After cutting down 200 trees: P&Z talks Delafield Island home plan, tree and planting restoration

A Delafield Island Road homeowner who drew the ire of town officials for clear cutting more than 200 trees from his property in 2014 is now proposing a plans for a new home to the Planning & Zoning Commission. Those plans include a detailed mitigation plan aimed at restoring the trees that were removed and protecting the wetland present on the property.

• Top stories of 2014: The tree dilemma

Located at 122 Delafield Island Road, the 2.53-acre property was purchased by an LLC of the same name for $8.75 million in June 2014. On Sept. 22, 2014 the Darien Environmental Protection Commission ordered the property owner to cease tree removal on the property after neighbors reported that more than 50 trees were removed from the property. However, because the property contains coastal and tidal wetlands rather than inland wetlands, it was outside of the purview of the EPC.

Instead, the town’s Planning & Zoning Commission is responsible for reviewing the new development and its impacts on the surrounding environment. Local attorney Robert Maslan represented 122 Delafield Island Road LLC at the commission’s Tuesday night meeting, introducing a series of experts who helped design the project and remediation strategy for the property.

• Detailed plans can be viewed here.

The project would replace the existing house on the property, which was originally built in 1918. Upgrades to the property’s septic system and a seawall on the property would take place as well. Maslan said the development team has changed completely since the clear cutting occurred, but did not explain the series of events that led to the tree removal in the first place.

Commissioner Eric Voigt was critical of the property owner’s decision not to attend the meeting in person, echoing statements from EPC members who wanted to meet the owner face to face in 2014.

“A better explanation [of the clear cutting] would be appropriate,” Voigt said. “We have rules. There are not specific rules as to clear cutting your property but I’d rather not have to make rules. I don’t think it's right that somebody just comes in and wipes out every tree on their property without asking.”

Voigt also challenged the design team's assertion that the property had not suffered degradation as a result of the clear cutting. An environmental specialist for the project said the property did not violate the state’s criteria for degradation, though he acknowledged the tree removal would have an obvious visual impact. A town peer reviewer agreed with the findings, adding that tidal wetlands are usually quick to recover if proper mitigation efforts are put in place.

“I would take exception to you saying that degradation of visual quality did not occur as a part of the clear cutting and I would also take exception to the statement that wildlife habitats were not destroyed by the clear cutting,” Voigt said on Tuesday. “I understand that your point of reference is subsequent to the clear cutting, but relative to what was there previously, I think there was significant degradation and significant degradation or destruction of wildlife habitats.”

The site plan for the property calls for the installation of 260 trees along with shrubs and other landscaping. Most of those would be indigenous cedar and oak trees which also made up the bulk of the trees that were removed. Other evergreen and citrus trees will be planted as well to restore habitats for birds and other wildlife. Town peer reviewers worked alongside the design team to ensure the vegetation was evenly distributed across the property.

Neighbors to the property expressed concerns about how the project would impact the Delafield Island community. The property is located on a narrow causeway, leading both neighbors and commission members to express concerns about work vehicles traveling through the neighborhood. The project is expected to take at least 18 months to complete and would call for hundreds of truckloads of material to be brought to the site over the course of construction. Neighbors asked the commission to try and implement some scheduling restrictions on when work could take place at the property.

Resident Liz Bacon said the clear cutting and overall treatment of the property has been jarring to members of the neighborhood, but the new development team appears to be a step in the right direction. She asked both the commission and the development team to keep the rest of the Delafield Island community in mind as they deliberate the site plan and do their best to respect the neighborhood.

“The quality of life in our neighborhood is going to be affected for an extended period of time,” Bacon said. “So I’m asking this team to keep the home team in mind; this is our town, this is neighborhood, and we need all of those things that are going to impact our quality of life to be given serious consideration.”

Public hearings for the project will continue at the Planning & Zoning Commission’s May 2 meeting.