Norwalk’s processes attacked in latest Beinfield battle

NORWALK, Conn. – The battle to stop architect Bruce Beinfield from building on Farm Creek made its way Wednesday to the Harbor Management Commission, to the surprise of Commission members.

“It’s not in our purview,” Commission member John Pinto said before the meeting even began. Environmental activist Diane Lauricella later told him that it was. While Commission members indicated that they respect the power of the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), they also said they couldn’t do much about Beinfield’s proposal for 2 Nearwater Road.

DEEP is at issue because of a letter written by DEEP Senior Environmental Analyst Marcy Balint slamming Beinfield’s plan.

“If you haven’t read that letter, I urge you to do so,” Charles Schoendorf said. “… Our state-hired professionals in these matters went to great lengths to analyze the situation and I urge you to take their comments to heart and to mind in their work on this project.”

“Our relationship to DEEP, they are the regulatory agency,” said Pinto, chairman of the Application Review Committee. “We make recommendations to them with regard to anything consistent or inconsistent with the Harbor Management Plan. We are not a permitting or a granting agency. We do not have that authority. But what we do do is to review the plan in light of those tools in our box, which represents the Harbor Management Plan.”

The Commission was asked by Planning and Zoning staff to review the application to see if it is in compliance with the Harbor Management Plan, Pinto said before the meeting.

He rephrased the limitations of the Commission over and over again during the meeting.

If Beinfield’s new house were planned for the Farm Creek peninsula that was built as a trolley line, it would be in the Commission’s purview, he said.

“We really have no ultimate authority, the DEEP has the ultimate authority. We can only provide guidance to the DEEP with regard to consistency with the Norwalk Harbor Management Plan,” Pinto said.

Lauricella served as “lead-off batter” for the four people who had come to make an impression on the Commission.

“The impact of this building on the trolley way as well as the estuary is part of your purview in my opinion, just my opinion, about the Harbor Management Plan,” Lauricella began. “So I do think that in you, much more than recommend to DEEP, I would like to see a referral of your opinions back to the Planning and Zoning Department.”

She had been busy tending to a sick family member, she said, but would forward specific reasons why the application is within the Commission’s purview.

“I think the city has misused its role in not only protecting the shoreline and the coastal area but also balancing the coastline and development with not only nature but also public health and safety,” Lauricella said, urging that the Commission hire a specialist to review the plan if it was not going to follow Balint’s guidance.

Pinto said the Commission has an expert – Coastal Area Planning Consultant Geoff Steadman.

“Geoff Steadman, who is one of the best in the state, is going to comment but it’s going to come down to what authority we have,” Harbor Master Mike Griffin said.

“I ask that DEEP experts not be ignored this time,” Lauricella said. “It’s because the construction equipment will be on the line or close to the line and can also have impact with spills of oil or gas.”

She asked that the existing cottage be removed from the peninsula.

“That will create even a bigger impact,” Commissioner John Romano said.

The next batter, Lynnelle Jones, also attacked the city’s process, dropping the name of Director of Environmental Services Tom Closter.

“Tom gave me permission to use his name to let this Commission know that no one has come to his office,” Jones said. “It’s not on septic; the property has sewer, but there are other areas where Tom said he was surprised it didn’t come to him.”

Griffin agreed there were issues that Closter could be concerned with, but said that would be done under the Shellfish Commission.

“Ask him to lose the cottage,” Jones said. “That cottage is going to be a problem in the next storm, maybe the storm that’s going to come this weekend.”

The peninsula is built on unstable rubble and shifts with every major storm, Lynne Pratt said.

“If the cottage is removed by nature that could be more impactful and harmful to the surrounding ecosystems and the fragile nature of Farm Creek,” Pratt said. “… If a storm should come and damage the cottage it would be within Mr. Beinfield’s purview to have it raised and I understand it’s just an over-the-counter permit. Then that cottage would be in essence the home he fully expected to build the first time around.”

