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Saddle Ridge Fight Rages On

Not one Easton resident spoke in support of the housing application by Saddle Ridge Developers during the last public hearing on Monday at Helen Keller Middle School. Saddle Ridge has applied to build 105 units on a 124-acre plot, with 32 units designated affordable housing.

Saddle Ridge initially sought to build 21 residential units and received approval. It later increased the number of units and was turned down by the Inland Wetlands Commission. But Saddle Ridge said the IWC has no governing authority and acts only in an advisory capacity.

The application calls for several zoning amendments, including an increase in residential density from one family per two acres to one family per acre in a public watershed.

Residents cited concerns that the construction and increased density would adversely affect the reservoirs that supply a large portion of Fairfield County.

"All the issues are based on building in a watershed," said Richard Paukner of Silver Hill Road, who lives near the proposed housing site. "I'm not an expert, but if there's one thing that makes sense to me it is that there has to be a higher standard when dealing with building in a watershed. ... We've heard expert testimony from all sides. ... [The Planning and Zoning Commission] has the difficult task to decide which expert testimony is more credible."

Saddle Ridge attorney Matthew Ranelli gave the PZC a stack of documents eight inches thick and proceeded to discuss the contents. PZC members listened to Ranelli and three other Saddle Ridge representatives speak for more than two hours about concerns posed by citizens, town officials, water conservationists and biologists.

First Selectman Tom Herrmann made clear that he also opposes the plan. Herrmann cited the recent decision in Eureka V, LLC vs. Town of Ridgefield Planning and Zoning Commission, which involved a similar situation. In an Oct. 20 decision, Superior Court Judge Henry S. Cohn wrote: "The protection of a source of public drinking water clearly outweighs the need for affordable housing."

Ranelli, who is also the attorney for Eureka V, argued that Saddle Ridge had considered the environmental impact of its Easton plan and had gone to great lengths to appease the town. "Density sometimes can be beneficial if it's done in the right way," Ranelli said.

The PZC has until Dec. 1 to examine the revised proposal. Opponents are led by the Coalition to Save Easton, which is acting as an intervener on behalf of the town in its dispute with Saddle Ridge. The PZC is expected to come to a decision at its Dec. 13 meeting.

What do you think about the Saddle Ridge debate? Do you think Saddle Ridge should be able to build affordable housing in Easton? Or do you think the watershed is too valuable a resource to place at risk?

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