Category Archives: Environment

Hope Langer: “Those Trees Were Part Of My Roots”

Hope Klein Langer is an “06880″ fan. She likes the stories of “experiences that resonate with all generations of Westporters,” and the “healthy dialogue about community issues” that follows.

Hope has a community issue of her own. It concerns trees: those on private property, which affect neighbors and neighborhoods. She writes:

The beauty of Westport is that it is a place where people come to plant their roots and build their family. Unlike many towns, people come back year after year because there is a community feel that simply can’t be matched or replaced.

Both of my daughters are Staples graduates. I became a grandmother to a baby boy just a few months ago. There are little things that I look forward to doing with my grandson: playing at Compo Beach, walking along Main Street, and taking him for a milkshake at the Sherwood Diner!

Trees once framed Hope Langer's back yard -- a view she loved. (Photo/Granite Studios)

Trees once framed Hope Langer’s back yard — a view she loved. (Photo/Granite Studios)

However, there is no ignoring the many changes that our beautiful little town has faced throughout the years—for better and worse.

A few weeks ago, without any prior notice, the developer of property next door to my home ripped out all of the trees that divided our properties for 50 years.   These evergreens stood probably 40-50 feet tall. and were there long before we arrived 23 years ago. There were at least 25 to 35 of them.

The view now, after the trees were removed.

The view now, after the trees were removed.

Yes, these trees are technically on the developer’s land (by mere inches). And yes, they are just trees.

But having lived in this home at 163 Bayberry Lane for over 20 years, these trees and this home are part of my roots. I am devastated to see them torn down, with little regard for the way it might affect me and my family.

The trees were almost on my property line. Taking into consideration the setback laws, they were not in the developer’s’ building envelope. Though not important to him, they contributed greatly to our privacy and sense of security.

When I called the builder, his response was, “I don’t really care about your property. I am here to make money.” I have been a Realtor in this town for 23 years, but I am appalled at his disregard for our neighborhood and my home.

All that remains of the trees on Hope Langer's property line.

All that remains of the trees on Hope Langer’s property line.

It’s hard to ignore the silent tug-of-war between the new Westport and the old. If nothing else, I hope my story will plant a seed of compassion in those who are in the business of overhauling our sweet town. I hope we can find a way to meet in the middle, and preserve the community that has been such a magnificent place to call home. For example, our laws should be discussed and re-evaluated before Westport loses all of its charm and beautiful mature trees.

I am passionate about the preservation of this incredible town. I will make changing the town’s regulations one of my daily jobs. Laws must be put into place to prevent builders from cutting down mature greenery that has nothing to do with construction of the next soulless McMansion.

Many towns have such rules. It’s high time for our government to protect the character of our neighborhoods — and for developers to display common respect, before clear-cutting nature out of what we hold dear.

Hope Langer now sees the street from her house. And passersby can see her house from the road.

Hope Langer now sees the street from her back yard. And passersby see her property from the road.

Downtown Trees Get Priority Treatment

Remember all the hand-wringing 2 years ago, when trees were suddenly removed from Main Street? And when others were posted for removal in front of Town Hall?

Westporters love their trees. And, true to its campaign promises, the Marpe administration is making sure the next generation of trees gets the care they need.

A company cleverly named “Care of Trees” is deep-watering the roots of 5 new trees on Main Street, with an injection method. One or 2 slow-drip 20-gallon bags of water continue to nurture each tree throughout the week.

Tree care on Main Street.

Tree care on Main Street.

Taking care of young trees after planting is tricky, notes tree warden Bruce Lindsay.

“Their root systems are new. Watering is really important, to help them take hold. Street tree planting requires a great deal of planning, design, maintenance and funding to reach establishment.”

The Main Street trees were donated. The weekly cost of $300 per visit by Care of Trees comes out of the town’s tree maintenance budget. Lindsay says that after this year — once the trees are acclimated to the environmental conditions — watering will not be needed.

“The initial growing years are hardest on newly planted trees, especially in difficult site conditions like Main Street,” Lindsay notes. “Heat is radiated from cars, asphalt and sidewalks. There is limited root space and lower water access.”

The 8 new trees around Town Hall are getting the same treatment (below):

Tree in front of Town Hall

Meanwhile, Lindsay had a company trim and crown clean the trees around the Imperial Avenue parking lot, near the bridge leading to the newly renovated Levitt Pavilion.

Invasive growth was removed, and the area was scoured for safety and higher visiblity purposes. Each tree was climbed and cleaned, in a very detailed process.

