May 27, 2020

Planning Commission to Hold Final Public Hearing on Preserve Modification on February 16

Chairman of the Old Saybrook Planning Commission Robert McIntyre

Robert McIntyre, Chairman of the Old Saybrook Planning Commission, has scheduled what he terms “the final public hearing” on whether the Commission should approve a modification of its approved plans for the Preserve.  The hearing on this question will be held on Wednesday, February 16, at 7:30 p.m. at the Middle School in Old Saybrook.

The highlight of the developer’s modification application is a proposal to build 230 new housing units in three separate clusters located on the edges of the 1,000 acre Preserve property. In addition to the housing units themselves, the modification application contains detailed plans for new access roads, new sewerage treatment facilities and new landscaping at the building sites.  

If approved by the Planning Commission, the developer would be permitted to modify in a limited way the Preserve’s development plan, which was approved by the Commission over a decade ago.

Of course, all efforts to develop the Preserve were stopped, when in 2005 the Old Saybrook Inland Wetlands & Watercourses Commission decided that “the proposed 18-hole golf course [in the developer’s plan] is located in or in proximity to the dense wetlands area of the site.”

Rather than to address this ruling and change its plans accordingly, the developer  appealed the Wetlands Commission’s ruling in the courts, and the case went all the way up to the Connecticut Supreme Court. Ultimately, the developer lost all its appeals, and in 2010 embarked on yet another attempt to develop the property.

The developer’s application to the Planning Commission for permission to build the three housing clusters, which they prefer to call pods, is the first attempt to develop any portion of the Preserve, since its final defeat in the courts over the Wetlands decision. As to whether the Planning Commission will approve this new modification proposed by the developer is very much an open question.

One factor that is troubling for the success of the modification application is that even at this late date, two days before the final hearing, the developer was still submitting modifications to its application. 

Mark Branse, Counsel to the Planning Commission, has been sharply critical of some of the developer’s earlier submissions, saying that in some cases they showed “drainage areas that went uphill, and new roads that went nowhere.”

However, even if the developer makes last minute changes in its application that are satisfactory to the Planning Commission, there remains the open question as to whether the developer is prepared to obey the Old Saybrook town regulation that provides that in cases where a developer seeks to develop its property in “phases,” it must include in the first phase all of the property preserved as open space in the overall plan. 

The town’s land use regulations are clear. If an approved development is to be constructed in phases, which the initial three clusters of housing appear to be, then an integral part of the first phase must be a setting aside all of the open space designated in the overall plan.

This would mean that to build the three housing clusters, at the same time the developer must dedicate 483 acres of open space to be preserved forever on the Preserve site. 

To date there has not even been an inkling that the developer is prepared even to contemplate such a proposition.