Save Westport Now: P&Z Denial Of Senior Housing Plan Was Correct

In response to recent “06880” posts — by 2 Planning & Zoning commissioners, and the Coalition for Westport — regarding the denial of senior housing on town owned property Save Westport Now adds its voice. Chairman Sidney Kramer says:

We would like provide clarity to the decision and offer high praise to all those who have, and will, continue to work diligently to address this complicated and challenging issue. In addition, we compliment the current P&Z Commissioners, who are duly elected representatives of both the Democrat and Republican parties, for their thoughtful deliberation of this matter.

We believe that the Commission’s near-unanimous decision to reject this text amendment was correct. It needed to be rejected—not because of political pressure or bias, but because the amendment itself was deeply and unacceptably flawed and would have created far more problems than it solved, all at the expense of Westport taxpayers.

Part of the Baron's South property, where a senior housing facility was proposed.

Part of the Baron’s South property, where a senior housing facility was proposed.

As the town moves toward an acceptable solution, we must keep in mind some of the problems with the denied amendment (see below), many of which have gotten lost in the heat of the discussion. These are things every Westport resident — and most especially our seniors — should know:

  1. The Amendment would have required developers to set aside ONLY 20% (or just 29 units) as “affordable”—whereas current state law requires that 30% be set aside and our P&Z has already determined that 60% is the appropriate number to justify utilizing town land for this purpose;
  2. If passed, the town would basically have been subsidizing housing for the well-to-do, since the income tests for the non-affordable units were very high;
  3. The amendment would have put the town further behind in terms of meeting the state minimum for affordable housing dictated by Connecticut State Statute 8-30G, since it would have increased the total number of units in town without a corresponding 30% increase of affordable units. That, in turn, would allow developers of other affordable housing projects to override existing zoning regulations anywhere in town, given that we would no longer have the benefits of a moratorium on the state-mandated minimum;
  4. The amendment would have allowed a private developer to acquire a valuable town asset (8+ acres of prime real estate with an estimated value of $10,000,000) for a mere $1,000,000 — less than the average cost of many residential building lots;
  5. The Amendment would have allowed for a 99-year lease that contained liberal assignment clauses that the town would not fully control;
  6. The additional amenities being offered by the developer were minimal (a therapy pool not the same as a full-sized town pool) and could not make up for the loss of this valuable asset or the increased problems this project would create in terms of the state mandate on affordable housing;
  7. The amendment would have exempted the entire project (as opposed to just the 29 affordable units) from the current 10% town-wide cap on multi-family dwellings. With 13 sites eligible for the same treatment, we could have easily ended up with significantly greater density, traffic and stresses on our town services (fire, police, emergency, and recreation); and
  8. Although the amendment purported to cover 13 sites, it was primarily targeted for Baron’s South (potentially making it illegal “spot zoning”), with insufficient thought given to its impact on the other eligible sites in town.

Finally, we note that portraying Westport as a place with no senior housing is inaccurate. One only needs to look at Whitney Glen, where the owners tried to get the town to lower the age requirement from 65 to 55 due to the fact that there are too many vacant units and not enough seniors applying.

The Whitney Glen condominiums behind Compo Shopping Center are age-restricted.

The Whitney Glen condominiums behind Compo Shopping Center are age-restricted.

We appreciate that this recent decision will delay things. But in the context of Westport’s more than 200-year history and with such valuable resources in play (for decades to come!), the 6 years spent on this matter is a drop in the bucket. We honor those who came before us, and those who will follow, by taking the long view and acting with great care in managing our town’s scarce and precious resources. Progress has already been made, and the investments of time and effort to date have not been for naught.  If we can solve the problems outlined above, we can find a solution that works for all of Westport.

Yes, This Is A Parking Lot. No, That Is Not A Parking Space

Note to the driver of the Cadillac who stopped her car right here yesterday morning:

CVS parking

You can tell which are the parking spots. They have lines.

And when someone stops and tells you you’ve parked rudely and ridiculously — as also happened this morning — you should not walk right past her, as if she does not exist.

Although, to be fair, there is no sign there explicitly stating  “No Parking.”

Sammy Needs A Kidney

“06880” reader Scott Brownlow writes:

My daughter Sammy needs a kidney. Can anyone spare one?

That’s the short version.

This is the longer version: My 20-year-old daughter Sammy is, like her mother Karen Minkowitz, a lifelong Westport resident.

Sammy is short (only 4-7), quiet, and generally quick to smile. She is intelligent, kind and gentle, and has a great laugh.

