Category Archives: Downtown

Baron’s South Fate Could Hinge On RTM

The Planning and Zoning Commission has spoken. By a 4-1 vote (1 abstention) last week, they approved an amendment to rezone all of the 22-acre Baron’s South property as open space.

Now there’s at least 1 petition circulating — probably more — asking the RTM to overturn that decision. Petitioners want to reopen the decades-long discussion of using the town-owned property for senior housing.

The official P&Z notice of the decision will be published Friday. Petitions must be submitted within 7 days of that notice.

RTMThe RTM would then have 30 days to act. The decision can be overturned by a 2/3 affirmative vote. That means 24 of the 36 members — no matter how many attend, it’s still 24.

This is one of the biggest RTM decisions in years. A vote to uphold the P&Z decision means that 22 acres of land — hilly and heavily forested — just steps from downtown will remain open forever (perhaps enhanced by an arboretum).

A vote to overturn the P&Z keeps the door open for other uses. The most recent 165-unit senior housing proposal involved 3.3 acres.

If you’d like your voice heard in this debate, contact your RTM members. Click here to find their emails. (Don’t know your district? Click here!)

 

The Baseball-Playing Dude In Front Of Oscar’s REALLY Wants Spring To Arrive

(Photo/Marcy Sansolo)

(Photo/Marcy Sansolo)

A “Town Forest” Downtown?

On Thursday night, the Planning & Zoning Commission resoundingly affirmed that the Baron’s South property should remain open space.

By a 4-1 vote (1 abstention), the P&Z approved an amendment that seems to end plans to build a 165-unit senior housing facility on 3.3 acres of the 22-acre property. 60 percent of the units were to be considered “affordable.”

Town officials have fought for years to add senior housing to Westport’s stock. Baron’s South — located between South Compo and Imperial Avenue, and which includes the Senior Center — seemed to many to be a perfect location.

Others were just as adamant that it be retained entirely as open space.

The entrance to the Baron's South property.

The entrance to the Baron’s South property.

One — who asked for anonymity, for personal (non-political) reasons — offers an argument that hasn’t been heard much in the debate.

She is “not a tree-hugger.” But after consulting with state officials (including the deputy director of the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) and scientists, she was told that “it would take 200 years to re-grow a true-practice urban forest like this.”

According to the Westporter, all those experts were “adamant that this parcel should be held as protected space in perpetuity as Westport’s town forest.” In fact, people familiar with the property “believe it can be enhanced to become a world-class arboretum.” Grant funding could help Westport “inspire other municipalities.”

The Westporter says, “we either act as responsible stewards of this municipal forest, or it will be lost forever to buildings, ancillary infrastructure, paved parking lots. Mature forests can never be replaced.”

She also fears unintended consequences from construction, such as soil erosion and rain runoff, along with the potential for more land being needed later for ancillary development.

Part of the Baron's South property.

Part of the woods on the Baron’s South property.

The RTM — by a 2/3 vote of its 36 members — can reverse the P&Z’s decision. There will be plenty of lobbying by town officials who have advocated for senior housing — as well as private citizens who believe that 3.3 acres downtown, adjacent to the Senior Center, is a perfect place to help keep older Westporters here.

What’s your opinion? Did the P&Z avoid a slippery slope that begins with construction on 3.3 acres out of the 22? Or is senior housing the right use for what is now open space downtown?

Click “Comments” to make your views known.

SoNo Baking Company Opens Wednesday; Geiger’s Closes

SoNo Baking CompanyWord on the (Church) street is that Sono Baking Company will open tomorrow Wednesday at 7 am. Moving into the funky space previously occupied by Java, they’ll offer a limited menu this 1st week.

Meanwhile, Geiger’s Home & Garden Center has closed its Post Road East location. That’s the end of a long era. For several decades before Geiger’s, it was known as Parsell’s Garden Mart.

Redevelopment plans for the 2-acre site include a commercial/residential complex with 12 residential rental units — 2 of them classified as “affordable” — plus a retail building and bank.

