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Rowayton neighbors feel threatened by Norwalk Land Trust land grab

Pine Point resident Linda Bistany speaks her mind Wedneday at the Sixth Taxing District' meeting in the Rowayton Community Center.
Pine Point resident Linda Bistany speaks her mind Wednesday at the Sixth Taxing District’ meeting in the Rowayton Community Center.

Correction: Linda Bistany’s first name was incorrect in the original post. Also, a quote from her husband, Charles, was wrongly attributed. Miki Alicastro quote was clarified. NancyOnNorwalk apologizes for the errors. 

NORWALK, Conn. – What seemed like a no-brainer to the Norwalk Land Trust in November has now been described as something that no one with “half a brain” would do – and a well-intentioned investment of $100,000 could wind up being flushed down the drain to make the deal go away.

The effort to purchase 2 Nearwater Road in Rowayton was done in response to public outcry last November, NLT President Kathy Siever said to more than 50 people Wednesday at the Rowayton Community Center. The public was outraged that architect Bruce Beinfield was seeking zoning approval of a plan to build a house on the peninsula, in the middle of Farm Creek, she said. So NLT members put in $100,000 of their own money and made a deal with Beinfield. The deposit is non-refundable, she said.

Now, not only is the NLT up against an Oct. 1 deadline in its quest to raise $1 million, but some members of the Pine Point Association are raising a ruckus about the deal, which would create a nature preserve that would require public access.

“We are a private association on a private road and we paid to live on that street. We don’t want the public coming onto that street,” Linda Bistany said to Siever.

An aerial photo of 2 Nearwater Road, as shown on the Norwalk Land Trust's website.
An aerial photo of 2 Nearwater Road, as shown on the Norwalk Land Trust’s website. (Photo courtesy of Halstead Property LLC.)

Her husband, Charles Bistany, said he has been litigating real estate deals for 40 years, and he doesn’t understand how the NLT could have signed a non-contingent contract that might result in the forfeiture of $100,000.

“Nobody enters into a deal like that with half a brain, you don’t do that. … The point is I wouldn’t have any sympathy if they lost 100 grand,” he said, causing an “Oh, c’mon Charles” comment from another Rowaytonite.

Beinfield’s proposal caused a flurry of emails in September as neighbors sought to organize. “How did this get so far? Its REALLY nuts,” wrote Jeff Nixon, in one email.

“… This structure will stand 7 feet off the ground, it will be 80 long, almost 17 feet wide and 36 feet tall. This will sit smack in the middle of Farm Creek, block all views.  Who knows what the impact on the wildlife will be,” wrote Sixth Taxing District Commissioner Mike Barbis in another. “Personally, I wonder why we spent the time and energy to save the Hart property and create the (Farm Creek) Preserve.  This development will completely destroy what we built … If we want to stop this, we need to get organized and we need to find an attorney to take this case.  I am sure any zoning attorney in Norwalk or nearby will not touch this as Beinfield is so connected in real estate development.”

Siever said Wednesday that NLT bought the approximately half-acre property to turn it into a “nature preserve dedicated to bird watching, no dogs, no kayaks, no nothing.” People will be blocked from the northern end of the peninsula to protect the birds, she said. They will only be out there from dusk to dawn, she said.

The NLT is “out on a limb,” she said.

About $150,000 has been raised so far, and another $150,000 promised in pledges.  If the $1 million is not raised by Oct. 1, the NLT will attempt to get financing. “We don’t want to do that. It’s a tough way to go,” she said.

The other option would be to forfeit the money and return the donations, she said.

Beinfield stands to make $300,000 in the deal, according to a Facebook post on the Sixth Taxing District’s Facebook page.

“The reality is that he could have gotten twice that if he wanted. He could still do that. If we don’t raise the money, if we don’t conclude this sale there will be a house there whether Mr. Beinfeld builds it or somebody else that he sells the property to. That is basically where we are,” Siever said.

But, she said, Linda Bistany has a “valid point.”

“I really respect everybody living in Pine Point and the reason they live there,” she said. “As I said, what the Land Trust was doing was in response to public outcry, so this involves more than Pine Point, even though this is 5 feet inside the private road.”

The property’s driveway is at the intersection of Pine Point Road and Nearwater Road, just beyond the “private road” sign. It’s also around the corner from Bayley Beach.

Bistany asked why the public had to be allowed out there.

Low tide at 2 Nearwater Drive, Wednesday afternoon.
Low tide at 2 Nearwater Drive, Wednesday afternoon.

The preserve must be open to the public because NLT has applied for a $500,000 grant from the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), Siever said.

There were parallels drawn: When Bayley Beach went public, there was a lot of concern about what might happen, but there hasn’t been a problem except when there’s a concert, one woman said.

Sixth Taxing District Commissioner John Igneri talked about the creation of the Farm Creek Preserve. “There was a lot of outcry from the neighbors that it was going to bring a lot of traffic and people hanging out there all the time, and that’s not really happened,” he said.

