Gloria Floats Away

John Kantor reports that “Gloria” — Westport’s beloved oyster boat — broke her mooring off his Longshore Sailing School Friday night. She drifted onto nearby Hendrick’s Point.

Her owner — oysterman Alan Sterling — died in early July.

Gloria’s been on her own ever since.

(Photo/John Kantor)

(Photo/John Kantor)

Chip Stephens: Why I Voted No

In the wake of Thursday night’s 6-1 vote by the Planning & Zoning Commission defeating a text amendment that would have permitted development of senior housing on the Baron’s South property, Chip Stephens sent this statement to all Westporters:

As chair of the Planning & Zoning, I owe you my explanation of our decision on text amendment 677.

Let me address 3 points that drove me to my position. There were more, but these were the biggest issues in my decision: fairness, density and open space.

Chip Stephens

Chip Stephens

Fairness. 20% is the bare minimum affordability required of most projects, mandated by state statute. It is the minimum that also entails fairness of the affordable units, so they are not clustered by themselves, and match the same quality and size as other units.

This idea was dismissed in the original sub-text. It showed that affordable units would be limited to 1 bedroom, not necessarily the same size and type. It was later withdrawn due to concerns of the commissioners.

It was obvious from the start that the project planners were trying for the very minimum affordability offering they could get away with, in order to satisfy the developer’s “needs.”

Then we were told there would be a second tier of “moderate” affordable units (20%, with the possibility of being raised to 25%). This level may be moderate to some, but in reality was out of reach for many Westporters of that certain age. Believe it or not, not all have $1 million or more left in home equity or resources when they reach the qualifying age. Add to this the true price of market-driven units (the new 60 %).

Also, the affordability of the nursing or memory units was not addressed. Both of those units were guaranteed to be very profitable and very pricey, but merited very little discussion in the proposal (understandably so, to sell this project).

My  biggest problem regarding fairness was that we were told to “believe” that well-deserving Westporters would be the first and only to qualify for these subsidized units. What is a “deserving” Westporter ? Who decides this? On what basis?

Is it a lifelong resident? A resident of less than, say, 5 years? One who rented, or was on subsidized housing, or just summered in Westport and spent the balance of the time in Florida?

Is it a paid elected official? A non-paid elected official? A Little League coach, teacher, artistic contributor or longtime charitable volunteer ?

Chip Stephens wonders who would determine which "deserving" Westporters would be able to live at the Baron's South housing complex.

Chip Stephens wonders who would determine which “deserving” Westporters would be able to live at the Baron’s South housing complex.

Would there be a point system of lifelong taxes paid, of public and charitable activity, or would it just be whoever was the longest on the list of those wishing this type of housing?

Who would make that decision, and who makes the rules of what is right and fair? Would these decisions and rules be challenged by social advocates, using laws that “protect” the poor, religious rights, or race and nationality? This is a very slippery slope I believe we would face with such an exclusionary policy, whether state and federal funds were involved or not.  There is no certain promise or guarantee of such a “deserving Westport” — only entitlement.

Density. Regulations that set a cap on multifamily housing units to limit density were enacted by prior commissions. That cap is close to being reached. With hundreds of units being considered and on the drawing boards, we better be thinking about what kind of density we envision here in the next 3-5 years.

Do we accept the eventual morphing of Westport into a community like many Westchester County neighbors?  The recent downtown planning survey showed very strong agreement that residents appreciate the character and rural nature of the town today — not of the town of the 1950s, ’60s or ’70s. When we envision hundreds of new multifamily units, how will that impact our resources, taxes, schools and infrastructure?

Yes, the sub-text proposed said that raising this cap would apply to this one “issue” (though it did open the door to at least 13 qualifying locations). Nothing we face at P and Z is one-off. Just look at the issue of preservation of historic houses, or listen to developers use previous “one-offs” to justify their proposals.  This is a discussion which we all face now. It will intensify over the coming months.

Chip Stephens worries about other proposals for multifamily housing that are in the pipeline.

