July 21, 2008

Blumenthal Backs Seymour Wetlands Panel in Dispute

By Lauren Garrison, New Haven Register, Conn.

Jul. 21--Attorney General Richard Blumenthal is supporting the Seymour Inland Wetlands Commission's dispute with a developer who wants to build a controversial subdivision off Bungay Road.

More than four years after the commission denied Ann and John Fanotto's proposal to create a 20-lot subdivision on a 20.37-acre, family-owned parcel, the dispute has reached the state Supreme Court.

The commission's denial of the permit application was backed by a Superior Court judge but was later reversed by an Appellate Court judge, who ordered the commission to approve the Fanottos' application with "reasonable conditions."

In late June, the town filed a request to appeal the appellate court's decision with the state Supreme Court. Blumenthal's filing of a "friend of the court brief" urges the Supreme Court to review the Appellate Court decision.

"We've asked that the Supreme Court grant (the appeal) because the issue is of statewide importance and public interest on preserving vital environmental interests and resources," Blumenthal said. "It involves some key procedural issues related to wetlands and similar environmental resources."

The Fanottos have objected, claiming that "the Appellate Court properly concluded, after an 'extensive review of the record,' that there is 'no credible evidence' of an adverse impact to the wetlands.'"

The state Supreme Court must now decide whether to allow the appeal.

The dispute between the Fanottos and the Seymour commission rests largely on a disagreement over the start date of a public hearing on the proposal.

The Fanottos claim the public hearing opened April 10, 2004, when a public walk-through of the site in question was conducted. The Fanottos' statement opposing the commission's petition for an appeal asserts that "the Fanottos and their experts attended two public hearing sessions and presented their application ... and the Fanottos' experts provided uncontradicted expert testimony that the proposed plan was carefully designed to avoid adverse impact to the wetlands and watercourses."

But Tim Lee, a New Haven attorney representing the commission, said that the walk-through did not serve to commence the public hearing. Instead, the public hearing began May 17, 2004, after it was properly noticed and when a stenographer was present to record the comments. Using this as the start date, the Fanottos "never appeared at a public hearing to present their application ... therefore, the commission lacked the information to determine whether the proposal would have an impact on the wetlands," Lee said.

"I think it violates fundamental issues of fairness both to the commission and to members of the public, who do not have the benefit of hearing the applicant's presentation on how it may impact the wetlands," Lee said.

Blumenthal said he expected to find out in September or October whether the Supreme Court will review the case.


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