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Fraser asks developer for 'cooling off' time over Oswegatchie Hills

East Lyme –– First Selectman Wayne L. Fraser has asked a developer proposing to build 894 condominium units in Oswegatchie Hills to withdraw a zone-change application for the plan.

Fraser, in a letter Friday, invited Glenn Russo, managing principal of Landmark Development Group LLC of Middletown, which holds development rights to more than 230 acres in the hills, to discuss alternatives to the developer's River Views Estates condominium proposal.

The Zoning Commission is scheduled to hear Landmark's request to rezone more than 500 acres there as an “affordable housing district” on March 1.

The development might be allowed despite zoning limitations because it would contain 270 units of affordable housing.

Fraser requested that Russo agree to a 90-day “cooling off” period. He asked that Landmark withdraw its zone-change application as well as an earlier proposal for an 18-hole championship golf course, resort and senior housing that would have its own nine-hole golf course. Landmark is challenging in court the denial of a zone change for that plan.

“My intention is allow a cooling off period,” Fraser wrote to Russo. “This would allow us to work together with you and the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection through a mutually agreed upon mediator so that we can establish facts as to what can and cannot be done on the property.”

Russo said Monday that he had received Fraser's letter but had little to say about it.

“We have asked to speak with the first selectman for some time regarding our proposal to develop Oswegatchie Hills. We are pleased to see that First Selectman Fraser has accepted our offer and we look forward to meeting with him,” Russo said. “It would be inappropriate to comment any further.”

The DEP has a keen interest in buying some of the Oswegatchie Hills' 780 acres, including land that Landmark either controls or owns. But the two sides are far apart in their negotiations, according to Chuck Reed of the DEP's land acquisition division.

Reed told The Day that Landmark and the DEP each had appraisals done. He said the problem was that Landmark instructed its appraiser to presume that the land could be highly developed. The DEP had the land appraised based on what the appraiser determined to be the “highest and best use” of the land.

Fraser wants the two sides to negotiate based on a mutual understanding of the possible uses for the land and therefore its fair market value.

“The protection of this land is of the utmost importance and the preservation is a fight we are willing to take on,” Fraser said. “We also agree that landowners have the right to develop their land, and that fair market value should be given for property.”
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