Geiger’s is still open in Fairfield, New Canaan, Greenwich and Mamaroneck. And consultation services are still offered in their Sconset Square location.

From which — starting tomorrow — employees can walk a few steps over to Westport’s newest coffee shop, Sono Baking Company.

Geigers

Talkin’ Trees

As eagle-eyed Westporters spot tiny patches of green* around town, can buds on trees be far beyond?

Probably. But as the temperature climbs near 50 — be still, my heart! — it can’t hurt to talk about trees.

Tree warden Bruce Lindsay recently updated 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and the  Westport Tree Board about “tree-related accomplishments” over the past year.

Among the tree projects last year: the median on Jesup Road.

Among the tree projects last year: the median on Jesup Road.

More than 100 were planted in Westport since last spring. Sites include downtown, Town Hall, the transfer station, Staples High School, Veterans Green, Jesup Road and Longshore.

Many were donated by Planters’ Choice Nursery in Newtown. They’ve provided more for 2015, to be used for Main Street improvements, Parks and Rec plantings, on roadsides, and in Tribute Tree and Arbor Day projects.

Donations of trees, planting services and funds also came from the Westport Woman’s Club, Smith Richardson Foundation, and local residents.

In January, Public Works and the Parks and Rec Department conducted a tree inventory on 200 acres of land at Longshore and Compo Beach. The information — including species, diameter, health, risk factors, maintenance needs and potential threats — will be merged with the town’s Geographical Information System.

Ahead: an inventory of trees on all public properties. That will generate a management plan, to be used for years to come.

New trees will add to the beauty of downtown.

New trees will add to the beauty of downtown.

Westporters love our trees — until they fall on our power lines, grow dangerously old or tall, or otherwise cause concern. Thanks to our tree warden and board, it looks like we’re emerging from a long walk in the woods of neglect.

PS: Interested in volunteering with the Tree Board, or learning more about Westport’s trees? Email treewarden@westportct.gov, or call 203-341-1134.

*A color often associated with grass. 

This Old House Is … Tavern On Main

On Wednesday, “06880” introduced a new feature: “This Old House.” Every Wednesday we’ll post a new photo of an old house. We hope to identify 12 of them prior to a Westport Historical Society exhibit on the preservation and change.

We started with a practice shot — one that exhibit curator Bob Weingarten had already identified:

Lost house 1 - March 4, 2015

“06880” readers placed it (literally) all over the map. Guesses included Kings Highway, Cross Highway, Long Lots Road, Baker Avenue, Hillspoint Road, South Compo Road, Avery Place, Canal Street, Riverside Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, Partrick Road, Woodside Avenue and Wilton Road.

All were wrong. As Morley Boyd, Maureen Aron, Wendy Crowther and Kevin Martin noted, it’s on Main Street. Today we know it as Tavern on Main.

Tavern on Main 2

According to the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism’s Historic Resources Inventory, the building was constructed in 1813 for grocer Levi  Downes. A former wing on the east elevation was occupied by the Downes School for Ladies, run by Levi’s daughter Esther.

The area lacks ownership documentation for the late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, it is shown on a famous 1878 map of Westport this way: “River Side Institute for Ladies, Sophia V. Downes, Principal.” And the WPA archives identify the 1930s owner as “C. Van Wyck.”

Downs House - Tavern on Main

The Historic Resources Inventory says that by the early 1940s, the building contained several apartments. By 1948 they had been converted to offices. The 1954 town directory lists a gift shop, clothing store and 2 real estate offices at the address.

By 1965, part of the building became Chez Pierre. That famed restaurant remained in the space through the 1980s. Since 1996, it is the equally renowned Tavern on Main.

Morley Boyd adds this information: “In the 1920s and ’30s, buildings in the downtown area shuffled about with some regularity (Spotted Horse, Red Cross, Avery medical building, Christ & Holy Trinity parsonage [now up on Compo North, I think], the (lost) house on Gorham Island, the houses in back of Colonial Green, etc. What couldn’t be moved in whole was deconstructed and used in new construction (houses on Violet Lane).”

