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.

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