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Developer not giving up on plans for 894 homes

East Lyme –– Landmark Development continues to seek Zoning Commission approval to build almost 900 units of housing in Oswegatchie Hills despite ongoing efforts by East Lyme, Waterford and the state Department of Environmental Protection to acquire and preserve the land as open space.

Landmark, which holds the rights to develop much of the 800 acres on the hills that rise from the banks of the Niantic River, applied for a zoning amendment that would establish an affordable housing district. Regulations call for 5-acre zoning and do not allow any development within 500 feet of the Niantic River on which scenic land borders.

The company, which previously attempted to develop a golf resort on the property, wants to construct 894 one-, two- and three-bedroom units, including 270 that would be reserved for families whose income is below the median income level for the East Lyme area. Half of the affordable housing units would go to people who earn only 60 percent of the median income, and half would go to those who earn 80 percent of the median. Documents submitted to the Zoning Commission state that 30 percent of the units would be affordable homes.

Attorney Michael F. Dowley of Middletown, representing Landmark, told Zoning Officer Michael Mulholland in a November letter that the commission had unconstitutionally taken away his client's property rights when it amended the regulations to require any development of the property to include 90 percent open space. Dowley contends that the town changed its zoning rules only after Landmark made its intentions known.

A lawsuit is pending against the town in that case.

“Since that change, we have studied the state statutes to see if there is any way to properly use our property,” Dowley wrote. “We learned that there is a real need for affordable housing in East Lyme. Your town must approve such applications unless the town proves that my client's application is not appropriate.” His letter said that children who grew up in the town can't afford to live there because of the escalating price of homes.

First Selectman Wayne L. Fraser was disappointed to learn of Landmark's intentions. Fraser said if Landmark gets its way, it could be the beginning of the end of the Niantic River.

“They would be taking very sensitive land that has been earmarked for more than 15 years for open space preservation,” he said. “That area will not support the number of houses they want to build.”

Fraser said there is no number of homes with which he would feel comfortable. He said preliminary sketches of Landmark's plans show the entire landscape being leveled to bare land and replaced with cluster housing.

“This beautiful river would be destroyed forever with the pollution runoff. The rock outcroppings don't have much vegetation around them now,” he said. “Take away trees and shrubs and pollutants will start making their way to the river.”

Fraser said he supports the development of affordable housing. But, he said, any developer who seeks to develop a project that would be detrimental to the river would be irresponsible.

Fraser, who is also chairman of the town Water and Sewer Commission, said he would have concerns negotiating with a company that has a lawsuit pending against the town based on the Zoning Commission's actions. He also expressed concern over Landmark's assumption that it could get the water it would need for the development. Fraser said the town is in negotiations with the state because it needs new water sources. He said a development in Oswegatchie Hills would severely alter the water situation for people in that area and in the Golden Spur, where contaminated wells have been an ongoing problem.

“They'll never get water and sewer up there. Never. No way,” said Joe Mingo, another member of the Water and Sewer Commission.

Robert Bulmer, the newly appointed chairman of the Zoning Commission, would not discuss the amendment application. The application is expected to come before the commission on March 1 at Town Hall.
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