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UPDATED: Three groups 'intervene' in proposal for Oswegatchie Hills

East Lyme —The Zoning Commission voted Thursday to recognize three groups as intervenors in an application to develop an affordable housing district in the Oswegatchie Hills.

The Connecticut Fund for the Environment, the Friends of the Oswegatchie Hills and Save the River-Save the Hills are intervening under the Connecticut Environmental Protection Act.

About 150 people attended Thursday's public hearing at Camp Niantic on Landmark Development's petition to rezone 123 acres of undeveloped land in the hills into an affordable housing district and a preliminary site plan for the development. 

Landmark proposes designating 36 acres for development and 87 acres as open space. The remaining 113 acres owned by Landmark in the hills are not included in the petition. The proposed Riverview Heights development would comprise 840 units within 24 buildings with an entrance at the intersection of Calkins and Hill roads. 

In its document proclaiming intervenor status, the Connecticut Fund for the Environment said the proposed development would involve deforestation and blasting that would affect the wetlands and lead to a decline in water quality in the Niantic River. 

Timothy Hollister, the attorney for Landmark, a Middletown company under developer Glenn Russo, said he was a little disappointed that Landmark didn't have a chance to first present its application before hearing about intervenors. 

He also said the application is only to rezone the property and approve a preliminary site plan. An approval of the application would not allow any construction until the applicant brings forward a final site plan for approval. 

Landmark said it is defining the parameters of its application, as part of a remand order from a state superior court judge in an appeals case. Landmark has been appealing the Zoning Commission's decision on its 2005 affordable housing application. 

At the hearing, several letters were read aloud in opposition to the development, including a letter from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection that found the application inconsistent with the Connecticut Coastal Management Act. 

"....The proposal would allow for inappropriately intensive development to be planned in the Oswegatchie Hills region of East Lyme in an area incapable of supporting intensive development without potentially siginificant environmental consequences," the May 20 letter stated. "A coastal site plan evaluation to address CCMA consistency has not been submitted, and basic details of environmental and coastal resource information are missing...." 

Roger Reynolds, legal director for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said the application to the Zoning Commission was "premature" and should first go before the town's Inland Wetlands Agency. 

At past 11 p.m., Hollister, Landmark's attorney, said there have been three-and-a-half hours of comments and letters, mostly objections from the Connecticut Fund for the Environment, before the application had been presented to the public. 

He called it a "fundamentally unfair proceeding." He said if the Zoning Commission decides after the presentation of the application that it needs to go to the Inland Wetlands Agency, it's the commission's prerogative, but the applicant should first present. Pointing to dwindling crowds at the late hour, he said the applicant should present at the next meeting. 

The commission agreed to continue the public hearing at 7:30 p.m. June 4 at Camp Niantic. 

k.drelich@theday.com

Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

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