Developer wins battle, gets back to work

ORANGE-With a protracted legal settlement behind him Ravenswood Homes Developer Dean Fiske can now begin construction on 63 age-restricted units on land that is behind the town's transfer station.

Last week the Town Plan and Zoning Commission unanimously approved an out-of-court settlement with Fiske, a Cheshire developer, which reduces the number of units from 72 to 63. Fiske filed his application under the state's affordable housing statute, which the Inland Wetlands and zoning commission had repeatedly denied due to safety and health concerns.

TPZ Chairman Walter "Beau" Clark said a Superior Court Judge Friday ruled to accept the out of court settlement. Clark said while the town agreed to the negotiated settlement members still have concerns, but he said the revised project is certainly between then the initial proposal.

Clark said if the project was not filed under the state's affordable housing statute then it's likely the town could have prevailed at trial. But under that statute the onus is on the town to prove that the application is necessary. Towns must designate at least 10 percent of its housing stock as affordable in order to shift the burden back onto the developer at trial. Urban cities typically meet the standard while more rural communities like Orange do not.

"If we denied the settlement then we'd spend a lot of time and money, and could be faced with a worse plan," said Clark as a reason why the zoning commission approved the settlement.

Clark said besides the revised plans being less dense it's better because it includes a retaining wall, improved drainage and a realignment of the access way to the bridge. He said the driveway has been realigned and will lead to a better line of sight for motorists entering and exiting the development.

Clark said while the sides were adversarial to begin with he credited Fiske and his legal team for meeting professionally and cordially. Clark also credited concerned residents who have voiced concerns about the housing development for coming forward to share their concerns.

During hearing residents testified that they have concerns because the site is near the landfill, and refuse may be buried underneath.

Fiske said Monday that he is "very excited," that the project now has the green light to begin. He said some minor construction could commence in two months, but the actual physical construction will begin in late spring.

"We always felt this development would be built," Fiske said. "This project will be a shining star for Orange."

Fiske purchased the land behind the transfer station surrounded by Mallard Lane and Margaret Drive for about $400,000 in 2002.