Judge ends Easton battle over development proposed on watershed land-CT Post-July 17, 2017

post saddle ridge imageEASTON — The legal battle over the proposed Saddle Ridge development on 124.7 acres of watershed land along Sport Hill Road has officially ended.

For more than five years, town residents, officials and others argued a housing development was too intense a proposal for the privately owned parcel bordered by Sport Hill, Westport, Silver Hill and Cedar Hill roads.

The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission and Conservation Commission denied two separate plans — one for a 105-unit development and another for a 99-unit proposal — in 2011.

Developers Huntley “Bucky” Stone and Robert Carlson, on the other hand, contended that their plans, which would include affordable housing within the development, would not have a substantially different impact on the land than a plan approved in 2009 for 21 mansions. They appealed the commissions’ decisions in Superior Court.

Earlier this year, Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall K. Berger ruled that the plans were not appropriate for the area. And recently, ending the debate once and for all, the Appellate Court decided not to take up the case, as requested by the developers.

Verne Gay, president of Citizens for Easton, a community group formed in the 1970s to help protect the town’s open space, said he’s not sure whether Stone, the face of the development, will now give up plans to develop the site or submit a new proposal.

“The courts rejected the appeal,” Gay said. “Does he have another move? I don’t know.”

For town residents, the legal battle was a long one that required constant attention and funds to pay a lawyer of their own. Citizens for Easton created the Coalition to Save Easton for this reason, which attained intervenor status in the case, meaning it was always aware of the latest actions in the case.

“It has been very hard,” Gay said. “We all have our own jobs and lives. Over the years, Bucky was well funded and he had a very good legal team. At any point through this process he could have prevailed. Our difficulty was to just keep fighting.”

“We’re very simply a local tree-hugger group here,” Gay added. “It has no other motivation. It’s just protecting the town.”

Stone and Carlson did not return calls for comment.

The town’s regulations limit development in the property’s zone to one dwelling unit per 2 acres of buildable area, excluding the wetlands. The developers sought a more dense housing complex of 99 units in 31 buildings, with 30 percent of the townhouses set aside as affordable.

Under state statute, if a town with less than 10 percent affordable housing rejects a developer’s application to build affordable housing, the burden of proof is on the town to show the plan would harm public health, safety or other matters.

Ira Bloom, of the law firm Berchem, Moses and Devlin P.C., served as legal counsel for the town commissions. “For Easton it was extremely important to protect the town’s resources and, in particular, the public water supply area,” he said

The complex would have sat within two watersheds: the Easton Lake Reservoir and the Aspetuck Reservoir. Both serve as the Aquarion Water Co.’s public drinking water supply reservoirs that serve more than 400,000 Fairfield County residents.

First Selectman Adam Dunsby said protecting the watershed land merits appropriate restrictions on developments.

Brian Roach, program manager of environmental protection for Aquarion, said the 99-unit complex proposed housing densities that were more than two times the maximum density shown to be appropriate to protect water quality within watersheds.

“While Aquarion acknowledges the need for affordable housing in Connecticut, it strongly believes that high-density residential developments should only be considered for locations that are not within public drinking water supply watersheds,” Roach said.

In his 56-page decision, Judge Berger noted that the state statute that addresses affordable housing, section 8-30g, was not meant to tie the hands of communities like Easton, who have a low percentage of affordable housing.

“Saddle Ridge’s application highlights Easton’s need for affordable housing,” the decision states. “The Legislature’s enactment of (Section) 8-30g to accomplish that goal was not intended to allow every development at the cost of damaging natural resources such as our wetlands and watercourses. Sometimes, a different type or less intensive use of the land is demanded.”

ktorres@hearstmediact.com; 203-330-6227

 

 

8th Annual Farm Tour Date Set

August 20, 2016-Save the date!

More info to follow!

 

 

 

 

Important meeting regarding South Park: Thursday, June 16, 2016

http://www.eastoncourier.com/2016/06/14/sacred-heart-to-pitch-updated-south-park-proposal/

SADDLE RIDGE THREAT FINALLY OVER!

