When the Y Board made the decision to sell its downtown facility and build at Mahackeno, it made it clear that it would go ahead with its plans regardless of how the project would affect its neighbors. With the help of friendly Planning and Zoning Commissioners (some of whom no longer hold office), the Y exploited a glitch in the regulations that allowed a non-profit to do what a commercial entity could not: obtain a special permit for a 100,000 sq. ft. building smack in the middle of a AAA residential zone. Now the Y is asking our Selectmen for more special treatment—this time for something that will have negative consequences for the entire Town.
Specifically, the Y wants the Town to bend the “Blue Line” and allow it to drill under Lee’s Pond in order to hook-up to the sewer.
But the Town’s current policy only allows people who are outside the “Blue Line” to hook up to the sewer if it “is the only reasonable means” of mitigating an existing problem. It is a carefully crafted policy that balances the needs of the home or business owner who has a failed septic, against the Town’s desire to prevent unchecked growth or overtax its facilities.
What’s behind the Y’s desire to switch from septic to sewer? Not any concern for the environment. In fact, Mahackeno is located in a “Rural Lands” area where sewers are strongly discouraged by the State Department of Energy & Environmental Protection and septic systems are the preferred solution since they help recharge the water supply and don’t contribute to the ecological imbalance of Long Island Sound.
Nor is the Y’s decision motivated by any concern about the adequacy of its already-approved septic system. To use the Y’s own words, the F.A.S.T. system is the “Gold Standard” in the industry. And keep in mind that the Flood and Erosion Control Board, the Conservation Commission, the P&Z, the DEP, the RTM, Aquarion, and two courts all approved the F.A.S.T. system after lengthy deliberations.
Then what’s the Y’s motivating factor? Money, of course. The Y is more than $6 million short of the funds necessary to build even its scaled-down version of the project and we suspect that the Y doesn’t want to post the cash reserve required for the maintenance and repair of the septic system. (Of course, the presence of sewers will also enable the Y to develop the rest of the Mahackeno site, since it will free up acreage that otherwise would have been used for septic fields.)
But why should the Town accommodate the Y? If we bend the line, more property in Town will become “buildable” and we will encourage exactly the kind of density and sprawl that Westport has tried its best to avoid. And if we grant an exception, we set a dangerous legal precedent since we will have to provide similar privileges to other developers. There is no way to amend the Town’s policies or Sewer Avoidance Plan without destroying the Blue Line and opening the door to unbridled and unplanned development across Town—adding stress on our municipal services and schools.
And what happens if the Y runs out of money or goes under? Exactly the situation in Greenwich. If the Y fails and the site has sewers, the pressure to allow other commercial uses and/or a large subdivision will be unavoidable and unfair to the neighbors.
The bottom line is that the Y does not have legal grounds for an exception under the Town’s existing policies and rules and there is no valid reason to change them.
Our Selectmen must say “no” to the Y’s request for a sewer hook-up.
Please come to the meeting at Town Hall on Thursday, April 12th at 7:00 p.m. (or write to our Selectmen) and tell our Selectmen to vote “no.”
Save Westport Now
Sidney B. Kramer, Chairman
Constance Greenfield, Vice Chairman
Valerie Seiling Jacobs, Vice Chairman