Chip Stephens worries about other proposals for multifamily housing that are in the pipeline.

Open space. Westport open space, both public and private, is a finite resource. Once developed, open space is unlikely to revert back. Robert Moses tried to run multi-lane highways through Central Park in the ’60s. If not for the efforts of those looking to maintain New York’s open space as a sacred cow, today’s city would be much different.

Our beaches, open spaces and parks are not out of the reach of development. Such use has been discussed beyond just this project. Some people want more athletic fields, new art venues, new community center space, more affordable housing. All are very well-intentioned, laudable goals.  But there is only so much free space left in this town. When it is gone, it is gone.

We need to balance our goals, expectations and well-intentioned wants with the realities of limited space, our fragile watershed, etc. Our predecessors on earlier P&Z Commissions, along with others, worked long hours and gave great thought to the regulations that make Westport what it is today.

As your  current commissioners, we are the guardians of those rules. Of course, we are open to all who look to alter those rules to fit their intentions, whether socially or financially driven. It is our mandate to fairly consider all that comes before us. But it is our responsibility to judge in the spirit of  yesterday’s lessons, today’s opinions, and tomorrow’s inheritance of the legacy we leave behind.

The Planning & Zoning Commission must consider many different  -- and often competing -- "town character" interests when interpreting existing regulations, and crafting  new ones. Chip

The Planning & Zoning Commission must consider many different — and often competing — “town character” interests when interpreting existing regulations, and crafting new ones.

In conclusion: Remember, there still stands a regulation allowing a project of the Baron South type. That has not changed.

To those who are passionate and committed to this: The door is not shut. To all who that came and spoke both for and against; to those who worked hard over the past years on this effort, and to those who agree or disagree with our decision:  We gave it our best. We gave it an abundance of our time and thought. We gave all their chance to speak and their voices heard. We did what we saw as right, affirming Westport’s regulations and character.

We stand on our decision. I hope this helps you understand it.

 

P&Z Shuts Door On Senior Housing Proposal

By a 6-1 vote, the Planning & Zoning Commission defeated text amendment 677 last night.

The controversial proposal would have permitted senior housing to be built on the Baron’s South property, between South Compo Road and Imperial Avenue.

Much of the discussion centered on whether Westport residents would be guaranteed units in the complex; if those on fixed or lower incomes would benefit from it, and whether the text amendment would allow increased housing density on other town-owned properties.

Artist's rendering of housing at Baron's South. Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission defeated the

Artist’s rendering of housing at Baron’s South. Last night, the Planning & Zoning Commission defeated the proposal.

Claudine Brantley: A Filmmaker To Watch

In the wake of Westport’s selection as Connecticut’s “Fan Favorite Town of the Year,” plenty of praise was heaped on 3 elementary school girls. They conceived the idea for a promotional video touting the contest, then starred in what ultimately pushed our town to the top.

No one’s talking about Claudine Brantley, who filmed and edited the video.

That’s fine with her. Claudine, who graduated from Staples last June, calls her young colleagues “enthusiastic, adorable and very easy to work with.” They came up with the locations highlighted in the video, and “starred” in it.

But Claudine’s very professional work should not go unnoticed. And her back story deserves to be told.

Born in Georgia and raised in New London, Connecticut, Claudine came to Westport in the middle of sophomore year. Her mother wanted to provide better opportunities for Claudine and her brother Malik, and made considerable sacrifices to get here.

Claudine Brantly

Claudine Brantley

Claudine quickly got involved in the school. She joined the literary magazine Soundings, and the Gay-Straight Alliance. She found a job shelving books at the Westport Library.

And — through a Staples course called Narrative Film — she discovered a passion for video.

“I really like being able to tell stories visually,” Claudine says. “You have so many interactions, and ways to create a vision of something.”

Instructor Jim Honeycutt ranks Claudine with “Staples Hall of Fame filmmakers” like Adam Marcus, Luke Greenfield and Daryl Wein. “The only difference is that she is not in Hollywood — yet,” he says.