And, Dan Aron says, in the 1st half of the 20th century the building was the home of Robert and Marie Lawson. He was a noted author and illustrator of children’s classics like “Rabbit Hill” and “The Story of Ferdinand.”

There you have it: Everything you ever wanted to know about 146 Main Street.

Or whatever it was called then.

Adios, Tierra

Tierra — the Latin-inspired restaurant located underneath Spruce in the old Town Hall next to Restoration Hardware — has served its last lobster ceviche, chicken chilaquiles and lamb arepas.

The food got pretty decent reviews. The service was inconsistent. And — tucked away in an alley — it was not easy to find.

However, some of its less-than-uno-año run may be its own fault. One Westporter shook his head at the news.

“They never even put out a sign,” he says. That tells you something.

This was the entrance to Tierra.

This was the entrance to Tierra.

 

Art About Town: It Really Is About The Art

In 5 short years, Art About Town has cemented a spot on the spring calendar. From a small Sconset Square start in 2010 to last year’s exciting reveal of Miggs Burroughs’ “Tunnel Vision” project, the late-spring event draws plenty of attention. And thousands of celebrants.

But though the opening night street party — featuring performers, dancers, live music and art demos — gets deservedly great coverage,  the rest of the month-long celebration is sometimes overlooked.

At its heart, Art About Town is an homage to local artists, and their creations.

Kim Porio

Kim Porio

Kim Porio is one such exhibitor. A 1983 Staples High School graduate and Providence College marketing major, she did not pick up a brush until 14 years ago.

But she studied well with Arlene Skutch, and learned quickly. The 2nd year of Art About Town, her application was accepted. She sold an oil painting that spring — and was thrilled.

Kim is just one of many local artists whose work is displayed — throughout the entire month — in downtown stores. When her paintings were in Loft, she sold 4.

“It’s awesome exposure,” Kim says. “People come from all over. And it’s a whole variety.”

Art About Town artists range from relative newcomers to very experienced. (Miggs Burroughs exhibited in Matsu Sushi a couple of years ago.)

Westport Downtown Merchants Association organizers are now accepting applications for this spring’s show, through March 20. A special application fee of $25 for artists up to age 25 encourages younger participants (regular fee: $35). Staples High School students are especially welcome to apply. For more information, click here.

An oil on canvas, by Kim Porio

An oil on canvas, by Kim Porio

Baby, It’s Cold Outside…

…but Lynn U. Miller keeps us all warm, with these spectacular photos.

While the rest of us were snuggled up yesterday afternoon, she ventured out to Jesup Green, and the snowy riverbank behind Oscar’s.

The results are definitely worth it. Click on, hover over or swipe to enlarge!

National Hall - Lynn U Miller

(Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

(Photos/Lynn U. Miller)

 

 

Tess’ Bench

The other day, I posted a few of Lynn U. Miller’s photos of the library Riverwalk, at dusk. 

I was struck by their beauty. Many “06880” readers were too. But for Suzanne Tanner, one picture was especially poignant. She wrote:

I want to thank Lynn for capturing such a profound and welcoming photo of my daughter’s memorial bench on the grounds of the Westport Public Library.

The bench was inspired by and appropriated with a memorial fund started in my daughter’s name to establish points of figural beauty in and around one of Tess’s favorite places in town — our riverfront library.

Library bench sunset - Lynn U Miller

I want to remind others how important it is to pause and reflect on all of the love that is given to us in life, be it the warmth of a child’s hand in ours or the generosity of a singular smile resonating in the crevices of time’s travel. It always pleases me to see another appreciate the beauty in the structure of the bench and the delightful setting for all to share.

A portion of Tess’s fund has been allocated to the Levitt Pavilion to continue the effort. I am currently searching for outdoor sculptures, favoring any with the essence of poetry, discovery, mythology and hummingbirds to create a Riverwalk Sculpture Garden in Tess’s honor.

If anyone has any ideas or suggestions, please contact either myself (suzannetanner@aol.com) or the Levitt (levitt@westportct.gov). I welcome the energy and opportunity to share in the journey of remembering a most delightful spirit with an inspiring path along the riverwalk.