Norwalk to Westport developer: No change to conservation easement
NORWALK — After months of debate, the Norwalk Conservation Commission unanimously denied a proposal to amend a conservation easement on Norden Place, effectively quashing a developer’s efforts to bring a housing complex to Westport’s Saugatuck neighborhood.
“I don’t think the intervenors made a strong case. ... But there’s no compelling reason for me to change that conservation easement. We did it for a reason.” Commissioner Karen Destefanis said at the commission’s meeting on Tuesday.
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Developer Summit Saugatuck needed the amended easement to build a secondary access road for its planned 187-unit housing complex on Hiawatha Lane, near the Westport/Norwalk border.
The plan had faced repeated denials by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission, with the most recent proposal failing due to the request for a emergency access road by Westport’s Fire Department. Currently a 2006 conservation easement at 8 Norden Place in Norwalk does not allow for such a road.
Destefanis noted the conservation easement was put in place for a reason, and didn’t see a benefit to Norwalk changing it.
“I don’t see a reason for it to be changed,” she said, adding she felt the commissioners were being used as pawns in a larger debate.
Previously, attorneys for Summit and Save Old Saugatuck gave opposing legal views on whether or not Summit had property rights to change the easement.
“I think the memorandum was clear from our staff that we are under no obligation to amend the conservation.” Commissioner Ed Holowinko said. “So I would be in favor of denying this application.”
Commission members also opposed Summit’s proposal due to the years of work it took to implement the easement in the first place. Commissioner Cheryl Brown noted she did not see how the change could benefit the environment.
“The conservation easement is there to protect that space,” she said. “There’s no compelling reason I found that would benefit this space.”
While she favored denying the application, Brown remarked that Westport did not provide sufficient evidence in their opposing arguments.
Commission Chairman John Verel agreed there were no benefits for Norwalk.
“We have no obligation to amend for any reason other than we think it’s in the best interest of the city of Norwalk and the environment,” Verel said. “While we are not taken to help Westport, we do understand the reason we’re here is to help Westport.”
Though the amendment was denied, another application by Summit to widen the access road at Norden Place still exists. Early signs point to the second application also being denied, since the easement now remains in place, but the commission decided to table a vote for a later meeting.
Tim Hollister, Summit’s attorney, declined comment following the meeting due to the pending access road application.
Carolanne Curry, a resident of 29 Hiawatha Lane Ext., said the commission’s decision was logical.
“Norwalk has nothing in this that would be a benefit to Norwalk,” she said. “Disturbing (the conservation easement) would set a precedent you don’t want. They recognized that.”
Matthew Mandel, a Westport Representative Town Meeting and Save Old Saugatuck member, said the Norwalk Conservation Commission upheld public trust with their decision.
“They made sure what was agreed to a decade ago is still in place today,” he said. “We appreciate their efforts and we look forward to them taking care of this land moving forward.”