Hiawatha Lane housing plan halted, for now

Norwalk Conservation Commission at a meeting on Tuesday. Taken Jan. 28, 2020 in Norwalk, Conn.

Norwalk Conservation Commission at a meeting on Tuesday. Taken Jan. 28, 2020 in Norwalk, Conn.

DJ Simmons/Hearst Connecticut Media

NORWALK — The Norwalk Conservation Commission unanimously denied an application to widen an existing gravel road at Norden place, halting a developer’s plans to bring a housing complex to Westport’s Saugatuck neighborhood.

The decision came after the commission denied developer Summit Saugatuck’s application to amend a conservation easement in the area, and signaled an end to a monthslong debate over whether Summit had a right to amend the 2006 easement to build a secondary access road for its planned 187-unit housing complex on Hiawatha Lane, near the Westport/Norwalk border. The development was expected to consist of 130 market-rate and 57 affordable units.

“The finding is the application is incomplete by virtue of our denial to the request to change the conservation easement,” Commission Chairman John Verel said at the Tuesday meeting.

The housing plan had faced repeated denials by Westport’s Planning and Zoning Commission, with the most recent proposal failing due to the request for an emergency access road by Westport’s Fire Department, which the easement currently prohibits.

Tim Hollister, Summit’s attorney, previously noted the access road was not required by Norwalk’s fire marshal but was sought to appease Westport’s demands.

Hollister declined comment following the commission’s decision, due to not having a chance to review its reasoning.

Though discussion over the Hiawatha Lane plan has seemingly ended in Norwalk, early signs indicate Westport may soon be back in the center of the conversation.

Carolanne Curry, a resident of 29 Hiawatha Lane Ext., claimed Summit is filing an application to appear before the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission to ask for a sewer extension.

“The Norwalk side has ended and Westport begins again,” she said, noting she has been opposing the developer for over a decade out of concern for her neighborhood.

No application for a sewer extension is currently listed on the Planning and Zoning Department’s website, but if one is filed it could mark a full circle moment in a dispute spawning nearly two decades.

“This is where we began in 2003,” Curry said, referring to a Summit-proposed sewer extention to increase housing density.

Curry said she believes the developer aims to convert her originally affordable neighborhood into a high-end neighborhood that feeds people to the train station. In anticipation for the coming debate in Westport, she said she hopes to rally the community.

“One of the things I’m asking our community to do is to come out physically. Fill that auditorium so that the physical presence is the message that’s heard,” Curry said. “That is vital in Westport. ... This is more than just Saving Old Saugatuck. This is an awful lot of people in Westport that will get to see the unfairness of it.”