On August 26, 2021 the Connecticut Superior Court dismissed the developer’s appeal of a Wetlands denial of a large apartment complex proposed for 980 High Street (known as the Judd Estate) in Fairfield’s already over-developed Holland Hill neighborhood.
This may be appealed further to the higher courts, but for now, the environment won.
The Court found that the intervening parties, represented by Attorney Joel Green, proved with expert testimony, that the development, especially the drainage system would unreasonably impair our wetlands resources. The intervenors presented substantive evidence of adverse impacts by either starving or flooding the wetland. The Court found that there were feasible, prudent alternatives, such as scaling back the development and changes to the drainage system.
Wetlands laws are intended to protect our precious natural resources- wetlands are increasingly important in times of severe weather patterns including hurricanes, flooding and drought, and they provide wildlife habitat in and around the wetlands.
The 2.48 acre site contains the old Judd farm house, and a significant wetland which with its upland area provides important habitat for many species. It is a welcome bit of green space in an over developed part of town. The developer has proposed to build 5 new apartment buildings 30 feet tall (3 stories) of 40 units containing 68 bedrooms and 50 parking spaces.
It should be noted that although Conservation denied the wetlands permit, the Zoning Commission approved this same project, based on the 8-30g affordable housing law, which shifts the burden from the applicant to support the project to the Commission to defend a denial of a project. The affordable housing law does not apply to wetlands applications.
Because the Wetlands approval was denied and the Court sustained that denial, the project can not go forward even with the zoning approval.
The Court noted the following: “The commission was unquestionably faced with a voluminous amount of evidence concerning the drainage system. There was a proverbial battle of experts.”
This ‘battle of the experts’ only takes place when neighbors have the means to pay for very expensive legal and technical expertise. While the Town’s various department staff weighs in on applications, they don’t have the time or budget to provide in depth reviews on all potential issues. It would be helpful for volunteer lay commissioners at both land use agencies- Conservation and Zoning – to retain independent reviews from consultants with expertise relevant to the issues at hand- such as soil scientists, geologists, environmental experts, and traffic and parking engineers.
Once land use decisions are made they are permanent and irreversible. Commissioners should have every opportunity to be fully informed before having to rule. In this case, the intervenors supplied substantial evidence. of environmental harm. And the Court agreed.
Harrison is a candidate for the Fairfield Town Plan & Zoning Commission, and Co-President of Fairfielders Protecting Land & Neighborhoods