Applicant a no-show at 44 Westport Road hearing

A public hearing on the proposed high-density development of 44 Westport Road opened Monday, June 9, but the applicant was not in attendance.

On Monday afternoon, Town Planner Bob Nerney received a letter from the applicant’s attorney, Casey Healy of Gregory & Adams, requesting a continuance to June 23. That request was granted, but the Planning & Zoning Commission still chose to open the floor to public comment.

Mr. Healy said Tuesday afternoon by phone the density of the staff report issued to the applicant forced the 44 Westport Road team to revise its development plan and answer questions posed by zoning staff — tasks that could not be completed by Monday’s meeting.

A staff report is  written to preemptively identify zoning officials’ questions and concerns about an application.

Despite the opening of the floor to public comment, those residents in attendance were noticeably upset the developer’s team would not be there to present a plan on developing 44 Westport Road under the auspices of affordable housing regulations.

“We received a letter late today from the applicant’s counsel asking for a continuation,” Mr. Nerney said Monday evening. “When we put public meetings together it takes a lot of time and effort, so we are sympathetic to your concerns.

“Once a hearing is opened I feel it is important to still take public comment. People have come out this evening. We want to give them the ability to speak to the application tonight and to come on June 23 and speak again.”

Parties that submit applications to planning and zoning boards in Connecticut, Mr. Nerney said Monday, may present a plan to the public as late as 35 days following the opening of the public hearing.

However, “the applicant, not the commission or the public, can agree to further extensions of that time frame,” he said.

Though some in attendance questioned the appropriateness of the applicant’s request for a continuance, Planning & Zoning Chairman Chris Hulse said his experience with Mr. Healy leads him to believe the extension was not a “sinister” action.

Staff report

A staff report issued to developer Patrick Downend in relation to 44 Westport Road was discussed publicly at Monday’s meeting for the first time.

The report enumerated 51 areas in need of a response by the applicant.

Among the areas in question are:

• The development’s call for a density level 20 times greater than the currently allowable development density.

• A lack of access to the site by public transit, and limited linkage to commercial districts.

• That over-development of a property can cause increased run-off, endangering natural resources like wetlands.

• The potential inability for large and heavy trucks, like fire engines, to easily access the site.

• An estimated wait time for drivers attempting to turn left from Dudley onto Westport Road of 2 minutes and 20 seconds, that may require the tenant speak with Wilton police about installing a traffic signal at the intersection.

• A lack of adequate recreation areas for children and adults.

Public comment

Though Mr. Downend and his team were not at Monday’s meeting, the public was invited to present arguments for, or against, his plan to demolish the historic home at 44 Westport Road and build a 20-unit building complex.

State Senator Toni Boucher, speaking as a resident and public servant, said she hoped those in attendance understood the only reasons Wilton officials may legally reject an affordable housing plan were concerns over safety and health.

“I come here as a resident in opposition of the plan for one of those two reasons. I come from the stand-point that this will be an unsafe project,” she said.

“We already have a problem at the intersection of Route 53 and Route 33. Westport Road has many very old historic homes, and bus routes, and cannot currently sustain the traffic it carries. Generating this very dense project puts the public and children at risk for very serious accidents.”

Those other residents who commented tread the same line as 44 Westport Road neighbors Lisa Huff and Bob Kettle last week in presenting their concerns over the plan to The Bulletin, though safety was the number-one concern of all parties.

Doug Jones, a retired traffic engineer and 60-year resident who spoke at the meeting, said the existing traffic on Westport Road during rush hour has already made dangerous short cuts through neighboring residential areas common.

Being an old traffic engineer I tend to look at this sort of thing. During evening rush hour, traffic is backed up from Chestnut Hill [Route 53] to Route 7 and beyond. And people like short cuts. One of the favorite short cuts is to cut across Dudley Road, speed up Spoonwood up to Chestnut Hill and continue onto the parkway,” he said.