“It is what it is,” Romano said.

“Any amount of work down there could be detrimental to the ecology down there, to the tranquility, to the visual of the nature of the spot and that is what a great many neighbors are concerned about,” Schoendorf said.

“I am afraid that in all of the years working on the Harbor Management plan it’s not going to give the commission, this body, much wiggle room to support the passion of the people who have spoken here tonight,” Griffin said.

“It’s going to come down to DEEP and how they feel, if it fits their language and authority overall. They’re not easy. If that gives the group any comfort, I am sorry I couldn’t say more that was positive,” Griffin said.

Attorney Bill Hennessey speaks on Bruce Beinfield's behalf Wednesday at the Harbor Management Commission meeting in City Hall.
Attorney Bill Hennessey speaks on Bruce Beinfield’s behalf Wednesday at the Harbor Management Commission meeting in City Hall.

Attorney Bill Hennessey, representing Beinfield, said that Farm Creek is the site of very aggressive development, with lawns up to the water’s edge, seawalls and 20-odd docks. Beinfield’s house is designed to maintain the view of the creek as much as possible, he said.

“Frankly, you drive down Nearwater Lane and you don’t know Farm Creek is there. This will be a different experience,” Hennessey said.

The proposed garage would be the only structure to touch the ground as the actual house would be built on piers, he said, calling it a “Very light development and very respectful development and a development that is completely 100 percent, A, out of the jurisdictional line, the high tide line. I would argue all the activities take place out of your jurisdiction.”

Schoendorf said the “unobtrusive house” would be 96 feet long by 47 feet high.

That would make it one of the smaller houses on the creek, Hennessey said, stopping abruptly.

“I am not arguing about that. It complies with zoning,” he said.

Lauricella said she was on the Harbor Management Commission when it was first formed under former Mayor Bill Collins. Former Mayor Frank Esposito wanted to reappoint her but she was traveling to Hartford for work and declined, Lauricella said.

“The ecology, it could be said, is under your purview,” Lauricella said. “You are supposed to balance the environmental harm of land use with access.”

“We do take that very seriously,” Pinto said. “We can take it just so far.”

“We struggle all the time with dock applications, if you will, and yet our comments are, I guess you would say, overlooked by DEEP because of a property owner’s right to (have a walkway),” Griffin said. “If you look Farm Creek, as Attorney Hennessey pointed out, at there’s proliferation of docks all around Farm Creek area. We weren’t able to prevent them so there is a limited amount of responsibility that we have with regards to the agency that permits these projects. That’s DEEP. We can be passionate and supportive, but that doesn’t make us, I guess you would say, uncaring or unfeeling.”

The matter would have been acted on by the full Commission, but there wasn’t a quorum for the full Commission meeting that followed the committee meeting.

Griffin said he would bring it up at Thursday’s Shellfish Commission meeting, staffed by Closter. He said, “Even if the area is not harvested for shellfish product, at the same time, as John pointed out, the entire area that supports the nutrients and the shellfish resources obviously becomes a concern of theirs.”


12 responses to “Norwalk’s processes attacked in latest Beinfield battle”

  1. M. Murray

    Really?? What’s the big deal? The guy is building a house on a piece of property he owns. It’s not like he is building a hotel.

  2. Tony P

    I hope Bruce turns around and sues the city – and wins. As M. Murrary said above, he owns the land, and he wants to build a house – for which it’s zoned for. More NIMBY-ism veiled as ‘environmental activism.’ And now they want him to tear down the cottage too? Unreal. I’d love to see where these folks who are so concerned about the environment live.