Appellate Court rejects Saddle Ridge petitions

Long case over dense housing has ended

Saddle Ridge Village. Easton Courier archives

The  appellate court has denied both petitions for certification in the case of Saddle Ridge v. Easton Planning and Zoning Commission and Saddle Ridge v. Conservation Commission.

This means the years-long battle against the proposal to build Saddle Ridge Village, a nearly 100-unit development with affordable housing units on a 124.7-acre site on watershed land, apparently is now over.

Huntley “Bucky” Stone, who owns Saddle Ridge Development LLC and Silver Sports LP along with partner Robert Carlson, proposed the project on a parcel bordering Cedar Hill, Silver Hill, Sport Hill, and Westport roads.

The case involved multiple court decisions and appeals following the P&Z and Conservations Commission’s rejection of several proposals and an alternative proposal by the developers.

A major point of contention was that the density of the Saddle Ridge proposals exceeded what was recommended by the state for development in a watershed.

“It’s been a very long process,” said Attorney Ira Bloom of Berchem, Moses & Devlin of Westport, who represented the P&Z and Conservation Commissions. “The hard work of the two commissions has been confirmed.”

“I’m glad this matter is settled,” First Selectman Adam Dunsby said.

The Coalition to Save Easton is a subgroup of Citizens for Easton. Verne Gay, president of Citizens for Easton, welcomed the news.

He said, “The long and difficult struggle by CFE against this application began years ago, and began with one simple goal — to protect the health and safety of the public water supply and aquifer, by upholding our current zoning regulations. Any diminution of those, or eradication of those — as this application threatened to have done  — would have posed an immediate and long term threat to public health by opening up the watershed to intensive development.

“This wouldn’t have been simply ‘one’ application for intensive development had it prevailed, but the first of many because it would have set a precedent for those many to come. Judge Berger obviously came to this conclusion in his original measured decision against the application, and the Appellate Court upheld that decision by denying two  petitions for certification by the developer to appeal the decision in Appellate Court.

“We are deeply gratified by the courts’ actions. We are also gratified by the longstanding support of our town’s planning and zoning board, which also denied this application, but also hope this victory offers a measure of guidance to its members as they revise our town’s plan of conservation.”

He said that Easton has a special role, as steward to the public water supply, and also has a unique heritage —  as a town that has long embraced its natural and agricultural legacy. Any commercial interests that seek to undermine that unique role and heritage shouldn’t be part of the plan, or part of the future.

“The struggle over Saddle Ridge was in fact a struggle over the future of our town as well as the integrity of the watershed, and thanks to Judge Berger, the Appellate Court, the future has been well-served in this instance. But now isn’t the time to let our guard down. Easton has a special role, and it’s our privilege — and duty —- to continue our steadfast support of it.”

Stone could not be immediately reached for comment.

Protection of the watershed paramount

A Sept. 8 court hearing followed fruitless settlement talks and rejection by the P&Z Commission in January 2015 of Easton Crossing, the developers’ alternative proposal.

Hartford Superior Court Judge Marshall K. Berger’s on Jan. 25 dismissed the appeals of Saddle Ridge Development LLC and Silver Sports LP against the P&Z and the Conservation Commission.

Watershed issues were paramount in reaching the decision to dismiss the appeals, according to Berger’s memorandum of decision.

“The preservation and protection of the wetlands and watercourses from random, unnecessary, undesirable and unregulated uses, disturbance or destruction is in the public interest and is essential to the health, welfare and safety of the citizens of the state,” the document reads.

In accordance with the state legislature’s directions to protect the town’s watersheds, the town’s land use commissions “properly reviewed the impact of Saddle Ridge’s proposal and denied the applications,” the memorandum reads.

Town and Coalition to Save Easton officials knew the Jan. 25 court decision might not mark the end of the proceedings. Indeed, their positive reaction to the decision was short-lived.

On Feb. 22, the final day of a 20-day deadline to request that the appellate court hear the case on appeal, Saddle Ridge filed two Petitions for Certification — one each for the P&Z case and wetlands case.

