May 25, 2022

The “Nays” had it at a Recent Gateway Conservation Meeting in Essex

The “nays” appeared to be in the majority at an Essex Town Hall meeting convened to discuss new environmental policies for Essex that would affect the owners of property next to the Connecticut River, for the overall protection of the river and its shores. The “informational” meeting was convened by the Essex Zoning Commission at Town Hall on December 19.

Essex is a member of an eight town Gateway Conservation District. Seven of the eight towns in the district, which are located at the southern base of the Connecticut River, approved these environmental standards years ago, but Essex has been holding out adopting them.

The new rules at issue would do the following: (1) the present 50 foot limit on building next to the shoreline would be extended to 100 feet, (2) new restrictions on “clear cutting” trees along the river’s shoreline would be adopted by creating a “no cut” riparian buffer, (3) an additional  procedural step, by requiring a Special Permit, would be required before new structures of 4,000 square feet or more can be build, and (4) measuring the height of a new structure from its “existing natural grade” rather than from a built-up platform would be put in place.

Among those attending the meeting were recently re-elected Republican Selectman Joel Marzi, as well as the defeated Republican candidate for First Selectman Bruce MacMillian. Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman and Selectwoman Stacia Rice-Libby did not attend.

The vast majority of speakers at the meeting opposed the proposed Gateway rules for Essex. “We don’t need Gateway,” said one. Another questioned whether home owners, who lived right next to the river’s edge, could even cut the grass on their properties. “Essex as a town would not exist, if we had had these rules in effect,” said another critic.

A member of the town’s Wetlands Commission also spoke in opposition to applying the Gateway rules to Essex, saying that all the perceived problems addressed by the proposed Gateway District rules for Essex could be addressed by the town’s Wetland Commission.

A few speakers at the meeting supported Essex’s adoption of the proposed Gateway rules, but they were decidedly in the minority. One said, “It is an embarrassment for Essex,” not to adopt the Gateway rules, like the other seven Gateway towns have done.

The Gateway Conservation district consists of eight towns. They are: Haddam, East Haddam, Chester, Deep River, Lyme, Old Lyme, Essex and Old Saybrook. As noted, Essex is the only town in the district that has not approved the Gateway rules.