The Apr. 14 meeting of the Inland Wetlands Commission featured a refreshingly cordial resolution to a case of mistaken landscaping. Last fall, GOOD Morning Wilton reported on a seemingly systemic misunderstanding between property owners and the town on the rules protecting inland wetlands. GMW spoke with individual property owners who had been surprised by cease-and-desist orders and mounting penalties for yard maintenance they believed was innocuous.
In this case, Mike Conklin, Director of Environmental Affairs, explained to the Commission that the department had received a complaint from an unnamed neighbor of the Wilton Riding Club alleging that the Club was engaging in unauthorized tree work. The Town issued a cease-and-desist order on March 24.
“We were able to get in touch with the new property manager, who had us come out right away,” Conklin said, adding that the manager expressed surprise that someone had called in a complaint because the work being done centered around pasture areas and paddocks where the horses themselves have traditionally roamed.
The Riding Club’s former president Craig Johnson added that the intention of the work was to clear an area that was “grossly overgrown with vines choking the trees.” He clarified that no earth clearing occurred, contrary to the charge in the cease and desist.
In a letter to the Commission, current Riding Club president Patrick Burke explained that the group believed the work was considered “as-of-right” due to its zoning status as a farming operation.
Luckily for the Riding Club, there was good news ahead.
“I might not disagree with that,” Conklin offered. “As a farm, they have certain as-of-right uses. But being a farm doesn’t mean everything they do is an as of right use.” He explained that the proper procedure would be to submit a site plan of the work being proposed under a farm exemption, and that “Normally, we would find this to be an exempt activity.”
Turning toward the broader environmental mandate of the Riding Club, Commissioner Theodora Pinou said, “I think it would be nice if you acknowledge that a lot of the land you have is part of ground recharge. There are things you could do on this land you steward to increase conservation.”
Johnson agreed wholeheartedly. “We do acknowledge that and we had no idea this area was a wetland,” he said. “We’re very committed to preserving it in its natural state — other than the invasive vines. We would be happy to work with the Commission to help us understand more about the property and keep it in the beautiful condition it’s in.”
The Commission voted unanimously to lift the cease and desist, determining that “the work performed to date is considered farming activity exempt from permitting.” The Riding Club was reminded that in the future, site plans for similar activities must be submitted and approved by the Commission in advance.
Conklin praised the Riding Club leadership and its manager for being, “very nice to work with.”