“That’s not a private road in a private association. It’s totally different,” Linda Bistany said.

“If we don’t go through with this plan there could be a house in the middle of the estuary,” Siever said.

And a lot more traffic, people said.

Miki Alicastro said she remembers that when the NLT began its campaign for 34 Sammis St. residents expressed concern about traffic and too many people visiting what feels like a private street. Now, when she visits the resultant Farm Creek Preserve, she doesn’t see a lot of people.

I can’t imagine more than two or three people looking at birds a day, maybe once a day, if that,” she said.

“I think the Pine Point Association needs to realize and consider that building a house in the middle of Farm Creek is just something that will affect the entire community not just an association,” another woman said.

That is a private road, we bought and paid for a house on a private road and I want to keep it that way. That’s the bottom line,” Linda Bistany said.

There are 77 families in Pine Point, one person said. Another resident said it’s a gift to live in a private community that features a beach, a boat launch and other amenities.

“I just think it’s only adding value for everyone in that community,” he said.

The would-be preserve is only 10 to 15 feet into a private road, another person said.

“Our community is not gated. There are not fences, there are not guards. Hundreds of people walk through. They always will,” another said.

“We already have an issue with people being very disrespectful down there,” one resident said. There are people on the beach, and dogs on the lawns, she said. “So we’re bringing in more people who then have access to parking on the street. I mean, we already have enough. That’s why I guess those of us who live there are a little bit concerned about more public coming in and saying ‘well we have the right to park here’ even though they are not going to the preserve. Believe me, living there, people are not respectful, who come to the park. They come through at 4 in the morning with their windows open. I mean, generally most people are respectful, I have to say. But there are those people and there will always be.”

It’s just three parking spaces, people said.

“I think this is overblown exaggeration,” one woman said. “… That property has been there forever. Been deserted. Although it’s been privately owned, the people who owned it are never there. People do wander out there. People don’t come and park. They don’t bring their kids. This is a non-issue.”

“If you don’t want parking we don’t take the DEEP grant but the community has to come up with the funding. It’s real simple,” an NLT board member said. “… If you really don’t want the parking spaces there’s a response that can be made and that’s for the community to chip in and make it happen.”

Pine Point Association President Leah Hogan said the association had not been consulted.

“There should have been some courtesy to come to us before you entered into a contract regarding a piece of land in Pine Point,” she said.

Siever said she needed an answer from the association about whether the fund raising drive should go ahead.

NLT board member D. Seeley Hubbard said the “reaction was intense” last fall when Beinfield made his move. There are three choices, he said – the Pine Point Association can acquire the land, the Land Trust can raise the money or Beinfield can build his house, or sell it to someone else who will build a house.

Raising $1 million isn’t easy, he said.

“The Land Trust doesn’t want to be in this position of being in conflict with any property association. I mean, we’re out to preserve land and that’s our mission,” he said. “… We do it because we feel that we are helping this community. If the community doesn’t want us to do it then fine, we won’t do it.”

Comments

17 responses to “Rowayton neighbors feel threatened by Norwalk Land Trust land grab”

  1. EveT

    I’m confused. NLT executed the real estate deal under the leadership of its president, Kathy Siever, but her husband Charlie Siever thinks it was stupid? Where was Mr. Siever when NLT made the deal? Or does the phrase “her husband” mean that Charlie Siever is the husband of Lisa Bistany?

  2. SMH

    “They come through at 4 in the morning with their windows open.” Whoop-di-dam-doo.

  3. Dawn

    there is a beach over there. I will have to pile my kids in the SUV and check that out. so where should i park???

  4. kent van horn

    Nancy, you need to get your facts correct.

    This was NOT a “land grab”. This was the Norwalk Land Trust listening to a community who petitioned and sent nearly 300 letters of protest to Mr Beinfeilds development plans to city hall. They are the good guys, trying to help the community preserve a piece of land to create sanctuary in our town for all to enjoy.

    In addition your names in your piece are incorrect. It is Linda Bistany, and Charles Bistany, you changed them up during the article, and I am sure no one would want to be misconstrued as them.

  5. Suzanne

    It seems as though the Bistanys are the only ones screaming, “NIMBY.” I think Mr. Hubbard made it very clear: preserve it either through Pine Point or the Land Trust or let there be a building on this spit of land. I would think no one would want an additional residence protruding out into their views. Let the Bistanys raise the million and preserve their community. They could ask for assistance from the Land Trust whose long held experience in these matters has assisted Norwalk in countless ways to make a better, more environmentally sensitive, natural community.

