Saying a wooded property at the end of Indian Waters Drive is too narrow to subdivide and that a development proposal is out of keeping with the residential neighborhood at the end of a private access way, officials on Tuesday night denied an application to carve out two building lots there. The Planning & Zoning Commission voted 9-0 to deny the closely followed special permit and two-lot subdivision applications, filed on behalf of Aquarion. Though the proposed subdivision would set aside 4.1 acres of open space, it provides no real access to it, according to commissioner Laszlo Papp. “I do not believe that the commission has the authority to waive that requirement [for accessibility to open space], either by Special Permit or otherwise,” Papp said during the commission’s regular meeting, held at Town Hall. “So that I see as a serious problem for approval.
Saying Aquarion has no legal right to use their street, 23 of Indian Waters Drive in New Canaan are collectively suing the water company as it pursues a plan to subdivide and develop a wooded parcel that includes use of the private road as an access way. The approximately 10-acre lot owned by Aquarion historically has been served by a driftway running from Weed Street to Frogtown Road, and Indian Waters Drive itself didn’t exist at the time a predecessor water company acquired the parcel in question 110 years ago, according to a complaint filed Oct. 17 in state Superior Court in Stamford. Those who own properties along Indian Waters Drive itself own portions of it up to the centerline, and those who own other homes on the road may pass and repasss it, according to the complaint, filed on the neighbors’ behalf by attorney Amy Zabetakis of Darien-based Rucci Law Group. Yet use of the road is deed-restricted to those property owners, the lawsuit said, so what Aquarion proposes to do “constitutes trespass on the Indian Waters Drive property owners’ property.”
“The Indian Waters property owners request that the court issue a declaratory judgment determining that Aquarion does not have the right to use Indian Waters Drive,” the complaint said.
Town officials and open space advocates are urging a state agency that oversees utilities in Connecticut to see that the water company doesn’t sell off pieces of a large parcel of untouched land in southwestern New Canaan to developers, but rather ensures its preservation, as-is. Calling Aquarion’s 18.9-acre property an “oasis” of “woods, stream and wetlands” and a wildlife corridor set amid developed 2-acre properties, the chairman of the New Canaan Conservation Commission in a letter this month told the Public Utility Regulatory Authority that his group is “concerned that while Aquarion has worked in recent years to get this parcel designated as ‘forest land,’ allowing it to lower the total appraised value to $239,600, the company now seeks to reverse all of that effort and sell the property off to developers at top rate.”
“Since the Town has always been agreeable to the lower ‘forest land’ tax valuation, we see no reason that this valuation should now change when discussing the parcel’s proposed sale to those who would continue to preserve, not develop, it,” Conservation Commission Chairman Cam Hutchins said in his May 4 letter. “We are dismayed not just at the sudden, fast track turnaround in Aquarion’s stewardship of this oasis, but, if allowed, we are concerned about the message this reversal would convey about the 600 or so acres of other water company land in our town, and even more across the state. Please consider our point of view, which may differ from that being packaged and presented to you by Aquarion.”
Aquarion is proposing the subdivision and sale of a wooded parcel that straddles the Noroton River and is bordered by the points of three dead-ending roads—Indian Waters Drive, Welles Lane and Thurton Drive. After the water company made its intentions public in March, neighbors on Indian Waters rapidly united to voice support for the property’s conservation, and have filed a formal motion to intervene in Aquarion’s application, citing the utility’s intention to use their private road for access to the would-be subdivided lots (more on that below).
Members of the volunteer municipal body tasked with advising the town on the management and protection of New Canaan’s natural resources said Thursday night that they plan to weigh in on a divisive proposal from the water company to develop a large wooded parcel that straddles the Noroton River watershed. The Conservation Commission’s role is “to gather facts and present our learned opinion to the Town Council about things like this,” the group’s chairman, Cam Hutchins, said during a special meeting, held in a Town Hall board room. “This is something we want to weigh in on, and we are not supposed to be biased, though our bias going in is that open space a good thing.”
Aquarion’s approximately 19-acre property occupies a wildlife- and wetlands-heavy parcel bordered by the points of three dead-ending roads—Indian Waters Drive, Welles Lane and Thurton Drive. Officials with the water company say they have entered an agreement with one neighbor who wants to purchase 8.3 acres contiguous to his or her property, and will pursue a 2-lot subdivision of the roughly 10 remaining acres, with frontage on Indian Waters Drive. Any land sale undertaken by Aquarion requires approval from the state agency that oversees utilities in Connecticut, the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority.
I read with great interest last week of the proposed sale and subdivision of 18 acres of Aquarion Water Company Land adjoining Indian Waters Drive, Thurton Drive and Welles Lane. This announcement strikes me as an excellent opportunity for the Town of New Canaan and the New Canaan Land Trust together to put into action their commitment to protecting open space in our community. A public-private partnership to preserve this specific wildlife sanctuary and to protect an even larger contiguous green belt of land would be so wise and forward thinking. As past Director of the New Canaan Nature Center and a conservationist at heart, I am keenly aware of the challenges of managing open space, but I also know the irrefutable benefits of protecting undisturbed land for all creatures. Undeveloped spaces in a community increase the livability and enhance property values.