A Google Earth screenshot of the old Kowalsky Farm, between Morningside Drive South, Clapboard Hill Road, and Turkey Hill Road South.

By Thane Grauel

WESTPORT — The proposed residential subdivision of the old Kowalsky farm was dealt another blow Wednesday night.

The Conservation Commission reached consensus to draft a negative recommendation on the plan to the Planning and Zoning Commission, the body that ultimately will decide if the 12 acres between Morningside Drive South, Clapboard Hill Road and Turkey Hill Road South should be subdivided for six houses.

Drainage system muddies waters for application

Wednesday’s action followed an earlier negative recommendation by the Flood and Erosion Control Board. That board’s members had concerns about an apparently unpermitted underground drainage system, and how basements of the proposed homes might affect an already high water table.

The Aspetuck Health District earlier OK’d the plan for a septic system, but that signoff now has an asterisk — Public Works Director Peter Ratkiewich sent a letter May 9 to Kowalksy Family Company LLC ordering the farm’s drainage system be disconnected from the town stormwater drainage system on Turkey Hill South within 30 days. 

Conservation Commission member Paul Lobdell said Wednesday it wasn’t possible to endorse the subdivision of the old Kowalsky farm into six residential lots without all the information. / Photo by Thane Grauel

If not, Ratkiewich wrote, the town would disconnect it without notice.

If the farm’s drainage system — a series of 8- to 12-inch pipes and culverts — is disconnected, the plans the health district signed off on might no longer apply because the water table, already high, likely would change.

The Conservation Commission reviewed the impact the project might have on wetlands and water quality. But, several members noted, the uncertainty of the drainage system made that difficult.

An updated staff report from the Conservation Department mentioned those issues, and also noted that the town’s Engineering Department gave the application a negative review.

“Given this new information, staff recommends that the Conservation Commission submit a NEGATIVE report to the Planning and Zoning Commission …” the staff report reads.

Applicant’s lawyer: Drainage system not an issue

Rick Constantini, a lawyer for the applicant, has characterized the matter before the commission as “drawing lot lines on a map” for six houses. Water tables, basements and water-quality impacts are not part of this phase, he said previously.

He also has maintained the drainage system has been around more than four decades, which he contends predates local regulations forbidding tie-ins to the town system.

“Why all the sudden now is it the town’s position that this has to get disconnected?” he asked Wednesday.

Art Schoeller, president of the Greens Farms Association, reiterated concerns neighbors have about flooding.

“There’s an incredible amount of uncertainty here …” he said. “So we have this concern about flooding not only for abutting neighbors, but the potential for any of the folks that would end up living on this property.”

Schoeller also said his group would like to see open space — rather than a payment in lieu of setting aside part of the property — as part of any subdivision plan.

“I’d like to see more than the 10 percent,” he said of the local regulations. “Let’s do something that surrounds the pond, for example, and makes it a reasonable resource instead of just a 10 percent gimme that’s landlocked or is just a throwaway piece of property.”

Commission readies negative report

Conservation Commission Chairwoman Anna Rycenga said that if a plan were to move forward to subdivide the old Kowalsky farm off Morningside Drive South, it should include open space, rather than a payment in lieu of a share of the property. / Photo by Thane Grauel

Commission Chairwoman Anna Rycenga said she would like to see open space as well, perhaps reducing the proposed subdivision lots from six houses to five. 

And she had a question for Constantini.

“Is there any way you and your client can resolve this pipe issue and then come back with an application?” she asked.

“We’d ask that this just move forward, in the normal process,” Constantini said. “We’re not withdrawing the application, so, to that end, I would ask that the body move forward and allow the process to play out.”

Commission member Paul Lobdell said it appeared the issue of the drainage system is “out of our hands.”

“Without all the information before us to make an educated decision, we really shouldn’t be making a decision at all,” he said.

Rycenga polled commission members, who agreed a negative report should be drafted. She also had questions the Town Attorney’s Office, and put off a vote on the proposal until the June 15 meeting.

The application is on the P&Z’s May 23 agenda.

The Planning and Zoning Commission can’t vote on the application until it receives a report from the Conservation Commission.

Thane Grauel is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Westport Journal. Learn more about us here.