Judge upholds East Lyme 'Twin Valley' application

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East Lyme — A New London Superior Court judge has ruled that the Inland Wetlands Agency properly approved a developer’s much-contested plan to build a road accommodating a proposed 23-lot subdivision in an area adjacent to wetlands and waterways.

The proposal sought to extend the Green Valley Lakes subdivision built in the 1960s and '70s.

The decision, which was appealed by Brian Lepkowski, an abutting homeowner who was an intervenor in the developer’s application, was made by the agency in September 2018 after hearing more than 10 hours of testimony from both Lepkowski and developer Robert Fusari of Real Estate Service of Conn. Inc., as well as their hired experts. Many residents also came to speak before the board during several public hearings, citing various environmental concerns, including worries about potential adverse impacts on the nearby wetlands.

According to Town Planner and Inland Wetlands agent Gary Goeschel, Judge Susan B. Handy's decision Tuesday is indicative that the agency did its due diligence considering the plans presented.

"I would give kudos to the agency in that they took their time to cross their t's, dot their i's, fully vet and hear the public," Goeschel said. "It was over (10) hours of testimony and public hearing and that speaks volumes to their dedication and their willingness to hear the public."

"All that we hear does not fall on deaf ears," he said. "But all I can say is that decision will preserve land values in the neighborhood. It upholds the law, and that's consistently good for land value."

In her 18-page memorandum of decision posted Tuesday, Handy said the agency not only properly approved Fusari's application, but also said the agency went beyond its statutory requirements while considering a proposed alternative plan Lepkowski submitted to the agency for the relocation of the proposed road.

The judge said in her memorandum that the agency also properly rejected Lepkowski’s plan, which outlined placing the proposed road further from his own house and closer to the wetlands in question, as that would have had a greater impact on the wetlands than the applicant’s proposal.

Fusari’s proposal, which originally was submitted to the agency in 2017, sought to construct a roadway and drainage improvements to accommodate what was first proposed as a 25-lot "Twin Valley" resubdivision. The agency denied Fusari's first application citing stormwater management concerns, said Goeschel, before it later considered a resubmitted application proposing a 23-lot plan that sought to better address stormwater management.

The agency then approved that plan with conditions, concluding it would have no significant impact on nearby wetlands. According to Judge Handy in her memorandum, the decision "was supported by substantial evidence and a consensus of (Fusari's) experts and the town's wetland agent (Goeschel) and its engineer (Victor Benni)."

Fusari’s proposed resubdivision, should it now move forward, would be the last phase of a project begun in the area in 1970s.

Fusari declined to comment Thursday about the status of his development.

Lepkowski issued a statement Thursday to The Day: "We knew it was going to be challenging for the judge to overturn the inland wetlands decision. We are, however, most disappointed in the process at the town level. The first commission did the right thing in denying this application. There were a lot of reasons in the denial that were not remedied and still, a newly appointed commission approved the second application without requiring the changes that would have protected this valuable resource."

"This process has been stressful for my family and many of our neighbors," he said in the statement. "More and more residents are expressing concerns about development in town and it's disappointing to see another parcel with so many critical wetlands be overdeveloped."

Tuesday’s ruling is the first of two the courts will decide on involving the proposed resubdivision, as Lepkowski also has appealed the Planning Commission’s December 2018 approval of Fusari’s plans.

Lepkowski said by phone Thursday that he and his legal counsel are "exploring their options" as to whether they want to appeal Tuesday's decision.

m.biekert@theday.com

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