What you don’t see are the many scars crisscrossing her belly and wrapping around to her back. They’re a testament to the many surgeries she has endured over the years. You don’t see that she is in kidney failure.

Sammy Brownlow and her proud dad.

Sammy Brownlow and her proud dad.

Sammy was born with congenital anomalies known as VATER syndrome. At some point early in utero, Sammy’s cellular division took a wrong turn. Some lower abdominal organs were duplicated. Others made improper connections. This resulted in the loss of 1 kidney, and structural issues with the remaining one.

Multiple surgeries corrected these anomalies as much as modern medicine could. The surgeries also took a toll on her kidney function. She now needs a transplant.

In spite of all this, Sammy has been doing well. She attended preschool at the Learning Community, graduated from Unquowa School in Fairfield as valedictorian, attended Hopkins in New Haven and is currently pre-med at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

Sammy Brownlow

Sammy Brownlow

Sammy is hard-working, diligent, and honest to a fault. She loves to read, do Ken Kens, learn languages (real and fictional), assemble jigsaw puzzles, play the ukulele, sing and practice archery.

I always assumed I would be the donor, when she got to this point. I am blood type O positive, like Sammy.

In January I began the process. Stress test, EKG, X-ray, blood work, psych evaluation, GFR — all looked good.

But my kidneys appeared strange in the CT scan, and doctors at New York Presbyterian Hospital decided it was not a viable option. Family and friends have stepped up, but no one has been cleared to donate.

Transplant centers are very careful about ensuring that a donor is in excellent health, and able to donate without any impact on their life. The surgery is minimal these days, performed laparoscopically. Recovery is quick. Costs are covered by the recipient. Click here for more information.

The initial step is to have blood drawn, to see if you are a match. If you are an O blood type donor, and would consider donating your kidney, please contact us: Scott and Karen Brownlow, tscott1111@aol.com; 203-221-8442.

 

 

 

The Last Bagel: The Sequel

The last day of September was the last day for Bagel Maven.

“06880” reader Phil Nourie was one of many loyal patrons trying to help out today.

But, Phil said, time ran out. Owner Alex Perdomo rented a U-Haul, and loaded up at 5:30 p.m.

Alex said:

Even though I must leave today, I am grateful for the time I had here. The customers have been wonderful to me, they became my friends and it is my hope to stay in Westport if I can find another space soon. God bless everyone. Thank you!

At closing time, Alex’s very last bag of bagels went to a volunteer from Westport’s Home with Hope shelters. That was fitting, as he often dropped off extra bagels during his 5-year Post Road run.

Bagel Maven

Compo Beach Plan Gets Rocky Reception

A member of the Compo Beach Master Plan Committee called last April’s public meeting — where opposition to new proposals, particularly perimeter parking, surfaced strongly — a “flash mob.”

Last night’s meeting at Town Hall — the 1st time the Parks and Recreation Commission reviewed the plan — was far less contentious. Citizens waited patiently through the consultants’ presentation of conceptual — not final — ideas, and a few commissioners’ questions, before speaking.

But when they spoke, they voiced a number of concerns.

As First Selectman Jim Marpe noted, Compo is used in “an amazing number of ways, and in common.” He spoke of the importance of investing in, upgrading and improving areas of the beach “where it makes sense.”

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Introducing 2 plans — Options A and B — Consultants AKRF and Lothrop Associates expressed the hope that “everyone will like everything,” but cautioned, “no one will like everything.”

They sure didn’t.

Both plans show:

  • a new entrance across from Bradley Street, with permit pass-checking deeper into the beach than now exists
  • a driving loop around the beach, with perimeter pathways for walkers, joggers and bikers
  • an extended boardwalk, toward the cannons
  • exercise stations
  • upgraded bathrooms, lockers and Joey’s
  • redesigned marina promenade
  • unobstructed parking spaces
  • new trees
  • improved facilities (including a bathroom) on South Beach
  • a central lawn for picnics and special events, like Lobsterfest
  • new walkways along Soundview Drive and Compo Beach Road.

Option A pushes all parking back from the beach. Option B removes some of that, but allows some parking similar to what now exists on South Beach.

Both plans remove 200 to 300 parking spaces from the current number, which is around 1900.

Parking is one of the most contentious parts of the 2 beach proposals.

Parking is one of the most contentious parts of the 2 beach proposals.

Parks & Rec chair Charlie Haberstroh allowed youngsters to speak first. Several spoke eloquently and passionately of the need to retain the skate park. It does not appear in the current plans, but Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy said room could be made for it.

