East Lyme Goes to Court to Defend New Inland Wetlands Rule

EAST LYME – The owner of a local real estate company is taking the East Lyme Inland Wetland Agency to court to challenge its November vote to triple the town’s review area.

Robert A. Blatt, of Niantic Real Estate, appealed the agency’s decision to expand its upland review area from 100 to 300 feet, a measure approved by a 5-2 vote in November after several months of deliberating over a proposal to increase the review area to as much as 500 feet.

In a complaint filed in the Superior Court of New London in December, Blatt argued that the agency had overstepped its legal authority in expanding the review area, and that his business – Niantic Real Estate – would suffer as a result.

Blatt is asking the court to vacate the agency’s decision to expand its upland review area and repay his costs.

Niantic Real Estate owns nearly 20 acres of land on Kensington and Upper Kensington drives, just north of Pattagansett Lake. His complaint argues that people applying for permits, including his company, will take on “enormous and unnecessary” costs to conduct soil and other investigations on lands that have “no conceivable geographic or hydrologic connection to wetland or water course impact.”

Blatt argued the decision deprived him of the right to use the property as allowed by state law, specifically mentioning that it takes away the ability to use the property to develop “affordable and residential” housing.

Blatt argued that the agency relied on information that was “irrelevant, inappropriate, false or misleading,” in order to make its decision. In the filing, Blatt noted that the agency ignored that it already has the authority to request information for activities outside the 100 foot review area, as well as DEEP model guidelines that recommend a 100 foot buffer.

In addition to his complaints on the merits of the new rule, Blatt also argued that certain members of the agency held meetings without notice, in violation of open records laws, to discuss increasing the review area to as much as 1,000 feet.

The accusations in Blatt’s complaint largely follow the points he made in a written public comment to the agency when it held a public hearing on raising the review area in July. In that comment, Blatt argued that agency chair Gary Upton was biased and had already determined his vote on the matter before the agency heard public comments and evidence.

Town officials, including attorney Mark Zamarka, warned the agency repeatedly during the rule-making process that there would be an appeal and that they need to make sure they have solid evidence for their decision to justify it to the courts.

Blatt, who could not be reached on Tuesday, is represented by Manchester-based attorney Anthony Novak. John Casey, of the Hartford-based law firm Robinson & Cole, filed an appearance on behalf of the inland wetland agency.

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