Appellate court denies Eureka development in Ridgefield

Nov 19th, 2012 | By | Category: Featured Story, Land

A note from Margaret Miner and Rose Guimaraes of Rivers Alliance of Connecticut

A map of one of the past plans for development of “Bennett’s Pond South.”

A map of one of the past plans for development of “Bennett’s Pond South.”

Drinking water sources in Connecticut are a little safer today, thanks to an Appellate Court decision in the Eureka case. Eureka was a proposed development in Ridgefield (home of nine headwaters). Part of the proposed Eureka development was in a drinking-water watershed, where the Department of Public Health, the current (not pending) state Plan of Conservation and Development, and the DEP/DEEP manual to local officials all advise against high-density development, designated as greater than one residential unit per two acres. Eureka was about twice as dense, and Ridgefield rejected the entire project. Technically, Ridgefield lost its case because the court ruled it should not have denied all development, just that within the source-water
watershed.

But the court upheld a town’s authority to limit density of development in a drinking water watershed. It held that protection of drinking water is a substantial public interest.

Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Rivers Alliance of Connecticut were among those who testified against the dense development. CFE wrote an amicus brief in the case, which Rivers Alliance joined. Attorney Janet Brooks sent us the good news. She is working on a similar case, and there are (or were) more in the wings.

Here’s the link:
http://www.jud.ct.gov/external/supapp/Cases/AROap/AP139/139AP559.pdf

The Connecticut Appellate Court released its decision in Eureka V, LLC versus the Planning and Zoning Commission of Ridgefield, upholding the one unit per two-acres limitations on or near watershed land.

In January, Connecticut Fund for the Environment filed an amicus brief in the case, arguing that, if development in the watershed land were approved, it must be limited to one-unit per two acres, the maximum density supported by the Connecticut Department of Public Health, Aquarion Water Company, and the state’s Plan of Conservation and Development. CFE originally intervened in the Eureka proceedings in September 2007.

“Eureka’s original proposal to develop at high densities posed a genuine threat of harm to our public drinking water supplies and would have set a dangerous precedent,” said Roger Reynolds, a senior attorney for CFE. “This is a balanced decision that reaffirms the importance of our drinking water lands and the need to protect them from bad development.

“While it did not ban development in the drinking water watershed all together, it limited it to reasonable densities that have been found necessary to protect drinking water quality,” Reynolds said. “This is a victory not only for our environment but for the residents in the Saugatuck River Watershed who depend on the availability and accessibility of clean drinking water.”

CFE, along with its Endangered Lands Coalition, has worked hard to draft and pass laws protecting more than 100,000 acres of water company lands that surround Connecticut’s drinking water reservoirs.

The full court decision can be read here.

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