Then came comments from older folks. An early question covered costs. New buildings would run approximately $4 million; site work would be another $4 million. (Paving alone — included in site work — is about $2 million.)

Speakers zeroed in on specific concerns: Bradley Street will become more congested. The amount of asphalt and concrete that would be added to what are now “pervious” parking lots. The number of kayak racks that would be lost (none, McCarthy said).

Among the comments:

“You’re sacrificing 200 to 400 parking spaces for lawn and shrubs.”

“Parking and views are there 365 days a year. Traffic problems, they’re only 40 days or so.”

“I don’t understand all the talk about safety. The Sound is more dangerous than the beach.”

John Brandt referred back to an earlier speech. “You don’t fracture a gem,” the longtime Westporter said. “You polish it. We need to find a way to polish this gem.”

Compo Beach: a true town gem.

Compo Beach is a true town gem.

As Compo Beach Master Plan committee chair Andy Moss noted, plenty of dialogue and debate lie ahead. The Compo Beach proposals — which are still only design concepts — must still make their way through the Recreation Commission. Then comes the Planning and Zoning Commission, the selectmen, back to Parks & Rec, back to P&Z, and finally to the town’s funding bodies (Board of Finance and RTM).

Meanwhile, Westporters will continue to debate what they want — and don’t — for the town’s crown jewel.

The dialogue began last night. It can continue here. Click “Comments” — but please, be civil. Debate ideas; don’t castigate people. And use your full, real name.

No, Staples Students Probably Have Not Read “The Brothers Karamazov”

Leon Botstein is the subject of an intriguing profile in the current New Yorker.

Leon Botstein

Leon Botstein

The president of Bard College has instituted a new admissions procedure. Described by one faculty member as “a classic Leon gesture” — meaning “idealistic, expeditiously enacted, showmanly, and absolutely earnest in spirit,” it gives high school students a choice.

They can submit test scores, GPAs and teacher recommendations, like applicants to every other school. Or they can write 4 very rigorous essays (10,000 words total) on subjects like Kantian ethics, economic inequality and prion disorders. Bard professors grade them; students with an average of B+ or better are automatically admitted.

It’s audacious. It’s Bard. And it’s not the 1st time Botstein has courted controversy over college admissions.

In 1985 — just a few months before Gene Maeroff of the New York Times named Staples one of the 46 outstanding high schools in the country — Harper’s magazine ran a 2-page spread of an actual transcript. It belonged to a female student at “a typical affluent suburban Connecticut school, regarded as among America’s finest.”

Staples sealThe transcript was accompanied by withering commentary from Botstein — already 10 years into his presidency of Bard. Staples was not mentioned by name, but among the activities listed for the unnamed student – called, perhaps not coincidentally, “S” — was Inklings. Botstein declined to say whether the transcript was from Staples, but he noted disingenuously that Inklings was a common name for school publications.

The transcript was selected at random from applications to Bard submitted over the years, Botstein said. His commentary focused on what he called the lack of thorough preparation high school graduates receive. “High school curriculums aren’t rigorous and focused enough,” Dr. Botstein claimed, citing the student transcript with “only” 2 years of biology, 1 of chemistry and none of physics. In addition, she took “only” one year of US history as a sophomore, and studied modern European history, and India and Southeast Asia, for a half year each.

A Staples' student took Functions, and many other diverse classes at Staples. That was not rigorous enough, though, for Dr. Botstein.

A Staples’ student took Functions, and many other diverse classes at Staples. That was not rigorous enough, though, for Dr. Botstein.

Though the transcript showed a wealth of difficult classes — Advanced Placement English, Creative Writing Seminar, French 5 Speakers, French Advanced Reading, Functions B and Theater 3, along with all those science and social studies classes — Botstein criticized “S” for not filling her day with “4 or 5 demanding courses.”

And although the student received a 600 on the SAT verbal, Botstein said that above-average scores did not indicate an ability to read critically or write clearly. He belittled her score of 60-plus on the Test of Standard Written English – the highest possible – by noting that she received it only once.

He added that although the high school she attended was a member of a regional association, its accreditation was no defense against bad teaching, poor curricula or inadequate facilities.

Botstein postulated that although the student would probably be admitted to one of America’s many reasonably competitive colleges, she would enter with an education deficient in many basic areas.

Based on a Staples student's transcript, Leon Botstein condemned her for (probably) not reading "The Brothers Karamazov" in high school.

Based on a Staples student’s transcript, Leon Botstein condemned her for (probably) not reading “The Brothers Karamazov” in high school.

