Category Archives: Environment

Matt Debenham’s Clean Treats

Eli Debenham is a Staples High School sophomore. His dad, Matt — a fiction writer and teacher — recently branched out into the brownie-baking-and-selling business.

Not just any brownies.

Paleo brownies.

Matt Debenham

Matt Debenham

He got into it via his wife’s thyroid specialist. It took 5 months to come up with a recipe that didn’t taste like a caveman who’s been dead for 35,000 years.

Baking — and selling — brownies (paleo or obesity-o) online is not easy. Matt learned about commercial kitchens (he uses one in Saugatuck, at night). He learned about bar codes, labels, shipping, and thousands of other quasi-related-to-baking things.

But Clean Treats is up and running. So is the Clean Plate Club, a food blog for paleo eaters. (Gluten-free ones too.) It features recipes, links to kitchen equipment, and posts about visits to free-range, chemical-free farms.

Matt’s is an interesting story, about something that (of course) morphed from a sideline hobby into a full-fledged, taking-over-his-life business.

Yet many other Westporters have similar tales. Why is this one “06880-worthy”?

A Clean Treat brownie.

A Clean Treat brownie.

Well, it involves food, which everyone loves. Desserts, especially.

Matt’s doing all the right things, marketing-wise.

And Eli asked me to write about it. It’s his Christmas gift, from a son to his dad.

Merry Christmas, Matt! I’m sure Santa will love those Clean Treat brownies you leave out for him on Christmas Eve.

 

Westport Inn Proposal: Traffic And Safety Trump All

There are over 125 miles of roads in Westport. But through November 28 of this year, 6.4% of all reported traffic incidents happened on one small stretch of the Post Road: between Maple and Bulkley Avenues.

That’s the area with no traffic lights, and a couple of dangerous crosswalks. Four pedestrians have been killed there since 2008.

It’s also the spot where a developer hopes to tear down the Westport Inn, and replace it with a 200-unit apartment complex.

The heavily trafficked stretch of Post Road East near the Westport Inn. Sasco Creek Village is on the right; Lansdowne Condos (not shown) are on the left. (Photo/Google Street View)

The heavily trafficked stretch of Post Road East near the Westport Inn. Sasco Creek Village is on the right; Lansdowne Condos (not shown) are on the left. (Photo/Google Street View)

“This is not a NIMBY issue,” says a neighbor opposing the proposal. Jan Winston is president of the Lansdowne Condominium complex, across the street and a few yards east of the site.

Winston — a 28-year resident of the condos — points out that directly across from Lansdowne is the former “trailer park.” Now called Sasco Creek Village, it is being modernized — and enlarged. When completed next year, there will be 93 units of affordable housing, up from the current 72.

“There hasn’t been a peep from us” about the increased housing across the street, Winston says. “Many residents of Lansdowne fully support” affordable housing.

However, he notes, part of the what is driving the Westport Inn proposal is Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Statute. Known as “8-30G,” it allows developers to add “affordable units” that override local zoning regulations, in towns where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is considered affordable.

“You can’t put another 200 units there,” says longtime Lansdowne resident Mike Turin. “The number of cars accessing and exiting the Post Road in that area will be overwhelming.”

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

Winston and Turin know there is plenty of opposition to the new plan, for many reasons. Westporters are concerned about the impact on schools, wetlands, sewers and the height of the proposed complex. Winston also acknowledges that Westport is far from the state’s 10% affordable housing mandate.

However, he says, “this particular development — with 373 parking spaces for 200 units — is not the way to get there. It terrifies us.”

He foresees tremendous traffic issues. It’s simply too dense for the 2.4-acre property. Lansdowne, he  notes, has 90 units on 34 acres.

So where could the next affordable housing complex in Westport be built?

“I have no clue,” Winston admits. “I don’t pretend to be a surrogate for the P&Z.

“I just want to know 2 things. What are the rules — not only for affordable housing, but safety on this really dangerous stretch of road? And how does the town get to the right goal?”

 

 

Gotta Hand It To Our Dump

It may not be the only one of its kind in the country, but Westport’s dump could be the most interesting since Arlo Guthrie and Alice visited theirs that famous Thanksgiving years ago.

