NORWALK, Conn. – Point by point, representatives of a developer looking to build on the controversial White Barn property rebutted arguments Wednesday made by opponents in an effort to persuade the Zoning Commission to greenlight the plan.
The Commission sent the proposal to build a 15-home conservation development at 440 Newtown Ave. back to committee for review after Attorney Liz Suchy led nearly two hours of assault on the assertions made last week by neighbors of the property on the Cranbury/Westport line, members of the Norwalk Land Trust and Save Cranbury and their lawyers.
Much of the rebuttal focused on the opposition’s claims about the power lines running through the property.
Although Attorney Keith Ainsworth said last week that the power lines were not included on the applicant’s plans, “Frankly that is just incorrect,” Suchy said.
Ainsworth had attacked a letter in the application as “hearsay,” as it claimed Eversource was OK with the development going under its power lines.
“You can consider hearsay testimony because you are an administrative agency,” Suchy said.
Attorney Leslie Aceto, also representing the developer, said she had spoken directly to Eversource
“They do not object to the conservation easement provided their easement is respected, nor do they challenge the applicant’s ability to establish such an easement,” Aceto said. “The utility company doesn’t perceive that the proposed conservation easement will infringe upon their existing rights.”
The Commission in 2009 approved a conservation area in Silvermine that contains a 20-foot wide easement for underground water main running through the conservation area, Aceto said, part of her argument that precedents exist.
“Eversource has in excess of 2,300 miles of transmission lines that criss-cross this state covering suburban and urban areas,” Aceto said, asserting that it is not unusual for development under power lines.
Last week, opponents argued that Eversource would need to visit the property to maintain the area under the power lines. Trees are trimmed every six years, they said.
The fears are unsubstantiated and unwarranted, Aceto said, as there are only three poles involved.
“Two are located in what is now one of the parking lots, in the future will be meadow,” Aceto said. “So it will have very low-lying growth. The concern that there are proximate trees around the utility lines is not a concern, therefore there will not be the need to make frequent trips to the site.”
“It’s an overhead line so once the enhancements are done on the ground there is no reason for vegetative cover to be disrupted. It’s an overhead line so there won’t be disruption on the ground,” Aceto said.
“My client has been involved in this property for about 10 years. Since that time we are not aware of them coming out there,” Aceto said.
Opponents, sitting in the audience, laughed.
A statement released by Celia Maddox of Save Cranbury after the meeting explained the laughter.
“Eversource can and does already enter on a regular basis to cut or remove trees. Our members have seen them,” Maddox wrote.
“It’s unreasonable to expect that in the future the existing use (of power lines) will be changed or expanded,” Aceto said. “This restriction is created by traditional limits on easement use prohibiting actions that violate the reasonable intentions of the party at the time of the utility easement when it was first created. There’s case law that providing that the use of the easement must be reasonable and as little burdensome to the other parties holding rights in the property as possible. As I mentioned the owner … has the right to use the property under and on either side of the electric line.”
Landscape Architect Kate Throckmorton provided the Commission with copies of six magazine articles to support the idea that conservation areas and power lines can co-exist.
“I think that kind of highlights repeatedly that utility easements and electrical power line ways in conservation easements do exist, they cohabitate well together, they have worked together and the power company has worked with land trusts through the state,” Throckmorton said.
Suchy said several times that developer Jim Fieber did not agree with the opinion issued early this year by Assistant Corporation Counsel Brian McCann, asserting that the White Barn Preserve could not be used as part of the density calculation for the property, but chose not to challenge it legally, instead reducing the number of homes from 20 to 15. Fieber had not waived his rights, Suchy said.
“I submit to you that this is certainly more harmonious than any of the other uses that might (have been submitted),” Suchy said.
Opponents said that the conservation land proposed had been gerrymandered; Suchy said regulations do not specify the size or shape of conservation area.
“We have to abide by the regulations as they exist and we have done that,” Suchy said.
“I do understood that the neighbors, they are concerned about it,” Holt McChord said. “They spoke eloquently about it, but I don’t believe that they truly understand the details of our plan, the protections in our plan and the fact that this plan is an excellent plan. It meets the requirements in the spirit. … It’s an excellent example of how conservation development can serve its own property, serves the neighbors, serves the community, protects the environment. This is a win-win plan.”
“This project is well designed and thoughtful,” Suchy said. “It is respectful of the unique nature of the parcel yet allows the applicant to create a profitable development, one all of you will be proud of. I personally have been proud to work on this project and the professionals who have created a well formulated plan that is reasonable, responsible and compliant.”
The Plan Review Committee will again consider the proposal at its next scheduled meeting, Sept. 10.