July 30, 2014

Ingham Hill Road Residents Seek to Protect Their “Dead End Paradise”

The Essex Planning Commission considering Ingham Hill Road application

A group of Ingham Hill Road residents testified at an Essex Planning Commission hearing on September 13 that they absolutely, positively, did not want the commission to approve a new housing development on the dead end road on which they live. They are perfectly happy with things just as they are, thank you.

Even though there is relatively little traffic on the dead end spur that is Ingham Hill Road, the Town of Essex faithfully maintains it, just as if were a two lane though fare. The road is plowed in the winter when it snows, and fully maintained year round. In fact, not too long ago the town straightened some curves in the road.

Then, along comes a developer who wants to build six new home sites on 36 acres on land that it owns, down near the end of the road. Even though Ingham Hill Road would stay a dead end, after the new development was build, the residents are still dead set against it. They simply don’t want it.

By way of background, Ingham Hill Road runs from Plains Road in Essex down to the boundary line of Essex and Old Saybrook. Vehicular traffic is permitted on the Essex section of the road; however, it is blocked by a fence and a stop sign when the road reaches Old Saybrook, although hikers are permitted to walk down the trail into Old Saybrook.

The stop sign and barrier that mark the Essex/Old Saybrook boundary

Lawyers and Consultants Hired to Halt the Project

To express their opposition, a group of Ingham Hill Road residents hired lawyers and environmental consultants to argue against the new project at earlier public hearings. At these proceedings these experts made much of the fact that in its present undeveloped state, the development property possesses a wealth of landmark trees, some over a hundred years old, as well as a plethora of spotted turtles, wood frogs and song birds on the site.

Also, the site possesses an undisturbed forest canopy, as well as a couple of iconic vernal pools, whose purity, the experts argued, would be compromised by the development of the site.

A vernal pool on the wooded, 36 acre development site

In sum, the present residents of Ingham Hill Road have gone to considerable expense to prevent having any new neighbors moving in along their precious road. They want to keep everything just as it is, as a paradise along the dead end road on which they live.

Commission Chairman Opens Hearing to Public Comment

Unlike the earlier hearings, when only the experts were heard, Planning Commission Chairman Tom Danyliw opened the September hearing to comments on the proposed development by private individuals.

First to speak from purely a personal perspective was Judith Bombaci of Essex, who is a resident of Ingham Hill Road. In her testimony she read word-for-word a number of impassioned personal letters from Ingham Hill Road residents, who were unanimously opposed to the new development.

Ingham Hill Road resident, Judith Bombaci, who spoke in opposition to the project

At one point Ms. Bombaci got a bit mixed up during her testimony. Planning Commission Chairman Tom Danyliw assured her not to worry, “You are doing fine.”

Ms. Bombaci testimony was followed by that of her husband, Kenneth Bombaci. In his testimony he said that his principal objection to the new project was, “the water that will be going down in my lawn and threatening the historic trees on my property.” Bombaci also said that he wholeheartedly agreed with the Essex Tree Warden, Ahgie Pampel, who said in a comment from the audience, that it was his opinion that many of the large trees on the site would die, if the development went forward.

It’s the Preserve’s Developer, Who Is Behind it All

One of the impassioned speakers against the project said at the hearing, “This is a part of the Preserve, a three town development effort.” The three towns referred to by the speaker are Essex, Westbroook and Old Saybrook, and the speaker was making the point that in the future, the developer of the Preserve, River Sound Development LLC, would not only continue its efforts to develop the 1,000 acre Preserve property in Old Saybrook, but down the line it would want to develop the smaller parcels that it owns in Essex and Westbrook.

Of course River Sound has not been very successful to date in developing its property in Old Saybrook. 13 years ago the developer put forward an elaborate proposal to develop 1,000 acres of open land that it owns in Old Saybrook. However, because of neighborhood resistance, to date not a single improvement has been built on the property.

As noted, River Sound, the Preserve’s developer, also owns property located in Essex and Westbrook, and, in fact, the Ingham Hill Road proposal in Essex could perhaps someday be characterized as the Essex portion of the Preserve.

Other Preserve Developments Should Not Relate to Essex

However, at the recent hearing, River Sound’s attorney, Brian Smith of the law firm of Robinson & Cole, said, repeatedly, that the application before Essex Planning Commission should be judged solely as an Essex project. Trying to link it to other developments of River Sound he viewed as inappropriate and beyond the scope of the hearing.

Consistent with this position, later in the hearing, when a member of the Planning Commission suggested that approval of the Essex project might be linked to the River Sound development in Old Saybrook, Attorney Smith said again that such a linkage would be totally inappropriate.  This application relates solely to the Essex project, he said, and could not be linked to any other River Sound activity.

However, the fact that the developer of the Preserve in Old Saybrook was the same as the developer of the Ingham Hill Road project kept coming up in the remarks of speaker after speaker. One said, “Opening the Ingham Hill Road to development will be a disaster waiting to happen.”  Another speaker said flatly that it was imperative “not to let the developer of the Preserve to develop Ingham Hill Road.”

Yet another speaker said that the Essex parcel was “was part of the Preserve,” which was a “three town proposition.” One person even charged that River Sound developer was engaged “in a shell game.” “The applicant is trying to get a toe hold” by developing the Ingham Hill Road property, he said; “This is the start.”

Application Also Faulted for Other Reasons

Other critics of the Ingham Hill development raised concerns that related only to the specifics of the project, and not to other activities of the developer. There were concerns raised about the adequacy of the new septic systems at the development. Also, there were concerns about protecting the vernal pools and the canopy of trees above the site.

In addition, there was a last minute submission made by a traffic consultant, that the developer’s counsel said was introduced too late in proceeding to be properly considered. However, the issue of an adverse traffic impact on a dead end street did not turn out to be a major issue at the hearing.

The hearing finally came to an end, when the developer’s Engineer, Bob Doane, who, incidentally, also serves as the Engineer of the Town of Essex, summed up the case for developing the Ingham Hill Road parcel. As for the septic systems at the site, Engineer Doane said that they were standard to developments in this area.

Engineer Bob Doane closed the case for the new development

Furthermore, he said that the location of the new houses portrayed on the site maps were not the final sites of the houses, but rather they were schematic drafts of where the houses might be placed. Doane’s remarks were a soothing presentation, articulated by a long time resident of Essex, who had been retained to be the Engineer for this particular project.

Doane was the last speaker to comment at the hearing, and after his remarks the   hearing was closed. The Essex Planning Commission now has 65 days, in effect two months, to accept, reject or approve with conditions the development.

If the commission decides to approve the project with conditions, some of these conditions the developer might not particularly like. However, it might have to accept them, if it wanted to move the project forward expeditiously.

Finally, in making their decision on the application, the commission will discuss the developer’s application extensively with its staff. However, it will not receive, or consider further comments from any of the private parties of interest, nor from the general public.