Consider:

  • We don’t call it a dump. It’s a “transfer station.”
  • Sure, there are trucks and Suburbans. But there are also plenty of Range Rovers, BMWs and Mercedeses, plus the occasional Tesla, Maserati, Rolls and Bentley. All are driven by “normal” Westporters, trash in tow.
  • It may be the only dump transfer station that’s a regular stop for politicians stumping for votes, and non-profits to hand out flyers.

Now, add one more “only in Westport.” Is there another one anywhere with a hand sanitizing pump — and marketing materials?

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

(Photo/JP Vellotti)

 

 

 

Eagle Scout Project Comes To “Fruition”

Who wants to build a pergola at the Community Gardens?

That was the challenge offered to all Boy Scouts in town, by Ellen Greenberg.

Brendan Wisniewski was the first to respond. He wanted an Eagle Scout project that would benefit the community in a lasting way. This was perfect.

After meeting with Ellen, Lou Weinberg and Nick Mancini — all Community  Gardeners — Brendan conducted research online. He figured out the size, materials and structural integrity of the pergola, then created a detailed plan including time frame, help needed, cost and drawings.

Former Troop 39 scoutmaster Tony Giunta helped. Fellow scouts offered their assistance. Guided by Brendan’s father Mark (current Troop 39 scoutmaster) and his mother Jeanne (troop committee member), construction began.

Over 175 volunteer hours later, the pergola is finished. A few hurdles remain, but Brendan should soon join his brother John in the Eagle Scout ranks.

And Nick Mancini’s grape vines will have a home.

Brendan Wisniewski's pergola.

Brendan Wisniewski’s pergola.

(Hat tip to Johanna Rossi)

 

(New) Notable Trees: The Sequel

For years, Westporters wondered what’s up with the very unsightly sawed-off telephone polls planted in concrete on the Jesup Green median across from Matsu Sushi:

(Photo/Google Street View)

(Photo/Google Street View)

Turns out, about 30 years ago a public works director got angry about garbage trucks backing over the median strip to get to the restaurant and business dumpsters.

He planted poles. We’ve been stuck with the eyesore ever since.

Our long Jesup Road nightmare is over.

As part of Westport’s beautification process, Public Works is sprucing up the median. They’re adding soil, and planting trees. Tree warden Bruce Lindsay is supervising the tree work.

Jesup Green median

Sure, there are lots of plans for re-imagining Jesup Green.

But change comes slowly to Westport. By the time we’re ready to reconfigure the area, there may be an outcry to save the median trees.

Because, of course, they’ll have “always” been there.

Saving Compo Acres’ Sycamore

Equity One has been pilloried for its excavation work behind Compo Acres Shopping Center. More trees than allowed by permit were demolished to create a level parking lot. The result: more asphalt, and less privacy for neighbors.

But around the corner, the owner is working to save one tree.

Equity One representative Michael Lai told “06880” reader and town activist Morley Boyd that the company considers a massive sycamore — located near the confusing entrances/exit on South Compo and the Post Road — to be a “defining aspect” of the property. Lai said that Equity One takes its stewardship seriously.

Wendy Crowther's before-and-after photos show the "mulch volcano" (left), and the mulch pulled back (right).

Wendy Crowther’s before-and-after photos show the “mulch volcano” (left), and a close-up of the mulch pulled back (right).

Boyd and others were concerned about  a “mulch volcano”: the tree-killing layer that was mounded against the trunk, above the natural flare at its base. It arose because untrained landscapers did not realize the tree could suffocate to death.

Equity One hired Bartlett Tree Experts to complete a thorough treatment protocol for the sycamore. It includes feeding, and careful removal of the mulch volcano. Work began over the holiday weekend.

So all is well — except for some bark damage:

Sycamore - tree damage

Turns out that Lai saw a woman install an advertising sign for a fitness center on the southern face of the tree. He asked her to leave. He did not know it, but damage had already been done.

A portion of bark spawled off. More came down over the next couple of days. Unfortunately, Lai did not get a look at the name of the business.

Fortunately, the bark should mend in time.

Now, if Equity One could only restore the iconic “paint palette” that stood for decades next to the sycamore. It’s been missing for more than a year.

The Compo Acres paint palette is gone.

The Compo Acres paint palette is gone.

 

Bring Back Needle Park!

After the recent removal of cherry trees and ivy, Westport’s attention has been focused on the former YMCA’s former Bedford building.

