Marpe appeals state court decision on affordable-housing development
WESTPORT — So much depends on a sewer, at least in the case of a large affordable-housing development on Hiawatha Lane proposed by Summit Saugatuck LLC and rejected by the town last summer.
In August 2017, the town’s three-member Water Pollution Control Authority made up of then Board of Selectmen members Jim Marpe, Avi Kaner, and Helen Garten rejected Summit’s application for a 1,600-foot-long sewer extension from Davenport Avenue to the proposed 155-unit apartment complex on Hiawatha Lane on the grounds the complex’s projected 30,000 gallons of sewage daily would stress the existing 40-year old pump station and pipe infrastructure.
The town was looking to upgrade the pipe, which runs 1,300 feet from the pump station on Riverside Avenue near the Black Duck Cafe to the Water Pollution Control facility on Elaine Road, town Public Works Department Director Pete Ratkiewich said, but didn’t want to approve a large development that would discharge more sewage into the system while the town was in the middle of replacing the old infrastructure.
Summit took the town’s decision to court and on May 7, State Superior Court Judge Kenneth Shluger said the town must grant a conditional approval for the sewer line to the proposed development and that the town abused its discretion by delaying Summit’s original application for a sewer extension.
“The judge found that the town has been using the sewer system upgrade as a way of delaying creation of the moderate-income housing that is so desperately needed in Westport,” Summit Development President Felix Charney said in a statement following the announcement of Shluger’s decision.
Ratkiewich said the town’s motivations weren’t so nefarious and simply meant the developers could reapply for a sewer extension when the town originally planned to finish construction on the new infrastructure in August 2018. “They (Summit) appealed the decision with the judge and said we think we should be able to apply now because the town has made progress and it certainly appears they’re doing the upgrade and the judge said ok, you’re right,” Ratkiewich said.
Nonetheless, First Selectman Jim Marpe released a statement May 31 saying the town has filed a petition with the State Superior Court requesting a review of its decision to mandate the WPCA issue Summit a conditional sewer permit for the Hiawatha Lane project. “We feel there is an important legal issue at state here. The WPCA has never issued a ‘conditional permit,’ and we told Summit quite simply to reply when the sewer repairs are done,” Marpe said in the statement.
“We’re appealing the ruling because we don’t agree with the judge,” Ratkiewich said, adding, “The bottom line is once we finish the pump station, which we’ve committed to do by August, there won’t be a problem, they (Summit) can connect (the sewer to the development). What it comes down to is a matter of timing and paperwork. The physical construction of the pipe won’t be affected significantly.”
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