  3. Oldtimer

    He wants to build a second, larger, house on the property, which State Experts, at DEEP, have said will not support a second house without significant environmental impact. His offer to remove the kitchen, but not the bedrooms or bathrooms is a cute effort to get around the “second house on the property issue”, and should not fool anybody. Most surrounding towns would issue a permits to build the now proposed new house only after the first house has been carefully removed, or moved to a more suitable location on another property. The fact that prior mistakes have been made, allowing waterfront houses with significant environmental impact, to be built with no City agency taking any responsibility for permitting such impact, should be no excuse for repeating that same approach. Is there any record in evidence of any connection to City Sewer for that property or is it working on a never permitted septic system using surrounding sea water as sewage field drains ?

  4. John Hamlin

    “Most surrounding towns . . . .” says it all. Nothing worse than watching the town with the most extraordinary coastline in the state continue to squander it due to fear of appropriate regulation, planning, and zoning.

  5. Lisa Thomson

    Tony P – Interesting that you should invoke the word lawsuit. If anything, the people of Norwalk should consider ‘suing’ the City for it’s outdated, inconsistent P&Z guidelines that continue to produce these development disasters. Wasn’t the mosque ‘compliant’ with Norwalk’s virtually non-existent guidelines. The state and the feds would never allow the cottage to exist in this day and age and neither should Norwalk officials.

  6. Tony P

    @Lisa Thomson – Feel free to sue the city – you would lose, undoubtedly. And Bruce will probably win. And build the house anyways. You don’t change the rules in the middle of the game. And weather or not the rules on the books RIGHT NOW make sense or they don’t, what the NIMBY’s in Rowayton (with their own environmentally friendly mansions,with docks and all) are doing to Beinfeld is reprehensible. Lisa Thomson and the like, how about getting after planning and zoning instead of the guy that’s trying to work w/i the spirit of whatever is on the books. He’s made accommodations, and my sincere hope is that he gets to build the house.

  7. Casey Smith

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but when the property first came on the market, didn’t everyone, including the environmentally concerned, have a chance to bid on it?

    And wasn’t there a whole whoop-de-doo over possibly having a bird sanctuary there? I seem to remember people getting their shorts in a twist because they didn’t want people walking around the property or cars parked on their private road.

    You can’t have it both ways. Like it or not, Beinfield owns the property now. There are actions he’s allowed to take regarding the parcel that are his right as property owner.

    Sorry, guys, you all missed the boat on this one.

  8. Lisa Thomson

    @ Casey – It wasn’t the neighborhood that caused the broo ha ha – it was a couple of wealthy Pine Point individuals who threatened to sue the Norwalk Land Trust – an organization not prepared to deal with lawsuits.

    Just to show how nasty things got – in order to get their $100,000 deposit back on the property – Mr. Beinfield’s legal team placed a gag order on them.

    Norwalk’s P&Z guidelines are too subjective – everyone knows it – and ‘approvals’ or ‘go back to the drawing board’ votes often boil down to who you are – developer versus the average Joe.

    @ Tony P – The hundreds of residents speaking out about 2 Nearwater and advocating for the city to factor in the state DEEP Report ARE NOT neighbors but members of the larger Norwalk community. At some stage, the city has to factor in common sense and listen to the people.

  9. M. Murray

    If it is appropriately zoned for a house at the present time, he has a right to build. And oldtimer, I wouldn’t object if they held off the certificate of occupancy until the kitchen is removed.

  10. Mike Mushak

    See my op-ed piece in NON today, 10/2/15, for my response to the shocking claim made by a member of the Harbor Management Commission that the 2 Nearwater property on Farm Creek is not in their purview.

    It most certainly is, according to the law they are supposed to enforce.

  11. Oldtimer

    “until the kitchen is removed” That is not what I said, Mr. Murray. It is NOT appropriately zoned for two houses. I said the City would be smart to follow the example of other nearby communities and tell the applicant he can have a permit for the house he is now proposing as soon as the “cottage” is properly removed. Demolition, or relocation to another site, would work, but, under no circumstance should there ever be two houses on that tiny little lot.

  12. M. Murray

    once he removes the kitchen, it would no longer be considered a house, but an outbuilding which is likely permissible

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