NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Conservation Commissioners are flummoxed over a Westport developer’s request for vehicle access to a pedestrian path in Norwalk.
Commission Chairman John Verel said Tuesday that he feels torn by the proposal, which he characterized as “fundamentally a proposal to build a road though the wetlands” – one that is “not needed.”
The request came from Summit Saugatuck LLC developer Felix Charney, who is suing the town of Westport over its latest of seven rejections by the Planning and Zoning Commission.
Charney is seeking to alter a conservation easement granted in 2006 to allow emergency vehicle access to the apartment complex Summit is trying to build. The Norwalk Commissioners were given 94 pages of legal rebuttals stemming from December’s public hearing discussion, that includes language suggesting Summit already has property rights to the path.
The commissioners have asked Norwalk Senior Environmental engineer Alex Cherichetti for guidance from Norwalk’s legal department.
The path in dispute, used by the East Norwalk Avalon, would need to be widened to accommodate emergency vehicles. Attorney Keith Ainsworth, representing Westport residents who oppose the proposed development, said the language of the easement actually drafted Summit out. The developer has a right to apply for a change in the easement, Ainsworth added, but Commissioners “don’t have to give them an inch on it. You don’t have to allow them to do any damage on it.”
Later, Commissioner Steven Klocke described the request as “irrelevant to us,” “just an end run around a roadblock that has been put up, and now we have to spend our time muddling through it.”
Also in the mix was Summit’s lawyer, Tim Hollister, who told the Commissioners that the lack of two emergency access points was a factor in Westport’s denial. But Norwalk Fire Marshall Broderick Sawyer doesn’t think it’s necessary to have two, given the proximity of fire stations.
While Hollister also encouraged commissioners to seek legal advice, he noted that Westport is being defended in the Summit lawsuit by Bercham & Moses, and Norwalk’s Corporation Counsel, Mario Coppola, is a partner in that firm.
Commissioner John Moeling, who referred to Hollister’s legal rebuttal as a “booklet,” said he has not been persuaded to sign off on the easement.
“I’m not persuaded there’s no alternative. I’m not persuaded that the physics is going to work out the way it’s been presented. I just have visions of a, you know, some sort of vehicle hitting an iceberg and sinking despite the fact that everybody said it couldn’t.”
Commissioner Ed Holowinko professed to be “leaning into denial, resolution for denial. …We as a commission who basically owns this land, has every obligation to protect it. And the conservation easement is very specific to what can and can’t happen.”
Klocke predicted that the path, if approved, wouldn’t be used any more than it is now, and that under the developer’s stewardship, it would “go to seed just like the current version has.” He said the developer made the request as part of a larger strategy to get the town of Westport to greenlight the complex.
Commission Chairman Verel pulled no punches in stating his position: “I could care less about Westport,” he said.
The Commission is set to consider the matter on Jan. 28.