Legal challenges to the approved Saddle Ridge housing development are slowly working their way through the courts, with no clear indication when written briefs might be filed or oral arguments will take place.
The Planning and Zoning Commission’s unanimous vote in March is being appealed by entities that both favor and oppose the controversial plan, which would have 20 affordable housing units out of 66 total units.
The developer, consisting of Saddle Ridge Developers LLC and Silver Sport Associates LP, is upset with some of the many conditions — or restrictions — put on the project’s approval by the P&Z. The Coalition to Save Easton, a group affiliated with the Citizens For Easton organization that has long focused on retaining the town’s rural character, wants the P&Z decision overturned.
The two lawsuits have been consolidated by the court and transferred to the state’s Superior Court land-use docket, and will be heard by Judge Marshall Berger. In a previous lawsuit involving a different development proposal by the Saddle Ridge developer at the same site, Berger denied the developer’s appeal and ruled in favor of the P&Z’s rejection of that project.
A conference call on the pending case for representatives of the participating parties has been scheduled for Oct. 3. A previous conference call took place Aug. 22.
The P&Z is being represented by attorney Ira Bloom of the Berchem Moses firm, who handles many matters for the town; the developer’s attorney is Matthew Ranelli of Shipman & Goodwin; and the coalition’s legal representative is attorney Janet P. Brooks, an environmental specialist.
Bloom said the judge has asked lawyers involved in the case to report in about once a month on their status in the litigation.
In the future, the attorneys will be given a date to submit written briefs by the judge and then a date set to hear oral arguments. “But that’s a ways down the road,” Bloom said.
Ranelli, the developer’s attorney, said he could offer no comment at this time. Ranelli also represented the developer in front of the P&Z during the application process.
Brooks, the Coalition to Save Easton’s lawyer, could not be reached for comment.
William J. Kupinse Jr., one of three interveners in the case on behalf of the coalition, said the case remains in “its preliminary stages. Like most litigation, it will drag along for awhile and eventually be heard by the court.”
Kupinse, a former Easton first selectman, is a practicing attorney but is not involved in this case as a legal representative, but as a town resident on behalf of the coalition. The two other coalition members listed in court papers are Leslie Minasi and Verne Gay.
The P&Z has met to discuss the legal case in executive session — which are closed to the public and media — several times before regular meetings in recent months.
P&Z Chairman Robert Maquat said he doesn’t believe any formal legal documents other than the original lawsuit papers — called “complaints” in legal jargon — have been filed with the court. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern,” Maquat said.
The project, the appeals
As approved, Saddle Ridge would have 30 single-family homes as well as 18 duplex structures with an additional 36 living units. All structures would be on lots of at least one acre, with about one-third of the overall site kept as homeowners’ association-owned open space. Each of the 48 lots would be served by individual septic systems and wells.
The development, known as Easton Crossing, would be built on a 110-acre site that had been zoned for three-acre, single-family houses.
The application was filed under the state’s affordable housing law, known as statute 8-30g, which puts an extra burden on local land-use boards when rejecting an application.
In its appeal, the developer claims the P&Z’s numerous conditions of approval “essentially denies Saddle Ridge’s application because it will have a substantial adverse impact on the viability and degree of affordability of Saddle Ridge’s development.”
The appeal states the P&Z’s 77 conditions “do not clearly outweigh the need for affordable housing in Easton” and “could have been addressed by reasonable changes to the application plans.”
The Coalition to Save Easton, in its lawsuit, questions having have one septic system for each two-unit duplex structure based on a town ordinance, the P&Z concluding a new inland wetlands application wasn’t needed, and if the project’s regional environmental impact was fully vetted.