6:41 a.m., updated to reflect comments from Kathy Siever
Correction 2:30 p.m., to show Councilman David McCarthy does live in Pine Point.
NORWALK, Conn. – Dueling lawyers mark the continuing battle over the Norwalk Land Trust’s attempt to buy a tiny spit of Rowayton land to create a nature preserve as some residents of an exclusive neighborhood fight to deny public access with an attitude described as “not in my back yard.”
A “splinter group” of Pine Point Association members has retained lawyers to challenge the Norwalk Land Trust’s plan to purchase of 2 Nearwater Road, referred to as the “former trolley peninsula,” according to a source who would prefer to remain anonymous. The source said the group sent a letter to the Land Trust threatening a lawsuit should the purchase go through, but NLT President Kathy Siever denied that.
The Land Trust has stopped its effort to raise the $1 million it is obligated to come up with in its agreement with architect Bruce Beinfeld to buy the approximately half-acre property, the source said, which Siever confirmed.
SaveFarmCreek.org confirms the story of a legal battle.
“A splinter group of Pine Point residents have hired their own attorney to oppose this project, fearing that those of us who may visit the nature preserve and walk the loop will use their private roads and beaches. If they succeed in preventing the Land Trust from buying this land, Farm Creek will be in danger of development once again,” the website says, referring to Beinfeld’s original plan of building a house on the property, one that would be significantly larger than the house that is there now.
Dan McHugh, head of SaveFarmCreek.org, explained the situation Sunday. “Some concerned Pine Point residents have raised concerns regarding if the Land Trust buys the land, what are the public access issues? Will there be a significantly increased number of people coming through Pine Point? They’re concerned about people having access to the beach,” he said.
Access to the proposed nature preserve is via a driveway that is perhaps 10 feet into a private road, part of Pine Point. There is no gate to block people from going down the road, but there is a sign warning drivers away.
“If NLT is able to preserve 2 Nearwater as a nature preserve, it will likely install a gate to restrict access between dusk and dawn, similar to the gate a Bayley Beach that is locked at night, and opened each morning,” Siever said in an email.
McHugh lives in Pine Point. The unnamed source referred to neighbors tip-toeing around each other, and no one is sure who is behind the threat to sue.
“There’s an opposition group, there’s a support group, there’s a stand-down group and then there’s the Pine Point board — and everyone is lawyered up,” the source said.
McHugh is very diplomatic.
“There are some concerns raised about whether or not a non-profit like the Norwalk Land Trust can actually buy a piece of property in Pine Point with the covenants and deed restrictions that apply back to 1928,” he said. “This is in the context of reasonable people can reasonably differ on points and a discussion and dialogue around those concerns. Concerns about access and the public are, I think, very addressable. The groups have to sit down and talk about it. The Land Trust has said they are going to limit the access to the peninsula. They have said there won’t be any community activities out there at all. They’ve gone on record about the fact that they will rescind all rights to beach access as a Pine Point property owner. Those are all, I think, reasonable approaches to people’s concerns.”
The 1928 Pine Point covenant says that there should be no amusement activities, he said. At the time, that meant an amusement park. There should be no park activities, no bathhouses or swimming, he said.
“Some of the concerned citizens have said bird watching is an amusement, therefore it’s not allowed,” McHugh said. “One can have an opinion about whether that is actually common sensical or not, but you sit down and have a conversation about that point and then also, which our lawyer has done, going back into the Supreme Court about how they view the term amusement and pubic activities. Passive bird watching, standing behind a gate, would not constitute amusement.”
The Norwalk Land Trust had a lawyer review the situation before plunking down a $100,000 non-refundable deposit to enter into the agreement with Beinfeld, he said. “Their lawyer’s opinion was that there was no issues with the Pine Point Association. But as with everything, you have to listen to people,” McHugh said. “… All we are trying to do is support the Norwalk Land Trust in the acquisition of this land so that they keep it as a preserve and keep it forever wild. It is amongst, if not the last, tidal estuary pieces of land out there. Having a house in the middle of a creek – does that really make sense to a lot of people?”
Numerous legal briefs have been written, the unnamed source said. The Pine Point Association will vote on June 22 to establish a position. The Land Trust is waiting for that vote before proceeding, the source said. “They don’t want to be in the neighborhood where the neighbors don’t want them there,” the source said.
An informational meeting will be held Monday evening for Pine Point residents, to which all the lawyers are invited, the source said.
There is a rumor that Councilman David McCarthy (R-District E) is leading the opposition and is one of three people supporting the lawyers fighting to keep the public out of Pine Point. McCarthy said in an email that is “completely untrue.”
McCarthy, who lives in Pine Point, said, “I have no part in this.”
“You’ve got a lot of rumors. Rumors don’t help anybody,” McHugh said. “Everyone has a voice and everyone wants to be heard. Whoever may be behind or supporting the, let’s call it the splinter group off of Pine Point for lack of a better word, they have the right to do so, but I hope tomorrow they are going to identify themselves because we certainly have identified ourselves as here is our intent, here is what we are trying to do, let’s have a conversation about it. Heretofore it has been a bit murky as to who is behind the lawyers for the other side.”
Save Farm Creek is reaching out, he said. Sunday morning, there was a fun run through Rowayton and Pine Point, he said. Save Farm Creek was out at 2 Nearwater and collected two pages of names of people who support turning the land into a nature preserve. There have been 125 emails sent in support since a call went out two weeks ago, he said.
One month ago, Siever reported that the Land Trust had raised $100,000. McHugh said Sunday that he thinks it’s up to $350,000 now.
“There’s been a definite uptick in donations since these questions have been raised. I think people are realizing that they need to help the Land Trust get the funds raised,” McHugh said.
The Land Trust has applied for a $500,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Siever said last month. That money would come with the stipulation that the public have access to the preserve. If the Land Trust raised the $1 million without DEEP, it could satisfy the splinter group and deny the public access.
The source pointed out that the driveway for the proposed preserve is 50 feet from Bayley Beach. Nobody is overrunning the Pine Point Association’s private beaches or roads, the source said.
“There’s no bad actors here,” McHugh said. “There’s people who have got concerns and reasonable people should sit down and listen to those concerns. Somebody said there’s concerns about buses of people coming to the peninsula. Well, there haven’t been buses going over to Sammis Street and this is a walking loop. People walk the loop between Belle Island and Pine Point and around to the other side of the Farm Creek Preserve, the Schoendorf Preserve. People say you’re going to have non- Pine Point residents walking on it. Well, the reality is that 75 percent of the people who do that loop today don’t live in Pine Point. They live in other places in Rowayton, they live in Norwalk, they live in Darien and they come and do this walk because it’s such a special walk. Those are the types of discussions that I think we need to sit down and talk with other concerned parties.”