He calls her work “unlike most student films. They are intensely personal and profound.”

Claudine cajoles Staples Players into acting in her films. She scours the internet to find people to do voiceovers. Her sound tracks are “ethereal and haunting,” Honeycutt says.

She finds extraordinary royalty-free music to use legally. It sounds like it was written just for her, Honeycutt adds.

Her films “An Interloping Dream” and “Abraham” have been selected for the 2014 All American High School Film Festival.

“Claudine works incredibly hard at developing her craft,” Honeycutt says. “She is very devoted and serious. She has a wonderful heart, and a willingness to fight.”

That heart was on display when she agreed to help 3 Westport girls fulfill their “fan favorite” dream.

“I’m impressed with how involved those kids were, and how at a young age they had such love for their town,” Claudine says.

She credits them with helping her learn more about Westport.

Clearly, Claudine has learned plenty on her own. Now a freshman film and photography major at Parsons The New School for Design, she hopes to focus on documentaries.

In the years to come, she’ll no doubt make films far more important than the one that earned Westport its “fan favorite” honor.

And, no doubt, they’ll make Claudine Brantley a “fan favorite” in the video world.

(A collection of films by Claudine Brantley is available on YouTube.)

 

 

Remembering Jim Conant

Midway through 6th grade, a new kid suddenly entered Burr Farms Elementary School. Our friend groups were well established, but everyone liked Jim Conant. He was funny. He was smart as hell. And — this is not something one generally says about almost-teenage boys — he was kind.

As we moved through Long Lots Junior High and Staples, Jim and I remained friends. Not best friends — we hung out in different circles — but we shared classes, senses of humor, and ways of seeing the world.

Jim Conant

Jim Conant

Jim always seemed to know who he was. I had no clue whatsoever. I admired his calm sense of self, even if I couldn’t describe it at the time.

Jim went to Princeton, and made a name for himself academically (graduating magna cum laude) and musically (he was a fantastic trumpet player). I went to Brown, still trying to figure things out. We shared a good-natured rivalry.

Jim then earned a master’s in electrical engineering from UCLA. He went on to work with radar, sonar and software. He held two patents.

I went on to do whatever it is I do. We lost touch, though he lived just an hour away in Brookfield.

Three years ago, at a Staples reunion, we reconnected. I told him how much I’d admired him when we were younger. He seemed surprised.

At the Staples reunion 3 years ago, I had a great time with old friends. From left: myself, Jim Conant, Steve McCoy and Fred Cantor.

At a Staples reunion 3 years ago, I had a great time with old friends. From left: myself, Jim Conant, Steve McCoy and Fred Cantor.

A few months later we met for dinner in Ridgefield. We caught up on our lives. He told me about his marriage and divorce, his 3 kids, his involvement in youth sports and a youth math program, and his civic volunteer work.

But Jim seemed distracted. A couple of months later, he called to say why. The afternoon of our dinner, he’d been diagnosed with ALS.

He relayed the news matter-of-factly. With his scientific mind, he’d already done plenty of research. Lou Gehrig’s disease sufferers generally live 2 to 5 years, he said. Before dying, they lose the ability to move their limbs, talk, swallow, and breathe on their own.

Their minds, however, remain fine. They know exactly what is happening to them.

At that point, he was in good physical shape. He kept active. His spirits were strong.

A couple of summers ago, Jim invited a group of old friends to his house on Lake Lillinonah. The setting was beautiful; the evening was fun. He was an animated tour guide as he piloted his boat across the water.

Jim at the helm of his boat on Lake Lillinonah. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Jim at the helm of his boat on Lake Lillinonah. (Photo/Fred Cantor)

Our next dinner was at Rizzuto’s. He wanted to come to Westport. He didn’t get out much, but he could still drive. He apologized for having to prop his head up from time to time. His muscles were already weakening. But he talked about today and tomorrow much more than yesterday.

