CFE Joins Local Groups to Fight Oswegatchie Hills Development

Proposed 840-unit housing development would destroy habitat, pollute Niantic River

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Laura McMillan, CFE: 203-787-0646 ext. 137

East Lyme, Conn. – Following a meeting of the East Lyme Planning and Zoning Commission this evening, Connecticut Fund for the Environment announced it would be joining local organizations Friends of Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve and Save the River – Save the Hills in their long-running fight to stop development of a parcel of land adjacent to Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve.

Landmark Development LLC is seeking build 840 units of housing on a rocky parcel in East Lyme, near the Niantic River. The company is requested that 123 acres of its 236-acre property be rezoned as an affordable housing district. The latest full proposal for the site is expected to include a mix of affordable housing, market-rate housing, and luxury condos, along with 1,767 parking spaces.

“This part of the Oswegatchie Hills right where the Niantic River meets Long Island Sound is one of the most spectacular, and most threatened, areas in Connecticut. Protecting and preserving the site is a statewide and regional conservation priority,” said Roger Reynolds, legal director for Connecticut Fund for the Environment and its bi-state program Save the Sound. “The residents of this area know how important these hills and the Niantic River are and have been working for over a decade to protect them. Now CFE/Save the Sound is joining the fight. We are going to formally challenge this development proposal and work with Friends of Oswegatchie Hills and Save the River – Save the Hills to finish the job.”

“The Friends have been battling for years to preserve this environmental treasure, and now we feel the cavalry has arrived! We couldn’t be more thrilled about the legal firepower CFE brings to this important regional cause,” said Michael Dunn, director of land acquisition and legal defense for Friends of the Oswegatchie Hills Nature Preserve, Inc.

For a decade and a half, the Friends have partnered with Save the River – Save the Hills and other local organizations to conserve land around the Oswegatchie Hills and enhance it for recreation and enjoyment. Save the River – Save the Hills has repeatedly cautioned that the development would pose a grave threat to the Niantic River watershed and Long Island Sound.

“Landmark’s latest application is still a major threat to the long term health of the Niantic River,” said Save the River – Save the Hills president Fred Grimsey. “We shall continue the fight and hope that the town of East Lyme continues to diligently evaluate this proposed over-development. We welcome our new partners, Connecticut Fund for the Environment/Save the Sound, fresh off their great work on The Preserve in Old Saybrook.”Tonight’s meeting is one step in a series of plans and approvals required before any major development could be built on the site.

A zoning application denial in 2005 lead to an appeal by the developer and a 2011 decision by Superior Court Judge Stephen F. Frazzini that ordered the zoning commission to make revisions to its affordable-housing regulations. It has since done so, and removed a requirement intended to buffer tidal wetlands from affordable housing development. Landmark Development is now bringing its latest zoning application back to the zoning commission. Landmark and the East Lyme Water and Sewer Commission have also been waging a battle in state courts over the sewer capacity allowable for the site, with the developer still seeking 118,000 gallons of capacity per day. After lengthy hearings, the sewer commission determined that 14,434 gallons per day is the maximum allowable for the site.

The zoning commission is expected to schedule a public hearing to begin less than two months from today to receive public input on the preliminary site plan and rezoning request.

Recognizing the importance of public participation and the regional conservation significance of the area, Senator Richard Blumenthal said, “Throughout my time as Attorney General, and now as United States Senator, I have been proud to join with the public and activist organizations to preserve the Niantic River Estuary and to protect the natural beauty of the Oswegatchie Hills. With news of an upcoming public hearing regarding development of this property, now more than ever it is imperative that we continue this fight, and work together to preserve this precious resource.”

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