February 1, 2023

The Preserve Comes to Essex – Local Property Owners Take Action to Stop It

Lot 4, the knoll on which developers want a home site, and opponents see unacceptable runoffs

A “Grade A” controversy has broken out over a proposed new development on Ingham Hill Road in Essex. The proposed new development , which is sponsored by the developer of the now- stalled 1,000 acre Preserve in Old Saybrook, River Sound Development LLC, is now seeking to get town approvals for a new 36-acre, six lot development located on Ingham Hill Road in Essex.

Map of Ingham Hill Road development. The Essex/Old Saybrook boundary runs along the bottom

The property to be development in Essex abuts the town’s boundary with Old Saybrook, and it is on the right hand side of Ingham Hill Road, when looking up towards Plains Road (Route 153).

Neighbors Oppose Development

A group of three neighboring property owners on Ingham Hill Road are dead set against the proposed development, and at the August 23rd meeting of the Essex Planning Commission they filled an Intervention Pleading, so as to become a part of the approval process. This pleading was granted by the Planning Commission, which then entertained an almost two hour period for the interveners to make their case against the new development.

The Ingham Hill Road interveners were: Judith Bombaci, Kenneth Bombaci and Suellen McCuin.  The Bombacis are members of a well established family in Essex, and in fact there are no less than fifteen listings under “Bombaci” in the Essex section of YP Shoreline telephone directory. Ms McCuin has been a strong opponent of the development, since it was first announced.

Familiar “Bombaci Tree Experts” road sign on Plains Road.

Extensive Arguments Against the Project

Speakers who spoke in opposition to the Ingham Hill Road development were lead by the interveners’ attorney, Christopher J. Smith of the law firm of Shipman & Goodwin LLP in Hartford. Also, two Certified Professional Wetland Scientists from Rema Ecological Services, LLC,  (REMA), George T. Logan and Sigrun N. Gadwa, spoke against the project among other members of the interveners’ team.

Attorney Smith also submitted to the Planning Commission an “Opposition Packet,” which contained extensive written arguments against the new development, as well as typography charts of the development site prepared by the developer’s own engineer, Doane – Collins Engineering Associates, LLC, and professional biographies of the wetland scientists and Attorney Smith.

Air and Water Pollution Concerns Expressed

“We are in strong opposition to this subdivision,” Attorney Smith said in his testimony at the Essex Planning Commission hearing. “The property has significant natural resources,” he said, including “landmark trees” on the site, some of which are 120 to 140 years old.

Lot 2, the home site that the Essex Wetlands Commission rejected

Also, the interveners’ attorney said that the proposed Ingham Hill Road development, “will have, or is reasonably likely to have, the effect of causing the unreasonable pollution, impairment or destruction of the air, water or other natural resource of the State of Connecticut located on, and off, the subject property…”

In addition, the attorney made the troublesome charge that the developer of the Ingham Hill Road project had not disclosed during its  appearance at an earlier hearing of the Wetlands Commission, the project’s adverse effects from the “substantial clear cutting of landmark trees and vegetation, and site development including a septic system and dwelling immediately upland and in close proximity to an off-site pond and on-site intermittent watercourse …”

This “failure to disclose” charge could be a troubling for the developer, if it were proved that it failed to state significant environmental impacts of the project, which the Wetlands Commission was entitled to hear.  The Wetland Commission in an earlier proceeding approved the building of five of the six home sites proposed on the site, but disapproved of Lot 2 of the development.

Smith’s objections to the project were further amplified in a letter by Rema Ecological Services, LLC, of Manchester, Connecticut (REMA), to the Essex Planning Commission. The REMA letter asserted that “development of the subject property … would result in both short-term and long-term impacts … through sedimentation and surface water quality degradation.”

Spotted Turtles, Wood Frogs and Songbirds at Risk

In addition, the REMA letter asserted that, “Due to the taking of valuable upland habitats, including significant mature trees, and the fragmentation of the landscape, resulting in greatly reduced ecological integrity, wildlife resources at the site would be unreasonably impacted and impaired, including uncommon species such as the spotted turtle, a keystone species, such as the wood frog, and the whole guild of area-sensitive neotropical migrant songbirds.”

Also, REMA wetland scientists wrote that, “water resources, both on-site and off-site, will be impaired both during the construction phase, through erosion and sedimentation, and following it, by impairing surface water quality.”

Bombaci Pond Could Be Adversely Affected   

The REMA testimony mentioned that, “The proposed location of the house in Lot 5 is directly over a natural, frequently flowing stormwater conveyance channel that feeds the Bombaci Pond. The Bombaci Pond is visible from Ingham Hill Road and is an important part of the streetscape.”

Photo of Bombaci Pond. Members of Bombaci family challenged the development

One can speculate that the direct negative impact on the Bombaci Pond may have been a factor in motivating the Bombaci interveners to challenge the proposed development.

In conclusion, the REMA letter said, “With the possible exception of Lot 3, the lots in the proposed conventional subdivision are not feasible, in our professional opinion.”

The Developer’s Response to the Attacks on Its Project

At the conclusion of the presentation by those opposing the new development on Ingham Hill Road, the developer attorney, Brian Smith of the law firm of Robinson & Cole in Hartford, initially appeared to be taken aback by the drum role of hostile testimony against his client’s proposed development.

Smith, who is no relation to the interveners’ attorney, Stephen Smith, said to the Planning Commission that he hoped that he would be given the chance to respond to the attacks against his client’s proposed development at the next meeting of the Planning Commission on September 13. He also said that the developer needed the approval of at least six home sites “to make the project work.” Planning Commission Chairman Tom Danyliw assured Smith that he would be granted an opportunity to be heard at the next Commission hearing.

The 1,000 Acre Preserve Proposal Still Alive

In what turned out to be something of a coda to the hearing on the Ingham Hill Road development, a resident of Old Saybrook, who was at the Essex hearing, said that he wanted to make sure that the Commission understood that the proposed development in Essex was a part of the Preserve sponsor’s larger plan to develop its property in both Essex and Old Saybrook.

Chairman Danyliw treated the citizen intervener courteously, and allowed him to present a quick slide show to buttress his point that the Preserve developer still had long range plans to develop its 1,000 acre site in Old Saybrook, and that this proposed development in Essex, was just a part of this long range plan.

In fact, the interveners’ petition by Attorney Stephen Smith also took  note of the fact the developer’s Essex application, “is part of an overall site development of a 1,000 acre parcel, which involves, in part,  substantial stormwater discharge onto the subject  property and directly or indirectly into a watercourse or intermittent watercourse with a vernal pool habitat,” and, “thereby unreasonably impairing such resources.”

All this shows that in spite of over a decade of disappointments in its effort to develop its 1,000 acre parcel of virgin land in Old Saybrook,  that this attempt to develop its property in Essex, clearly demonstrates that the developer of what was once called the Preserve, has yet to give up, and go away.