As with all ALS sufferers, his decline was steady. His preferred method of communication became email. A few months ago, he wrote that he had always wanted enough time to read and listen to music. Now he had that time, but for the absolute worst reason.

This summer, Jim emailed me that at some point — not then; in the future — he would have to make a decision about living life as a quadriplegic, or not. He described that choice matter-of-factly. Right now, he said, he was doing fine.

Jim Conant, his son Dan, and an unidentified family member at Jim's Brookfield home.

Jim Conant, his son Dan, and an unidentified family member at Jim’s Brookfield home.

On Friday, I emailed Jim:

I hope things are going okay, and you’re able to enjoy your surroundings. Your comment about having time you always dreamed of to read and listen to music – but not the way you wanted to – really resonated with me. It made a profound impact. So please know that – long after our elementary school days – you continue to influence my life, in very positive ways. For that, I am very grateful.

I am thinking of you.

Coincidentally, early on Monday, I saw on Facebook that Jim’s birthday had been Saturday. I had no idea.

Two days late, I posted a generic greeting on his timeline. Dozens of others were already there.

Jim never saw those good wishes, from his many friends. He did not get my email, either.

On Monday afternoon, his brother Scott sent the news.

Jim died Friday night, at home. His sister, son and a good friend were there.

One day before his birthday.

(A reception for Jim Conant will be held tomorrow — Friday, September 19 — at 10 a.m., followed by a memorial service at 12 p.m., at the Brookfield Congregational Church. He requested that in lieu of flowers, donations be made to the Massachusetts General Hospital ALS research clinic, the ALS Association, ASTDI or Regional Hospice and Home Care of Western Connecticut.)

 

Valerie Seiling Jacobs On Senior Housing: Say “No” To Text Amendment

Valerie Seiling Jacobs read Bart Shuldman’s letter advocating a “yes” vote on the Baron’s South senior housing text amendment. She takes the opposite view:

In 2011, after careful deliberation, P&Z adopted regulations to allow the construction of senior housing on Baron’s South and twelve other town-owned sites so long as 60% of the units meet the state test for “affordable.” Now, P&Z is being pressured to loosen those regulations, including reducing the required percentage of affordable units from 60% to 20%. Indeed, some people are claiming that without these changes, Westport will never get senior housing.

This is simply not true and P&Z should not give in to this pressure. First, these regulations pertain only to town property. Developers will still be free to construct senior housing on privately owned property.

Second, reducing that percentage runs afoul of the very rationale that P&Z originally used to justify the use of town-owned land for this purpose. As P&Z previously recognized, if the Town is going to donate an asset for this purpose—as opposed to putting the asset to its highest and best use, which P&Z recognized was NOT senior housing—then the town still needed to receive something valuable in return.

Under the existing regulations, that value consists of: (1) senior housing for a tenant population that is predominantly needy and which might not otherwise have housing options; and (2) credits toward a moratorium against some of the more onerous provisions of §8-30g, a state statute that applies to towns (like Westport) that fail to meet a threshold level of affordable housing.

The proponents of this amendment have tried to justify this switch from 60% to 20% on the ground that an additional 20% of the units will be restricted to “moderate-income” tenants.

But that argument is misleading. If adopted, this Amendment will likely result in a tenant population that is overwhelmingly well-to-do.

Part of the Baron's South land.

Part of the Baron’s South land.

The income test for those so-called “moderate” units is so high (just under $113,000 for a one-bedroom) that wealthy people will still qualify. A person could have $4.5 million in the bank and be collecting maximum Social Security and still meet the income test. Why should the town donate a valuable asset for the benefit of people with those kinds of means—folks who can afford to live anywhere? It’s one thing for Westport to subsidize a project for the genuinely needy, but a whole other thing to subsidize this population.

Moreover, these so-called moderate-income units will not satisfy the requirements of §8-30g, which means that they won’t gain the town any points when it comes to the moratorium. Basically, the town is getting very little in return for giving up a valuable asset (not to mention open space).

