Toll Brothers Withdraw Efforts to Develop Cedar Mountain

Developer withdraws plans for luxury homes on Cedar Mountain, Newington officials say it'll remain open space.
NEWINGTON — The 6-year-long battle of Cedar Mountain is over.
Mayor Stephen Woods announced Thursday that Toll Brothers is dropping its long-standing and controversial attempt to build luxury homes on the mountain and the town will seek to buy the property to preserve it as open space.
"I am excited to say that this long, drawn-out, divisive and expensive battle with Toll Brothers is at an end," said Woods, reading from a prepared statement at the close of the annual State of the Town event. "For all of you who asked us to 'Save Cedar Mountain,' I proudly say today that Cedar Mountain has been saved now — and I am committed to preserving it for the future."
The announcement led one member of the audience to shout, "Bravo!"
Toll Brothers' lawyer for the project, Thomas J. Regan of Brown Rudnick, declined to comment Thursday.
The company's decision came after an extended "dialogue" between it and Economic Development Director Andy Brecher, Woods said. At a certain point, Woods and Town Manager John Salomone joined the discussions, Woods said.
Salomone said that the town did not make any payment to Toll Brothers. It's too early to say how the town might finance purchase of the property, he said.
"It really depends on the price and how we could go about it," Salomone said.
Pennsylvania-based Toll Brothers, one of the nation's largest home builders, has tried off and on since 2009 to build housing on Cedar Mountain, one of the town's last undeveloped areas. The company's multiple unsuccessful applications stirred fierce opposition from some residents, who feared possible environmental damage and wanted the land near the Wethersfield border preserved as open space.
"After six long years, David slays Goliath," longtime project opponent Gayle Raducha said Thursday. "We did it!"
The conservation commission stymied Toll Brothers' most recent application two years ago when it rejected the company's wetlands permit after extensive hearings. The plan called for 48 high-end homes on 29 acres, with another 44 acres set aside as open space.
The commission's review was unusually lengthy and detailed, lasting four months and delving in often excruciating detail into geology, water flow, soil composition and amphibian mating and migration habits.
Because of the application's complexity and controversy, the commission hired its own environmental and blasting consultants. They raised questions and concerns that led Toll Brothers to file a significantly amended plan late in the review process.
The company tried to assuage critics with mitigation proposals that included "bioswales" — berms and natural structures to capture runoff — and a tunnel allowing amphibians to migrate from one part of the property to another.
Discovery of a threatened tree species, the swamp cottonwood, on the property also raised concerns.
In the end, Toll Brothers failed to persuade the commission. Members voted 5-1 to reject the company's proposal. Reasons cited by those voting "no" included potential harm to wildlife, a long-term threat to nearby wetlands and failure to follow the best practices for vernal pools.
"Given the total information we've been provided, and the overriding need to protect this unique habitat, I feel I have to go along with my [no] vote," Chairman Philip Block said at the time.
The company appealed the decision to Superior Court, a lawsuit that Woods said will be dropped. Toll Brothers has also terminated its option to buy the 73 acres it needed for the project, he said.
Brecher will now negotiate with owner Tilcon for the town to buy the land, plus another 12.5 acres, Woods said.
"It is my intent that Newington will own those 85 acres and preserve them as open space for the benefit of Newington citizens, now — and for perpetuity," Woods said in his statement.
The town already owns 22 acres of open space on the mountain that it bought in 2012.
Defending the conservation commission's decision in court cost the town thousands of dollars in legal fees, Salomone said