A Petition for Certification is a request for the Appellate Court to hear the case on appeal.
Appeals in land use cases are not automatic.

The two town commissions and the Coalition to Save Easton filed memos opposing the two Petitions for Certification to the appellate court  by Saddle Ridge Development LLC, et al, to hear their case on appeal.

Bloom sent the memos in opposition to the appellate court hearing the case on March 2. Attorney Jan Brooks, representing the Coalition to Save Easton, intervenor in the case, also sent an opposing memo to Saddle Ridge’s petitions the same day.

PAINE OPEN SPACE HISTORY

To visit Paine Open Space, follow Stepney Road/ Rt 59 to a left turn onto Judd Road; turn left. Right on Maple Road (shortly past April Drive) and go 1 mile. Turn right into the main entrance.

The Easton Conservation Commission was constituted in 1970 with the responsibility of enforcing the state Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act.  Under State Statute, the commission has the following additional responsibilities:

• To develop, conserve, supervise and regulate natural resources including water resources.

• To conduct research and provide recommendations into the actual and potential use of land areas.

• To keep an index of all open areas whether public or privately owned.

• To acquire land in the name of the town when deemed advisable.

Major land acquisition

In 1975 the town completed one of the largest land acquisitions in its history.  At this time Conservation Commission members Alden Speare,  Robert J. Nicola, Pauline S. Marks, Leslie B. Warren,  Mimi J. Boyd, Jean Everett and Margaret Kerr made the recommendation that the town purchase 128 acres of land from Ralph D. Paine Jr.  for what is known as the Paine Open Space.

The purchase was a collaborative effort with a total of $435,000 being raised.  Half of the funds came from a federal grant, while the remainder was split evenly between the state of Connecticut and the town of Easton.

Paine Open Space

Easton owns the majority of the Paine Open Space, however,  the Aspetuck Land Trust owns two adjacent parcels containing approximately 10 acres. Since the original acquisition, the Conservation Commission and the town have added an additional 15 acres for a total of more than 150 acres that will be preserved forever.

All parcels are interconnected with hiking trails that meander through different habitats from open meadows to woodland areas, as well as wetlands with a number of ponds and bridges.  There is even an island that is connected by a bridge in one of the larger ponds.

The trails are great for hiking and horseback riding, as well as snowshoeing or cross country skiing in the winter.  Many residents have enjoyed ice skating on one of the ponds in the colder months.  There are 10 ponds of varying sizes on the property and seven interconnected ponds built by Paine.  Go to eastonct.gov and enter Paine in the search section for a downloadable map of the Paine Open Space trail system.

We encourage all Eastonites, young and old, to explore this beautiful piece of town-owned land. The property is on Maple Road with two entrances. The main entrance,  between #210 and #220,  has plenty of parking while a smaller entrance further down the road,  beyond  #290, can accommodate a couple of cars only.

Since federal funds were used to cover part of the Paine Open Space purchase price, the following rules are in place:

• Open daily during daylight hours.

• No motor vehicles of any kind, including ATVs, are allowed except in designated parking areas and for maintenance and emergency use.

• No hunting or discharging of firearms.

• No fires permitted for any purpose.

• No smoking allowed.

• No cutting or felling of trees or removal of plants or plant material.

• Horses restricted to designated trails.

• No camping, swimming or picnicking.

• Dogs must be leashed.

Historic hay barn

A classic English hay barn on the Paine property was built in 1847.  Today, only the stone foundation remains.  Easton wanted to repair the barn and raised funds to do so, but since the building inspector wouldn’t let preservationists onto the roof for safety reasons, the restoration was never completed.

The barn was offered to the public, and John Baldwin of Canterbury was awarded the barn by Easton’s Board of Selectmen.  Baldwin owns a home built in 1712, and he planned on rebuilding the Paine barn on the site of an old barn foundation is on his property.