To make matters worse, this amendment proposes to exclude all of the units, including the market-rate units, from the existing town-wide cap on multi-family units. (Currently, no more than 10% of Town’s housing units can be part of multi-family projects.)

But there is no principled reason to allow that kind of increased density. With thirteen potential sites in play, we could easily find our fire, police, ambulance, and other town services seriously overtaxed.

This proposed amendment is being driven solely by a developer’s financial demands—and those demands cannot be reconciled with the core rationale of P&Z’s previous decision, nor can they be reconciled with our existing zoning regulations or the Town Plan of Conservation and Development, which place a premium on open space.

I recognize that P&Z is in a difficult spot. Some seniors are truly desperate for this kind of housing. And I understand that some people are saying that the 60% requirement is not workable.

They may be right—but the answer is not to roll over and settle for nothing more than what is already required. Developers are already required to dedicate 20% of any multi-family project to affordable housing (or to make a payment in lieu).

And, by the way, the promise that we will reap the benefit of property taxes is also only what taxpayers are already due. Of course these developers should pay real estate taxes—after all, they are not paying rent.

The answer is to go back to the drawing board to see what other types of concessions the town can negotiate in exchange for providing this kind of subsidy.

Let’s hope that P&Z has the courage to stand up for all of Westport and to do what is right for everyone. Settling for 20% is simply not good enough.

Bart Shuldman: Baron’s South Text Amendment Must Pass

Alert “06880” reader Bart Shuldman has followed the Baron’s South senior housing issue closely. He writes:

Dear Friends and Neighbors in Westport:

I want to make you aware of a very important issue regarding the proposed new senior living facility in Westport that needs your immediate attention.

The Planning and Zoning Commission is debating a new text amendment that must get passed. If it does not, there is little chance the facility gets built. If somehow it does get built, there is a very real possibility that no Westport senior citizens will have the opportunity to live in the facility. The current text amendment leaves almost every senior citizen in town ineligible to live in the facility, as it requires 60% affordable housing.  The asset test will cause most, if not all, Westport residents to be ineligible.

Many in town know I argued this point a few years back. Now it is here, and Westport senior citizens will lose. Westport residents will have too much money, or should I say assets, to be eligible. The units will go to people who have not lived in Westport, and Westport will have wasted Baron’s South.

Proposed housing at Baron's South.

Proposed housing at Baron’s South.

This is not a judgment. It is the truth. Even 1st Selectman Jim Marpe wrote about this in Friday’s Westport News. If the text amendment is not changed it truly “screws” Westport.  We give away valuable land with no benefit to Westport. Very few Westport senior citizens will live in this facility, which will be built as a Class B type building. This is not anything we would be proud to have in Westport.

To add insult to injury, there is no tax revenue for Westport. It is a disaster.

The new text amendment that needs to be passed by P&Z addresses these issues. If the new text amendment gets passed, the town will have the opportunity to get a quality senior living center that will house Westport residents. It will be a Class A building and add to our town.

Since the developer will make money, once completed the facility is projected to be the 3rd largest taxpayer in Westport.  Our schools will benefit. Our residents will benefit. But, more importantly our senior citizens will benefit. It is a win-win solution.

The current circumstances have created a terrible situation for town-owned land. Every selectman is in favor of approving the new text amendment — so should the P&Z. Every resident needs to support this. If not addressed now, Westport could give away Baron’s South and get nothing for it.

The entrance to the Baron's South property.

The entrance to the Baron’s South property.

Many residents and town leaders have worked hard on this project. We must thank them for their efforts. The mistake that P & Z needs to correct is the amount of affordable housing. It is a mistake I and others tried to highlight a few years back.

The existing text amendment that was passed locked the town into an asset test that will now truly eliminate the people they wanted to help: Westport senior citizens. Those who disagreed with me back then, now understand the issue.  Westport has an opportunity to change the situation and make this facility a real benefit to the town and our senior citizens.  Our selectmen took the time to analyze the project, and they all understand what is needed. Westport’s board of selectmen unanimously voted on this subject.