  6. Mike Mushak

    If someone in Norwalk could perform a miracle and guarantee world peace and the end of hunger for every living soul on the planet, there would surely be at least one person who would find a reason to object.
    .
    That said, the neighbor’s concerns should not be dismissed as irrelevant, as there is a natural fear of change here even if it means an occasional bird watcher in a tiny 3 car parking area paved with beach gravel that surely can be attractively landscaped and screened with native vegetation like bayberries and switchgrass to blend on with the environment. A few discreet low signs explaining the natural and cultural history of the old trolley causeway and unique Farm Creek ecosystem can line a wood chip path that meanders out to the far point. No lighting allowed.
    .
    Here’s a simple solution to the neighbor’s concerns: require a Land Trust parking permit that can be obtained on the website and printed off, upon approval of the Land Trust secretary perhaps. This prevents drive- by parking, and you can also limit the parking time to one or two hours maximum to prevent long term parking for those who want to go to the beach perhaps. You can list a local towing company and a land trust phone number for neighbors to help enforce, on a tasteful sign that says cars without permits or parking for more than an hour or two are subject to towing with a $250 fee required to get your car back. And only allow parking from sunrise to sunset.
    .
    Problem solved. Any legitimate member of the public wishing to enjoy the tiny spit of land can still do so with mimimal interruption to the neighbors’ peace of mind, and the possibility of spontaneous “day-trippers” is eliminated completely.
    .
    It would be a shame to lose this opportunity over an issue that can easily be addressed. For what it’s worth, Mr Beinfield (who I know and respect) should consider lowering the cost of the land for a community that has been very good to him over the years. I ‘m sure I’ll hear from him on this one but c’mon Bruce, this is about your legacy in the community. Of course it’s not my land or my money, but many folks of his means and in his shoes would consider such a gesture. Forgiveness goes both ways.

  7. Anon-a-mouse

    Why can’t this tract of land be sold and developed? By an Avalon type of developer who can then squeeze many people in there (to enjoy that beautiful vista) and also spread around some of the badly needed low income housing that Norwalk could so desperately use?

  8. Peter Parker

    Ditto to what Suzanne said. Exactly!

  9. kent van horn

    Thank you Mike. Sound advice. Solutions are out there, reasonable minds just need to talk. Irrational minds need to listen more…

  10. anonymous

    Easy to give away someone else’s money.

  11. Dan

    All PP residents/property owners have thier rights…but the public good from the NLT purchase outweighs trivial, selfish and small minded concerns that were expressed yesterday. For the record, it needs to be noted those most vocal in their opposition seem to spend more than 6 months per year in Florida or in NY. They are only concerned about ‘imaginary’ hoards of out of control crowds flocking (parden the bird pun) to the peninsula. Private roads and that people talk when they walk and their voices sometimes disturb their sleep? Noise from people walking at 4am? Are you serious? So the choice seems to completely irrational concerns versus a foreever preserved special piece of land that cannot be developed? How can an intelligent person even think that this is a choice?
    Finally if NLT does not buy out Beinfield then there will be a house and the truck/contractor traffic for 2 years will probably keep the most vocal in Florida or elsewhere.
    The issue of PP private roads is ludicrous…it is estimated that well over 60% of the daily walkers on the loop ARE NOT PP residents! If privacy is an issue than PP needs to put gates/guard booth. this will increase the association dues by $1000 per year per PP residence. It will be unfortunate that those living in PP full time and do not the luxury of being able to leave like the vocal opposition will shoulder the burdern of this selfish behaviour

  12. EveT

    @Mike Mushak’s suggestions are excellent: require a Land Trust parking permit, available for free, and allow parking only during daylight hours. Wouldn’t that solve the problem?

  13. Don’t Panic

    @Eve T,

    Bet the first objection is going to be that the city will have to pay someone to manage the permit process and someone to enforce it and SIGH we just don’t have the money for it.

  14. Mike Mushak

    Don’t Panic, it is NOT a city process at all but it would be totally managed by the Land Trust, as the property would be privately owned by the Trust and the city would have no jurisdiction. It would require more work for the Land Trust for sure, but with proper technology in place it should be a breeze. I mean, isn’t that one of the benefits of living in a digital world, where temporary parking permits can be obtained with a click or two? And the opposition to this initiative should be satisfied that it’s concerns have been addressed.

  15. John Hamlin

    It appears there are reasonable solutions and accommodations available to make the proposal work. And more pressing problems for Norwalk to fret over.

  16. Suzanne

    Josh Hamlin, Amen.

  17. John Moeling

    Norwalk Land Trust has been protecting open space in Norwalk for 41 years, through all-volunteer work and community and City support. Nancy’s “Land grab” headline is unfair and offensive — kind of Glenn Beckish — but NLT will press on. BTW, NLT volunteers made its in-class science presentation Thursday to 84 4th-graders (at Kendall Elementary School this time), supporting the City curriculum and introducing natural science concepts like adaptation, camouflage, estuaries and other biomes, and respect for the environment. Number of students presented to over the past five years: over 1,500. Instead of criticizing, how about joining?

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