October 25, 2014

Will Foxboro Point Developer Walk Away if Required to Grant “Public Access” to the Site?

The iconic windmill at Foxboro Point, preserved at the choice of developer

“Requiring public access is a game change,” said Frank J. Sciame, Jr., with anger in his voice. As it was, his company, one of the leading construction firms in the nation, had offered to develop Foxboro Point in Essex with the epitome of good taste.

There would be strict, esthetic requirements in place on the private houses that would be built. There would be a 150 foot conservation easement back from the shore for all of the seven building lots, and a generous 27% of the development would be designated as open space.

Furthermore, the Croft mansion on the site would be preserved; and finally, finally, the iconic windmill adjacent to the site would be preserved, even though Sciame made clear to those attending the Essex Planning Commission public hearing on March 8, that he was not required to preserve the windmill.

The historic Croft mansion on Foxboro Point to be preserved in the proposed development

However, tempers soon cooled, and Mr. Sciame’s representatives, Civil Engineer Joseph Wren of Old Saybrook, and “off duty” Judge of Probate Terrance Lomme, who serves as the developer’s private counsel, were already discussing some kind of modest public access to the development property after the meeting.

One thought was to propose building on the property, a sliver of public access land from the road down to the 150 foot conservation easement, perhaps some eight feet wide with a high hedge on both sides. However, comments were not forthcoming that such a compromise would be acceptable to the developer

Sciame does not own the property; he could walk away

One thing to consider is that Sciame does not presently own the property, neither the eleven acres of his proposed development, nor the property under the windmill.  Sciame has only a contingent right to buy these properties, and if he is prevented from developing the property in the way he wishes, he could get out of his contract to buy it, and simply walk away.

If he did so, one can fairly assume that Sciame would shelve his presently expressed plans to become an Essex resident.

Besides deferring immediate approval of the proposal, some of Sciame’s advisors were concerned about the informality of the meeting, where clapping and audible noises of approval of the speakers’ remarks were permitted by Planning Commission Chairman Thomas Danyliw.

Sharp criticism from Essex resident Reichenbach

Some of the harshest criticism of the development plan of Foxboro Point was made by Essex resident Bill Reichenbach. In addition to maintaining that “public access to and along the waterfront” was required under Section 5.8.3 under Town of Essex regulations, Reichenbach termed the development itself as “tragic,” and “a most unfortunate application.”

Reichenbach’s objections were seconded by Essex resident Frank Hall.

Another quarrel with the proposed development was the charge that the proposed “view easement” is not mapped out so that a person can see the windmill from the road at Foxboro Point.

One of the last speakers at the over one hour and a half discussion came from a woman from the back of the room, who said that she was a lifelong resident of Essex. She spoke so forcefully in favor of the development that Chairman Danylwi asked her, if she were in anyway retained by Sciame.

She gave a firm “no,” adding the interesting footnote that when they first built the windmill on Foxboro Point years ago, “everyone was against it.”

Background of developments of Frank Sciame  

Without a doubt Frank S. Sciame heads one of the leading constructions firms in the country, most especially in New York City. Not only has his company built a number of smaller developments, the type of which he showed at the Planning Commission hearing, he has also developed some extremely high profile projects.

Much praised Morgan library restoration, exterior view

They include the much praised renovation of the Morgan Library and Museum in New York City. Closer to home Sciame completely restored the former home of Katherine Hepburn in Old Saybrook.

Interior of Sciame restored Morgan library

Sciame was also designated in 2006 by then New York Governor George Pataki and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg “to lead the effort to ensure a buildable World Trade Center Memorial in New York City,” which was troubled by delays at the time. He is also the Chairman of the South Street Seaport Museum in New York City and Past-Chairman of The New York Landmark Conservancy.

Aerial view of Sciame restored Katherin Hepburn estate in Old Saybrook

Asked for a comment by Frank Sciame, regarding the Planning Commission public hearing on March 8, John Randolph, Executive Vice President, Sciame Development, Inc., said in an e-mail message, “I spoke with Frank [Sciame]. We have no comment at this time.”

The Planning Commission at the end of the March 8 meeting requested that the developer come back to the Planning Commission with an open space version of its development plan. The “no comment” response the day after the meeting could make it an open question, as to whether or not the developer will do so.