Westport needs the text amendment changed. I hope you will help. Westport could face the loss of Baron’s South forever for the correct intent, but the wrong reasons. However, Westport now has the opportunity to build a Class A facility that will allow Westport senior citizens a place to retire, while also giving something to Westport.

Looking Down On Westport

This weekend’s charrette — a chance for ordinary Westporters* to speak up about the future of downtown — features a walking tour, work sessions, panels and discussions.

Wonky, but important.

There’s also a great video, offering a bird’s-eye view of downtown.

Produced by Rick Eason — the Staples freshman who is quickly becoming Westport’s go-to drone master — it allows us to see the relatively tiny section of town, and its surroundings, in a way we’ve never visualized (mentally or optometrically) before.

But you don’t have to wait until Saturday to see Rick’s video.

Here it is:

Enjoy it. Savor it. Think about it.

Then bring your insights and ideas to this weekend’s charrette. (For times and more details, click here.)

*if there is such a thing

The Future Of Westport: Don’t Say You Weren’t Asked

With 2 major planning projects underway — for downtown and the beach — town officials are urging Westporters to make their wishes known.

Sure, you can click on the “Comments” section of “06880.” But nothing beats showing up in public, and opening your mouth.

The Downtown Steering Committee holds a “charrette” this weekend (September 20-21) at Town Hall. Satellite events are set for other downtown locations too.

your-downtown-logoCharrettes are collaborative work sessions in which design professionals, residents, merchants, municipal experts and others discuss and draft solutions to address specific opportunities and challenges.

This weekend’s charrettes follow a kickoff event on Monday. A couple dozen people heard about, and saw visuals of:

  • A park-like walkway along Parker Harding Plaza, with a footbridge leading to the former Save the Children property on Wilton Road.
  • A new 2-story retail shopping center between the relocated Kemper-Gunn House on Elm Street, and Brooks Corner — effectively hiding the Baldwin parking lot.
  • A redesign that cuts Jesup Green in half. All parking would face Matsu Sushi; half of the current lot becomes an expanded green from the river to the police lot (with gazebo and paths). At the top of the green is a new “community arts space.”
  • An area in front of the current Y will force Church Lane traffic heading to Main Street to turn onto the Post Road first.
  • New buildings on the Imperial Avenue upper parking lot.
  • Possible relocation of the police department, and construction of — yes — a new retail shopping complex.
The west side of the Saugatuck River is also part of the new downtown plan. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

The west side of the Saugatuck River is also part of the new downtown plan. (Photo/Larry Untermeyer for DowntownWestportCT.com)

The charrette begins this Saturday at 8:30 a.m., at Town Hall. A “walking tour” of downtown follows at 9 a.m. From 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m.  back at Town Hall, there are work sessions, panels and discussions. From 3:30-6 p.m., “open studio workstations” allow discussions with experts about specific ideas and plans.

Sunday features more open studio exhibits and workstations (9:30 a.m.-1 p.m.), followed by a closing presentation (1:30-3 p.m.).

JP Vellotti — a longtime Westporter who attended Monday’s kickoff — says, “This is our chance to define how we want our downtown to look, and how we interact with that space.”

The charrette will also include a special aerial video of downtown, produced by Staples freshman Rick Eason. For more information on the charrette, click on www.downtownwestportct.com.

Rick Eason's video shows downtown from an angle never before seen.

Rick Eason’s video shows downtown from an angle never before seen.

Then, on Monday, September 29 (7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee presents its recommended draft master plan to the Parks and Recreation Commission. Public comment is invited.

The Commission will make formal recommendations to the committee at a future public meeting. “It is important that the commissioners have sufficient time to digest the recommendations of the committee and the public input,” says Parks & Rec Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh.

The full draft of the master plan is available at www.compobeach2.com.

Both downtown and the beach are important, and vital, parts of Westport. The changes to one (or both) may be large (or small).

How close they come to what you want may depend on how clearly (and strongly) you (and your neighbors) express yourselves.

