NORWALK, Conn. — Norwalk Conservation Commissioners rebuffed a Westport developer Tuesday, saying no to a request for vehicle access to a conservation-dedicated pedestrian path in Norwalk.
The Commission tabled a second item related to Summit Saugatuck’s dream of building a housing complex just over the town line, in Westport. This confused some onlookers but Matthew Mandell, an opponent of the developer’s plan, said it’s all over with.
Summit Saugatuck LLC developer Felix Charney is suing the town of Westport over its latest of seven rejections by the Westport Planning and Zoning Commission. Charney was seeking to alter a conservation easement to allow emergency vehicle access to the apartment complex Summit is trying to build near the Westport train station, in Old Saugatuck.
The easement was granted in connection to the approval given to the East Norwalk Avalon, on Norden Place.
“We spent a lot of time in 2011 coming up with that conservation easement,” Commissioner Karen Destefanis said Tuesday. “…There’s no compelling reason for me to change that conservation easement. We did it for a reason.”
The Commission had held a two-part public hearing, with former Norwalk Mayor Bill Collins making a dramatic appearance in the first installment, alleging that Westport has turned down Summit because it’s against affordable housing.
Commissioners seemed confused after the end of part II and asked for legal guidance from the City. On Tuesday, they seemed confident they could refuse to amend the conservation easement.
They said they didn’t agree with “the intervenor,” a group of citizens who hired an attorney to help them fight Summit. But they denied the amendment request.
“I don’t see any benefit (to Norwalk) and the conservation easement is there to protect that space,” Commissioner Cheryl Brown said.
Destefanis commented that she’d felt “a lot of conflict about this because there was a lot of testimony to listen to, a lot of grandstanding by the politicians (that) I don’t think you need to listen to, but the public, you know, provided some input that I think we should carefully consider.”
She said, “I find that I agree with Mayor Collins who said we’re being a pawn in this, you know, really played. But honestly that conservation easement was there for a reason. And if it’s just ‘give’ and no getting anything back in return, some sort of benefit to the city of Norwalk, I don’t see a reason to vote for the change in the access agreement.”
The unanimous vote to turn down that request was followed by more confusion, as there was still Summit’s request for “grading and widening of existing gravel accessway adjacent to a wetland and watercourse.”
In other words, altering the path created by the conservation easement.
Norwalk Senior Environmental Engineer Alexis Cherichetti said that given the denial of the easement request she would have to think about it.
Commissioner Ed Holowinko called it a dead issue. Chariman John Verel tabled it.
Mandell, a Westport Representative Town Meeting member, was a leader in the “intervenor” move to block Summit. He called the second application “moot.”
“It doesn’t matter. The ultimate issue that we’re looking for was the denial to the modification of the conservation easement,” Mandell said, asserting that the Commission had two routes to rebuff Summit and it didn’t matter which it chose.
“We’re pleased with the decision,” he said.
Attorney Tim Hollister, representing Summit, said nothing during the brief Commission deliberation on the issue and left as soon as the matter was resolved, making him unavailable for comment.
Mandell said that if Summit wanted to build 25 housing units with 20 percent affordable housing, Westport would agree. It’s not the affordable component that Westport objects to, it’s the density, he said.