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Wetlands Panel OKs Site for Church on NY-CT Border

The New Canaan Inland Wetlands Commission approved plans for the proposed future site of Grace Community Church—plans that the some of the site's New York neighbors have opposed from project's beginning in 2007.

Five New Canaan Wetlands Commission members all said they expect to approve an application for a 48-acre site on Lukes Wood Road as a new home for Grace Community Church.

The application still needs approval from New Canaan's planning and zoning Commission, said Sharon Prince, president of the Grace Farms Foundation, which also owns 27 acres adjoining the church site.

The church's plans have been met with opposition from its New York neighbors, according to the Lewisboro Ledger, which reported that officials and residents from Lewisboro and Pound Ridge have said there would be traffic headaches for residents if the church was constructed as proposed.

Wetlands commission members, who met last week, said the applicant—the church-related Grace Property Holdings Inc., run by the Grace Farms Foundation—had made a good case that the development would not harm the river running through the property or nearby wetlands.

"I believe the application meets the standards of our recommendations, and as such, I believe it ought to be improved," commission member George Blauvelt said.

"The interveners, I believe, have failed to meet their burden of proof" that the project would harm the environment, said commission member Colm Dobbyn,  referring to those who filed arguments with the commission objecting to the project.

"There is no adverse impacts to the wetlands and water courses" from this project, said commission member Dan Stepanek. He called some of the objections to the project "mainly speculative. ... There are no adverse impacts to the wetlands and water courses."

Stepanek continued: "Overall, I was very impressed with the applicant. Every time we had a question, they came back with an answer that held water."

But commission members also said they wanted to attach conditions to their approval to state that the property must be maintained well enough to protect nearby natural water.

Blauvelt said that perhaps the applicant could provide an "on-site environmental agent." Dobbyn said there should be some provision for ongoing monitoring of maintenance.

The meeting, which took place at the New Canaan Nature Center, was for discussion purposes only, and there was no public participation period. So, although about 10 members of the public were present, none spoke before the commission.

The Commission will meet again on Feb. 11, when language for the conditions has been drawn up. Commission members said they expect to approve the application on that day.

Founded a decade ago, the interdenominational church has been meeting at Saxe Middle School on Sundays. The site at 365 Lukes Wood Rd. would give it a sanctuary building with 716 seats.

"This has been a long process, and we're really pleased with the outcome so far," Prince said.

Sanjit Shah, an attorney and resident of Puddin Hill Road in Vista—which becomes Lukes Wood Road across the CT border, the proposed site of the church construction—is also concerned about potential traffic jams if the church plans are approved, the Ledger reports, and he has hinted at taking legal action if P&Z approves the amended permit as is.

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