“It is likely that ‘S’ does not know what is in the Constitution, knows nothing about economics, can tell you little about the theory and practice of capitalism, socialism or communism, cannot grasp the science and technology germane to medicine or defense, has never read The Republic, the Koran or The Brothers Karamazov. It is also reasonable to assume that hers has been a passive education by textbooks, workbooks and multiple-choice tests, in oversize classes and from teachers better versed in pedagogy than in their respective disciplines. And this is one of the country’s best high schools.”

In an interview with the Westport News, he added: “I have enormous respect for (Staples).”

The reaction on campus was primarily eye-rolling and head-shaking. If the state of high school education was so bad, students and staff wondered, why would Botstein have such respect for a school like Staples? And, if students – or, let’s say, presidents — at a highly regarded college such as Bard made leaps of assumption about, let’s say, high school pedagogy and class size based solely on the names of courses on a transcript, what did that say about their own capacity for critical, independent thinking?

Guidance counselors predicted a dip in Staples applications to Bard.

Full House For Parks & Rec Meeting

It’s perhaps the biggest turnout ever for a Parks & Recreation Commission session.

And one of the biggest in memory for any public meeting.

The Town Hall full house turned out to hear — and comment on — 2 draft proposals for improvements to Compo Beach.

At 9:05 p.m., the public got to speak. Parks & Rec Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh gave the 1st slots to “anyone under 15 years old.” A number of teens advocated for the skate park, which is not in the current plans.

Another teenager, Theo Koskoff, said simply, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Plenty of other Westporters lined up to speak on other parts of the proposal, such as perimeter parking, the new entrance opposite Bradley Street, and changes to the marina.

A full report will appear in “06880” tomorrow morning.

But one thing was already clear: No one is planning to do anything to the cannons.

The scene at Town Hall.

The scene at Town Hall.

Check Out These Robots!

The Westport Library long ago branched out from books, newspapers and magazines.

From a fantastic art collection to DVDs, CDs and Blu-rays, to a cutting-edge Maker space and 3D printer, our li’l ol’ library has served a broad range of interests, tastes and technologies.

Get ready now for robots.

The Wall Street Journal reported today that library officials have acquired a pair of humanoid NAO Evolution robots. The main object is to teach “the kind of coding and computer programming skills required to animate such machines.”

One of the Westport library's new robots. (Photo/Danny Ghitis for the Wall Street Journal)

One of the Westport library’s new robots. (Photo/Danny Ghitis for the Wall Street Journal)

Westport, the WSJ says, is the first public library in the nation to offer instruction using “sophisticated humanoid bots made by the French robotics firm Aldebaran.”

According to library director Maxine Bleiweis, robotics is the next big technology — so it should be made accessible to everyone, to learn about it.

Bleiweis adds that from economic and job development perspectives, this is an important step.

The library will debut the robots October 11, with programs and workshops to follow.

Unless the robots have other ideas.

(Click on the full Wall Street Journal story.)

Coalition For Westport: P&Z Can’t “Reject Progress”

Denise Torve — chair of the Coalition for Westport — weighs in on the Planning & Zoning Commission’s 6-1 defeat of a proposal to build senior housing on the Baron’s South property. Saying the P&Z “may have nailed the coffin lid on the subject of senior housing,” she writes:

In the 2013 campaign, the Coalition spoke often of an active, not static vision for Westport that considered the needs now and in the future, of all Westporters. Instead we have a commission that seems bent on obstruction. It is comprised for the most part of individuals who, in spite of their explanations to the contrary, are dedicated to the reactionary philosophy that change is bad and Westport must be “preserved” in its original state. The rejected proposal for senior housing and recreational facilities on town-owned land would have been a plus for seniors, a positive motivation for the developer and brought significant revenues to the Town.

The public response of P&Z commissioner David Lessing, who was the sole vote in favor of the text amendment, made for interesting reading. It’s also déjà vu. Lessing’s views mirror CFW’s platform of last year’s campaign. Indeed, the Coalition was founded on the idea that Westport was in dire need of a Planning & Zoning Commission that would proactively plan for the future. The Coalition issued an urgent call for a P&Z that provides a “framework for planned and controlled growth.”

The senior housing project was first proposed 6 years ago by then-First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, and strongly supported by our current First Selectman, Jim Marpe. In order to save this project the P&Z must be willing to enter into discussion and dialogue with the Selectman’s Office, the Board of Finance and other officials. Otherwise, 6 sitting P&Z commissioners will have undermined 6 years of work and the hopes of many Westport seniors.