Across the street, meanwhile, a sterile little plaza just sits there.

It was not always thus. Back in the day — when the Library occupied the space now filled with Freshii and Starbucks — the corner of the Post Road and Main Street was an actual park. Westporters enjoyed benches, flowers, and a fountain donated by the Sheffer family.

In the 1960s it became known as Needle Park. That’s where Westport’s alleged heroin users — both of them — allegedly shot up. In reality, it was just a great hangout for high school kids smoking a little weed.

I defy you to find anyone shooting up in this photo.

I defy you to find anyone shooting up in this photo.

Now — after several renovations (not “improvements”) — the place is a monument to concrete. It’s even less inviting than the “plazas” New York developers built in exchange for adding 30 more stories to their glass monuments.

Those developers did everything they could to make their public spaces unusable.

The latest incarnation of the old Needle Park does the same.

Library park

As alert “06880” reader Remy Chevalier points out, one of the benches is not level with the ground. That, he says, is “a nasty little trick developers use when they don’t actually want anybody sitting on them and loitering.”

A crooked -- and hardly welcoming -- bench. That's a level on top, showing that it's not level.

A crooked — and hardly welcoming — bench. That’s a level on top, showing that it’s not level.

Remy publishes a great blog, called Greenburbs. It shows what towns like Westport can look like if people in power really care about how human beings interact with their environment.

And make no mistake: Whoever is responsible for that grim “park” across the street from the old Y/new Bedford Square clearly abused his power.

The More Things Change…

Many Westporters are lamenting the loss of 3 cherry trees. Cut down last week as part of the new Bedford Square project, they stood outside the downtown Westport Y seemingly forever.

“Seemingly forever” is actually 50 years.

A very alert “06880” reader found a Westport Town Crier clipping from March 15, 1964. The paper reported that despite spraying, pruning and feeding, a “venerable” tree succumbed to Dutch elm disease.

The "venerable elm tree" frames the Y.

The “venerable elm tree” frames the Y.

For 100 years or more, it stood on that exact same spot: in front of the Y.

The elm tree is removed after toppling.

The elm tree is removed. It was taken to the “city dump,” and burned.

In its place, the Town Crier said, 3 flowering Japanese cherry trees were planted. Twelve feet high, they were donated by Westport garden center owner (and very active citizen) Alan U. Parsell.

They flourished there for exactly half a century.

In 2064, I’m sure “06880” — or whatever replaces it — will run a nice looking-back story on the “venerable,” lovely trees that for 50 years framed handsome Bedford Square.

The Westport YMCA, after the Dutch elm was removed. Note the lack of ivy too.

The Westport YMCA, after the Dutch elm was removed. Note the lack of ivy, too.

 

Sugar & Olives Opens Its Own Farmers’ Market

Sugar & Olives may be Westport’s best-kept culinary secret.

Okay, it’s just over the Norwalk line on Lois Street, off Route 1. But it’s owned by Westporter Jennifer Balin, and it’s attracted a loyal (if quiet) corps of local food aficionados.

Now, the funky dining room/cocktail bar/coffee bar/cooking classroom/caterer is adding a farmers’ market.

Sugar & Olives

Called “Farms and a Market,” it runs Fridays through February. It’s indoor, and is open rain (or snow) or shine. Food trucks also serve up goodies outside.

The farmers practice non-GMO, and maintain organic standards if they’re not certified. Offerings include locally produced milk, eggs, cheese, honey, flour, grains, produce, meat and other provisions.

Sounds like the only things you can’t get at the Sugar & Olives farmers’ market is, well, sugar and olives.

 

 

 

WTF? Alpacas In Westport!

A mother and daughter are enjoying life at Wakeman Town Farm.

A mother and daughter alpaca, that is.

The woolly llama-like creatures came here yesterday from a farm in Clinton, Connecticut. Mother LeMay and daughter Autumn Joy are already getting along nicely with WTF’s goats and sheep.

LeMay (left) and Autumn Joy.

LeMay (left) and Autumn Joy.

In other Wakeman news, steward Carrie Aitkenhead has joined the blogosphere. WTFCarrie is a lively spot to keep up with farm happenings, and read all about favorite animals and season recipes.

Recent stories covered recycling, a “green” greenhouse and chili.

I’m sure the alpacas will get their day in the sun too.