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Candidate drops out over Easton housing flap

Susan Silver, Connecticut Post
Published 7:50 pm, Monday, August 31, 2009
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EASTON -- Amid an uproar over his prospective application to build what would be the town's first affordable housing development, the chairman of the Region 9 Board of Education, which oversees Joel Barlow High School, has decided not to run for re-election.

Huntley "Bucky" Stone has withdrawn from the race less than a month after Democrats nominated him for a second four-year term. The Democrats backed Stone's candidacy after Republicans had declined to re-endorse him.

Although praising Stone's support for education, "We're concerned that Saddle Ridge (development plan) would detract from the central issues of taxes and education," said Democratic Town Committee Chairman Ronald E. Kowalski II.

Saddle Ridge is the name of the 127-acre parcel, bordered by Westport, Cedar Hill and Sport Hill roads, initially planned as a subdivision of 21 single-family homes. However, Stone and co-owner Robert Carlson more recently have been exploring plans for a clustered housing development, which could be filed under state affordable housing laws.

If filed under those regulations, final control over the application could be taken away from local zoning authorities and assigned to a special housing court.

"We had a frank conversation with Bucky where we discussed the specter of an affordable housing development on his property," Kowalski said.

Easton contends that its zoning regulations -- allowing only single-family homes on one- and three-acre sites -- is designed to protect the region's watershed. Deviations from that standard -- even for a church -- have set off furors.

Still, Stone wasn't happy about stepping down.

"It seems to me that what I may do as a real estate developer bears no rational nexus to the job that I could do and have done as a member and chair of the Region 9 board of ed," he said.

His withdrawal came after letters to town officials from state authorities indicated Stone wants to test the soils for septic systems to accommodate a larger development on the Saddle Ridge property. A work-in-progress map presented to town officials shows a clustered development of two-bedroom, two-story townhomes, with at least several times more units than the 21 approved for the original subdivision. Neither clustered nor multi-unit developments are allowed under Easton's existing zoning regulations.

The Saddle Ridge developers, meanwhile, have appealed the Planning and Zoning Commission's approval for the subdivision to Superior Court, seeking to overturn some of the conditions tied to the approval.

First Selectman Thomas Herrmann, a Republican, said Stone informed him Saddle Ridge would pursue affordable housing after the company filed its subdivision appeal in April.

Herrmann said he certainly never endorsed the new plan but that with it, Stone's "outraged everyone."

Kowalski said the Easton Democratic Town Committee will name a Region 9 candidate to replace Stone on the November ballot when it meets Sept. 2.