowed and Norwalk’s involvement in a project that seemingly had nothing to do with them.
Shipman & Goodwin attorney Timothy Hollister, who represents Summit Saugatuck, again stated Westport’s fire department was requiring the emergency access road to be widened, despite the fact Norwalk’s fire marshal said it wasn’t required.
“He also made the point this is private property and you could do what you want,” Hollister said.
He argued his client had a property right to establish the emergency access road and was only doing what Westport’s fire department asked.
“Their fire marshal is requiring 20 feet and they’re all turning out to make sure you don’t approve 20 feet,” Hollister said. “That is a cynical exercise that I ask you not to participate in.”
The commission will hear the proposal again at its meeting on Jan. 14.