What’s happening with The Preserve?

Many people may hold the false belief that the proposed development on a 1,000 acre pristine coastal forest known as The Preserve in Old Saybrook, Essex, and Westbrook died in 2006 when the Old Saybrook Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Commission denied the developer’s plan for a 224 home and championship golf course.  But no, the subsidiary of bankrupt Lehman Brothers, River Sound Development LLC, has come back twice since 2006 with modifications to their original strategy, taking a “chip away at the edges” approach in an attempt to gain a foothold, get some sort of cash flow going, and then presumably pursue the development of the “core” forest.

Aerial View of The Preserve
Photo: Bob Lorenz

However, River Sound’s attempts continue to be met with strong resistance from surrounding citizens, town commissions, the grass-roots tri-town organization called Alliance for Sound area Planning (ASaP), and the Connecticut Fund for the Environment (CFE).  For the past eight years CFE has used its legal prowess to successfully intervene in the numerous municipal land use proceedings and help thwart forward progress.

In 2011, River Sound proposed developing three separate “pods” at perimeter locations off of Ingham Hill and Bokum Roads in Old Saybrook, and Route 153 in Westbrook, which would total about 30 estate homes on 37 acres of property.  The Old Saybrook Planning Commission did decide to approve the conceptual locations of the proposed homes in the three pods, BUT it did so with the provisions that River Sound come back to the Inland Wetlands Commission with a fully revised plan for the entire 1,000 acre forest, curing its previously determined negative impacts to water quality and wetlands, as well as showing proof that the developer has gained approval for the three access points it needs (which it does not have).  Essentially, these provisions created a huge hurdle for River Sound, and in the end they made little, if any, progress.

Oyster River and The Preserve
Photo: Bob Lorenz

Another setback occurred for the developer in November 2011 when the voters of Old Saybrook ousted the then Chairman of the Planning Commission, Robert McIntyre, who had voted in favor of every application for the Preserve and was, by some people, seen as an ally of River Sound.  Janice Holland explained in a letter to the editor of the Shoreline Times that “a bi-partisan group of concerned citizens, known as Friends in the Fight to Save the 1,000 Acre Forest, banded together. They believed that if McIntyre would not listen to public sentiment as a Planning Commissioner, then he would hear it through the ballot box. Dozens of committed citizens knocked on over 600 doors, talking to neighbors in the impacted area and distributed flyers throughout town highlighting McIntyre’s voting record on The Preserve. In the end, public sentiment was indeed heard and Bob McIntyre was the only Republican defeated in the November 8th election.”

Vernal Pool in The Preserve
Photo: Bob Lorenz

Despite these setbacks, River Sound came back earlier this spring to try again to take a bite out of the perimeter with a six home proposal on 30 acres of land adjoining Ingham Hill Road in Essex.  Again, the community responded.  Neighbors hired an attorney, CFE has intervened as a party, and ASaP has rallied area residents.  This latest application will receive its final decisions by both the Essex Inland Wetland and Planning Commissions in August, on the 14th and 23rd  respectively.

Posted by Chris Cryder, outreach associate for CFE/Save the Sound

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