Day On Bald Mountain

Jono Walker’s family — the Bennetts — settled in Westport in the 1700s. They lived on South Compo Road through the early 21st century.

Jono is in Pennsylvania now, but his roots here remain strong. The other day, Googling for background info on a piece he’s writing, he found a few “06880” posts about Bald Mountain. He sent along this excerpt from his longer story.

Skonk!

My snowball splattered the middle of another Redcoat’s roof. Not a bad shot.

Snow-packed Imperial Avenue was directly below the steep hill I perched on top of. It was harder than you’d think for this wily Minuteman, on his home terrain, to hit the hapless British soldiers. I’d been at it for half an hour, and hadn’t made a perfect shot — the driver’s side windshield — but the accuracy of my sniper fire on that blustery February morning was steadily improving.

The site of this ambuscade was Bald Mountain, a 90-foot promontory overlooking the Saugatuck River. The name always confused me. The rounded top of the bean-shaped hill was covered in towering hemlocks, looking nothing close to bald.

blog - Bald Mountain

From its summit I peered over the brow, at the Gault Field Little League diamond covered in snow. Directly across the river, red-bricked Bedford Junior High and gold-bricked Assumption Church gleamed in the morning sun.

Upriver, I saw the stand of trees surrounding the Woman’s Club and police station. Further away, just over the roof of the Fairfield Furniture Store on the far side of the river, was Old Hill. 200 years earlier 1,000 Minutemen dug in, lying in ambush hoping to wreak havoc on an advancing column of Redcoats.

The Gaults were just starting to gouge out the eastern perimeter of Bald Mountain in those days, felling trees and mining the moraine for sand and gravel. It would take 20 years to flatten the place, at which point they paved a road and built a dozen McMansions on the level ground that had been a rolling hill ever since the last Ice Age.

For thousands of years the Paugussett Indians maintained a fishing and trading post in the “faire fields” and salt marshes around Bald Mountain. They called the place Machamux (“the beautiful land”).

In 1661 the Paugussetts were hoodwinked into selling a portion of their lands east of Bald Mountain (today’s Green’s Farms) to the newly established town of Fairfield for 13 woolen coats, plus a little wampum.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

A member of the Paugussett tribe.

It only took another decade or so for the rest of Machamux — from today’s Sherwood Island west to the Saugatuck River, and north to the Aspetuck River — to be appropriated by colonists. By the early 1680s all of modern-day Westport was settled by dozens of industrious freemen and their burgeoning families.

Among them were my ancestors Thomas, James and John Bennett. They were granted nearly 1200 acres. The land they “improved” ran on either side of today’s South Compo Road, from roughly the Post Road south to what was once called Bennett’s Rocks (the jagged granite outcropping now bisected by Narrow Rocks Road).

Within their property was a steep-sided hill rising from the marshy banks of the Saugatuck River. They eventually cleared it for pasture, and it became known as Bald Mountain.

At 10 years old I knew nothing about this history, beyond a vague awareness of that patriotic military action atop Old Hill. So there I was, armed and ready — a brave patriot using his insider’s knowledge of the local landscape to defend his homeland from the foreign invader.

Bald Mountain.

Bald Mountain.

The enemy approached: a bright red Studebaker negotiating the wide turn around the base of Bald Mountain. My snowball landed with a splatter more spectacular than I could have dreamed, right on the driver’s side of the windshield.

The car skidded along the snow bank. Out sprang the driver, scanning the hillside. He was a surprisingly young soldier — and mad. When he spotted me high above him he shook his fist, swore, dashed across the road and up the hill.

But — like his hapless forebears — this man’s entire military strategy (and his attire) were ill-suited to the wilds of the new world. The enemy was angered and dangerous, fully capable of rendering me to shreds, yet dressed in slippery business shoes, he was completely outfoxed.

I watched his 3 vain attempts to scale the formidable redoubt. Then I calmly turned, melting into the deep and shadowy woods, unbowed and ready to fight another day.

 

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.

Jono Walker, back in his soldiering days.