Enjoyed by diverse groups

Many different groups have enjoyed the Paine Open Space over the years.  In addition to visits by Easton residents, the property was used for a Sacred Heart University student film class project entitled, “Purdy’s Crossing” about the underground railroad.

The property was also used by Easton Woods and Fields  (horse-riding group) for trail riding.  Recently, the Easton Fire Department conducted a mock fire rescue at Paine Open Space.

Various Troop 66 Eagle Scout projects have been completed on the property.  Anthony Battaglia and his team created a new trail that connected two existing trails.  Dan Gonzalo and his team built and repaired several bridges.  Other Scouts have helped with trail marking over the years.

Precious property

Over the years there have been several acts of vandalism at the Paine Open Space.  Though all residents are encouraged to use this wonderful town asset, everyone who visits should remember that Paine is a town park, for the use by the townspeople.  Each of us should safeguard it as we do our own backyards.

Ralph D. Paine Jr.

Ralph “Del” Delahaye Paine Jr. was born March 31, 1906, in New Jersey and died January 12, 1991.  He was the oldest son of author and journalist Ralph Delahaye Paine Sr. and had two younger twin brothers. Ralph Paine attended Yale University, where he was a member of Skull and Bones and graduated in 1929.

Like some other Eastonites, Paine was a Wall Street securities analyst after college.  He became the business editor for Time magazine in 1933.

In 1938, he was the personal assistant to publisher Henry Luce, the co-founder of Time.  During World War II, Paine was in charge of The March of Time newsreel series and the European operations of Time Inc. publications.

Paine served as managing editor of Fortune from 1941 to 1953 and following the departure of Charles Douglas Jackson, he was publisher from 1953 to 1967. During his tenure, the magazine created its famous Fortune 500 list.  Paine also served as publisher of Architectural Forum from 1954 to 1963 and House and Home from 1962 to 1963.

Over the period of 1936 to 1941 the Paine family acquired the eight parcels of land that was to become the Paine Open Space.

In 1947, Paine married Nancy White, who at the time was associate fashion editor of Good Housekeeping and later became the editor of Harper’s Bazaar.

At the time of his death, Paine was president and treasurer of the Vermont real estate holdings company Barton Mountain Corporation.

Conservation Commission and Inland Wetlands Agency

As the Inland Wetlands Agency, the commission enforces the provisions of Connecticut’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Act.  In this capacity, it reviews applications for regulated activities, conducts site visits and if appropriate, holds public hearings prior to approving or denying a permit.

The Conservation Commission is responsible for maintaining town-owned land designated as open space and also for planning future open space acquisitions.  To that effect, it works closely with developers and conservation groups, recommending to the Planning and Zoning Commission specific areas to be acquired by the town or otherwise protected.

Recent maintenance activities at the Paine Open Space included replacing drainage pipes under several trails, trimming trees that have been damaged in storms and other general maintenance activities.  Commission member Steve Corti has been doing most of the work along with help from a neighbor, Peter Smith.  Depending on availability, Easton’s Highway Department has been lending a helpful hand as well.

Aspetuck Land Trust

The Aspetuck Land Trust is a non-profit Connecticut Corporation devoted to preserving  open space and the natural resources of Easton, Fairfield, Weston and Westport for the benefit of the public.  You can visit their website at

— Other Conservation Commission/Inland Wetlands Agency members also contributed to this report.

STANDING ROOM ONLY AT OUR ANNUAL MEETING FEATURING DAN CRUSON

IMG_6042-3The Citizens for Easton Annual Meeting featuring guest speaker, Dan Cruson, drew a capacity crowd at the library on Wednesday night. More than 100 people showed up and stayed to question Cruson about how our local ancestors buried their dead–and their evolving religious beliefs about eternity. These beliefs were reflected in the creation of tombstones. Cruson showed a series of slides depicting remarkable written tributes and design elements in stone. His presentation was capped by a dessert buffet and lots of conversation.

STANDING ROOM ONLY AT THE CFE ANNUAL MEETING!!

IMG_6069-1

The audience was spellbound by Dan Cruson’s presentation.