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.
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.
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.”