We support the Selectman. We echo his thoughts on the subject and call for efforts to begin immediately to craft a solution. If the best use of Baron’s South is a facility for people to use, enjoy and remain in Westport, we as a community must resolve to make it happen.  As it stands we have no new facilities for a significant segment of our population, and we have no new revenue. So much to gain and so little achieved.

An artist's rendering of the now-rejected senior housing complex on Baron's South.

An artist’s rendering of the now-rejected senior housing complex on Baron’s South.

The Coalition stands for a P&Z that is engaged, and against one that is merely reactive and dedicated to preserving Westport in a fossilized state. Yes, we live in a town with a unique character. Yes, that character should be preserved. But no, that does not mean we should reject progress, improvements and benefits that inure to various segments of our population and to the town as a whole. Our elected officials must keep an eye to the future, and plan for the needs of both our current and future residents. Westport must remain attractive for us and to generations that follow.

Coalition for WestportThe Coalition stands for open discussion, free of partisanship about projects that affect the quality of life and value to Westport. We reject intra-agency back-biting and competitiveness. We reject motivations that diverge from anything but the best interests of the Town and its residents. In the 2013 campaign CFW referred often to the consequences that would ensue from a 7-member P&Z, all of whom were endorsed by the one party that is opposed to new development. Westport missed an opportunity last year to have a P&Z comprised of a number of non-partisan members – Republicans, Democrats, Independents. Hopefully, this will be rectified in the next election.

With the downtown development project moving swiftly along, ably led by Melissa Kane of the Downtown Steering Committee, the P&Z must take a proactive role and listen to the entire community and not focus on the views of one group. The Downtown project cannot follow in the path of Baron’s South.  Westporters deserve more from our elected officials.

Isaac Stein Sets The Criterion

With his University of Chicago classes starting much later than most other schools’ — this week — Isaac Stein might have spent the last month Snapchatting or sleeping in.

The 2012 Staples grad did neither. Instead, he sparked a journalistic renaissance in a Bridgeport high school.

Writing was always Isaac’s passion. As a senior writer and web editor-in-chief for the Staples school newspaper, Inklings, he fought student disenfranchisement, and crusaded for change on many fronts.

One memorable story exposed Matsu Sushi’s policy of tacking tips onto teenagers’ bills — without telling them ahead of time.

At Chicago, Isaac became news editor of The MaroonThis summer, back home, he worked at the Minuteman. Looking at public schools’ website, he noticed Central High School’s excellent online archives. One issue, from the 1990s, featured front-page stories on a Laotian student’s immigration issues and the AIDS Quilt exhibit.

But, Isaac learned, the Criterion had been defunct since 2001, when Central’s journalism class was cut.

Central High School in Bridgeport.

Central High School in Bridgeport.

Isaac is a firm believer in the power of high school journalism to give students a voice, and foster social justice. He met Central principal Eric Graf, who put him in touch with English department co-chair Joe Jeffery.

When school started, Isaac visited English classrooms (including that of Westporter Andy McConnell). He preached his vision of a new Criterion. 

Almost immediately, 30 teenagers showed up at twice-weekly meetings. Isaac taught them the basics. They took it from there.

The online paper — www.bptcriterion.com — has featured an op-ed piece on Ferguson, sexism and the appropriation of the word “ghetto.” It’s a lively, provocative paper. Isaac gives all the credit to the students — most of whom are just a couple of years younger than he.

Isaac Stein (left) and J.P. Rossi, Criterion's editor-in-chief.

Isaac Stein (left) and J.P. Rossi, Criterion’s editor-in-chief.

Isaac has been impressed with their talent, enthusiasm, and level of respect. He also bristles at stereotypes.

“Before I went in, people said, ‘Don’t go there. They’re a bunch of animals,'” he says.

“That’s not-so-veiled racism. And it’s very disturbing.”

Isaac loves his students’ creativity and intelligence, and the “raw people power” he sees. He’s disturbed at the obstacles they face. But he’s amazed, for example, that there is no centralized email system, making communication difficult.

When Isaac played basketball at Staples, he and his teammates had to pass through metal detectors at Central. That was the only contact he had with the school.

Now, he knows, students wait 40 minutes before class every day at those metal detectors. “That’s 3 1/2 hours a week of dead weight, lost time,” he says. “Staples has 12 doors, and everyone walks right through. I never thought about that.”

His young writers are already working on a news story and op-ed piece about that issue.

It will run without Isaac, however. He’s finally back at Chicago, ready to start classes.

But — hundreds of miles away — his legacy lives on. An editor-in chief has been chosen for the Criterion. A permanent advisor has been named.

And funds have been promised for the next 2 years.