Officials to Neighbors Concerned about Proposed ‘Greenway’: ‘There Is No Back Door to Crossing the Wetlands’

Concerned that a proposed 3-lot subdivision on Weed Street—and, separately but related, a planned public footpath that’s part of what open space advocates envision for the site—could negatively impact wetlands and aesthetics in the area, neighbors on Monday night urged officials at a public hearing to proceed carefully with approvals.

Detail of the “Classified Open Space” map from the South Western Regional Planning Agency (http://bit.ly/1nQG3dO). The striped property on the left is Irwin. Catty-corner are two pieces of open space, the northern one of which is just about 425 feet from the corner of the shoehorn-shaped property, which is comprised of both New Canaan Land Trust and New Canaan Nature Center property. Credit: SWRPA

Detail of the “Classified Open Space” map from the South Western Regional Planning Agency (http://bit.ly/1nQG3dO). The striped property on the left is Irwin. Catty-corner are two pieces of open space, the northern one of which is just about 425 feet from the corner of the shoehorn-shaped property, which is comprised of both New Canaan Land Trust and New Canaan Nature Center property. Credit: SWRPA

Strictly speaking, the only proposal before the Inland Wetlands Commission now is for a moderately expanded driveway into the 9-acre lot just north of the intersection at Wahackme (and on the east side of Weed), beneath which new utility lines would be installed, for the two additional lots.

That said, the overall site plan—which will require its own applications and hearings—calls for subdivision of the lot , as well as a conservation easement for a strip of land that open space advocates including the New Canaan Land Trust would like to use in order to create a new walk-able trail from the Nature Center to Weed Street in the area of Irwin Park.

One neighbor on Weed Street, Dan Radman, told the commission during Monday’s hearing that he wanted “to be sure that if there is an approval to make, it is not the domino effect that it is already the first stepping stone into ‘understood subdivision’ and ‘understood pathway,’ which it should not be.”

The newest site plan for the Weed Street property that includes a conservation easement (see it along the northern edge) desired by open space advocates for what they call a "greenway"—in this case, a proposed new walk-able loop from Oenoke Ridge Road, through Nature Center and Land Trust property, to Weed Street in the area of Irwin Park.

The newest site plan for the Weed Street property that includes a conservation easement (see it along the northern edge) desired by open space advocates for what they call a “greenway”—in this case, a proposed new walk-able loop from Oenoke Ridge Road, through Nature Center and Land Trust property, to Weed Street in the area of Irwin Park.

Commission Secretary George Blauvelt assured him: “There is no back door into crossing the wetlands.”

“When they [members of the Land Trust] get to a point where they are actually ready to begin the approval process, they will have to come back to this commission and they will have to submit plans,” Blauvelt said at the public hearing, held in the Sturgess Room at the New Canaan Nature Center. “And the public will be invited to hear them and they will have to make their case as to why, if in fact their plans require crossing wetlands, why it would be a good thing, and it would be another opportunity for everyone to take a look.”

A close-up of the proposed easement.

A close-up of the proposed easement.

Ultimately, the commission decided not to take action on the driveway application, for two main reasons. First, questions arose about the exact width of the driveway as currently constructed. The driveway is flanked by Land Trust-owned wetlands, and a plan submitted Sept. 22 by Seymour-based B&B Engineering puts it at 12 to 13.5 feet, with plans to expand it to 16 feet. Commissioner Barbara Wilson and some neighbors—including John Wood, who owns an abutting property on Sunset Hill Road—said that, given the driveway’s proximity to the wetlands, it was worth another survey of the property to make sure. Weed Street neighbor Paul Vigano urged the commission to try and make the driveway as narrow as possible, for aesthetics. Secondly, Commission Chair Daniel Stepanek said, neighbors in attendance at the meeting (there were about 15 people in the room) may need one more month to pull together their questions about the plan.

More than two dozen neighbors signed a petition that prompted Monday’s hearing.

Last month, Bryan Nesteriak of B&B Engineering (a firm hired by the applicant) resubmitted plans for the proposed accessway/driveway. Part of his report reads: “The design plans include detailed soil erosion and construction measures which are provided in order to deny an impact to the wetlands as a result of the construction. These measures include silt fence and hay bales installed on each side of the driveway which will filter any storm water prior to its entrance to the adjacent wetlands. In addition, a detailed construction sequence has been provided on the plans. The proposal has been designed so that the removal of any large trees will not be necessary.”

Radman and other neighbors, including Frank Fetchet of Sunset Hill Road, hired McChord Engineering Associates of Wilton to write a peer review of B&B’s plans. In a review dated Oct. 20, McChord included four comments that address the proposed accessway itself—including that the site plan identify a staging and stockpiling area for construction of the driveway. Nesteriak said at the meeting that he would meet each request.

McChord’s review said: “Overall, the proposed subdivision appears to be feasible and appropriate for the subject property. Addressing the concerns and recommendations identified in this letter should help to improve the proposed development and protect the adjoining properties during and after construction.”

New Canaan Land Trust board member John Engel fields questions from the Inland Wetlands Commission at the group's Oct. 20 meeting, held in the Sturgess Room at the New Canaan Nature Center. Credit: Michael Dinan

New Canaan Land Trust board member John Engel fields questions from the Inland Wetlands Commission at the group’s Oct. 20 meeting, held in the Sturgess Room at the New Canaan Nature Center. Credit: Michael Dinan

Commissioners asked John Engel, a board member with the New Canaan Land Trust who was in attendance at the meeting (along with board President Chris Schipper) to sketch out the organization’s plans for the “greenway.” The grand vision for the greenway is a trail that would connect the Nature Center property, by way of Land Trust parcels, to Weed Street very close to Irwin Park. With money in next year’s capital budget to create a sidewalk from the top of Elm to Irwin, New Canaanites would have a walk-able loop through town that took them up Oenoke, through the Nature Center and Land Trust property, to Irwin and back into town.

Engel said that though it isn’t clear yet just how a footpath would extend from the end of the proposed conservation easement to Weed Street, that “it is feasible.”

He said the 10-foot-wide easement would include a natural screen from neighbors both on the side of the proposed subdivision and to the north (Sunset Hill), and that getting across or otherwise past the wetlands there to Weed would be “an engineering challenge.”

Engel said that Radman made a good point regarding foot traffic and that the Land Trust, though members have walked the property, at this stage is still working on its specific plan for the footpath.

The Inland Wetlands will continue the public hearing at its Nov. 17 meeting.

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