Watershed protection paramount in Saddle Ridge decision

Developer evaluating judge’s decision and options

Saddle Ridge Village. Easton Courier archives

Town officials have reacted positively to the Jan. 25 court decision to dismiss the appeals of Saddle Ridge Development LLC and Silver Sports LP against the Easton Planning and Zoning Commission and the Easton Conservation Commission.

The decision capped years of dissension over a proposal to build Saddle Ridge Village, a nearly 100-unit development with affordable housing units on a 124.7-acre site on watershed land bordering Cedar Hill, Silver Hill, Sport Hill, and Westport roads.

But the court decision may not mark the end of the proceedings.

The developer has 20 days to request the appellate court to hear the case on appeal, attorney Ira Bloom of Berchem, Moses & Devlin of Westport said. Bloom represented the Planning and Zoning and Conservation commissions.

And Huntley “Bucky” Stone, who owns Saddle Ridge Development LLC and Silver Sports LP along with partner Robert Carlson, appears to be continuing his fight to win his case.

“We recognize that this process is a marathon, not a sprint,” Stone said on Jan. 26. “We’re nowhere near ‘hitting the wall.’”

Hunt said the court decision “was no surprise. It was my prediction. It’s the safe way of going.”

Critics of the development project were jubilant over the court decision.

“Everybody’s thrilled,” said Verne Gay, president of Citizens for Easton and a member of the Coalition to Save Easton, a sub-group of CFE that was an environmental intervener in the case. “It was the best possible news and outcome.”

The group made the effort to stop Saddle Ridge because building the development “would set a terrible precedent for building on watershed land,” Gay said, and would run contrary to the town’s agrarian character.

“It was a bad idea,” he said. “I’m so grateful to Judge Berger for being so thorough and fair.”

In fact, watershed issues were paramount in reaching the decision to dismiss the appeals, according to the 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.

First Selectman Adam Dunsby said the court “made a well-reasoned decision affirming the Easton Planning and Zoning Commission and the Easton Conservation Commission’s determination that the public drinking water watershed is an important public interest that merits the strongest protection.”

Bloom said he was “very pleased” about the court decision.

“I thought the decision was very thorough and complete and cited much of the evidence that the commissions relied upon in making their decisions,” Bloom said. “Both commissions should be commended for their extensive work on these cases. They did a very good job.”

The judge consolidated the developer’s two appeals — to the Conservation Commission on wetlands issues and to P&Z on the affordable housing piece — this past September, Bloom said.

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.

The density of the Saddle Ridge proposal exceeded what was recommended by the state for development in a watershed — one unit per two buildable acres

— according to Bloom’s brief for the P&Z at the hearing.

Attorney Matthew Ranelli of Shipman & Goodwin of Hartford represents the developers.

Ranelli said the Easton Crossing 48-unit housing development with affordable accessory apartments was an attempt to find a solution with the P&Z, but resolution wasn’t reached.

Ranelli said he couldn’t comment at length about the Jan. 25 court decision because his general policy is not to comment when cases are still pending.

“We’re evaluating the decision and our options,” he said.

Stone said he and Carlson are “digesting” the 57-page memorandum of decision.

“We take it very seriously,” he said

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