Tree work being done near the Imperial Avenue foot bridge.

Tree work being done near the Imperial Avenue foot bridge.

Lindsay says, “People see me removing hazardous trees. But a lot of my job consists of stewardship: trimming, cleaning, watering. We want to make sure we preserve what we have, and mitigate any potential problems.”

Trees — their cutting, growth and regeneration — will continue to be a hot topic in Westport.

But right now, their maintenance has not fallen by the wayside.

Image

Who Goes To The Beach On A Cloudy, Cool Sunday?

Sunday at the beach

A Good Westport Parking Story: The (Unfortunate) Sequel

Earlier today, “06880″ posted a rare good parking story: An electric vehicle was actually able to find a spot by the railroad charging station.

Not so fast.

Ernest Lorimer — the alert “06880″ reader who sent in the original photo and story — provides this afternoon update:

charging station - 2

Seems the owner of the BMWi3 didn’t have a parking sticker.

So while he got a free charge today, he also got a ticket.

Westport is a green town, sure. But also a very tough one.

 

They Said It Couldn’t Be Done: A GOOD Westport Parking Story

And one involving a BMW, no less.

At first glance, this looks simple enough: A car parked where it’s supposed to be:

Charging station

But alert “06880″ reader Ernest Lorimer — who spotted this, and sent along the photo — provides an intriguing back story:

For several years, Lot #1 at the Westport train station has had a charging station.  Every time I’ve passed by, it’s been blocked in by non-electrics, usually Jeeps.  They would have lots of spaces just a step away, but no.

This morning, there was a hybrid charging there! It was the 1st time I’ve ever seen it. I prefer to think that anyone there first was thoughtful enough to keep it open.

Or maybe it was just a case of the early bird gets the cord.

Meanwhile, file this one away for posterity. We may never see it again.

 

Wall Street Journal Knows Where We Live

From the ultra-modern to the very old, today’s Wall Street Journal is all over Westport and Weston.

A feature story on homes with the latest high-end amenity — “freshly circulated, highly scrubed air” — highlights Doug Mcdonald’s “passive house.”

The paper reports:

In suburban areas, a handful of high-end developers of single-family homes are promoting their project’s indoor-air quality. In tony Westport, Conn., a 5,800-square-foot Colonial-style house that will soon list for $2.8 million was built using “passive house” building methods that minimize energy usage with a mathematically precise, airtight building technique, and the strategic placement of high-performance windows to take advantage of daylight and shade.

Doug Mcdonald's passive house, off Roseville Road. It was formerly owned by Oscar Levant. (Photo/Claudio Papapietro for Wall Street Journal)

Doug Mcdonald lives in this passive house, off Roseville Road. Before retrofitting, it was owned by Oscar Levant. Doug has built another passive house in Colonial style,  which is currently on the market. (Photo/Claudio Papapietro for Wall Street Journal)

Inside, the air will be filtered through a two air-exchangers, says Douglas Mcdonald, the founder of the Pure House, the company that built the home. Pollen-free fresh air will circulate into living and sleeping spaces; other air will be removed from kitchens and bathrooms, where odors tend to accumulate the most.

“The air quality is amazing,” says Mr. Mcdonald. Paint, flooring and cabinetry will be made from chemical-free materials to eliminate what Mr. Mcdonald describes as harmful off-gassing. He estimates that the speculatively built home, slated to be completed in September, is priced about 10% higher than a traditionally built house.

(I should note that the WSJ is 2 years too late to this passive house party. “06880″ reported on it in March 2012.)

Meanwhile, a few pages away, the paper gives a shout-out to a very different home.

Jose Feliciano lives in — and loves — a 1730 Weston landmark. The internationally renowned, Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter.guitarist (“Feliz Navidad,” “Light My Fire”) is as passionate about his historic, lovely home — a former tavern –as Mcdonald is about his engineering marvel.

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan in their very comfortable kitchen. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Jose Feliciano and his wife Susan in their very comfortable kitchen. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Feliciano describes his 5-acre property, including a gazebo and barn that’s now a recording studio:

People who don’t know me assume I move around our house gingerly. But being blind doesn’t mean I can’t see. I have a photographic memory and know exactly where everything is. The house is an old, soulful place that creaks and reminds me of my aunt’s home in the Bronx that I used to visit as a boy. It has character.

Our floors creak beautifully … because they’re made of different types of wood. The floors upstairs are pine while downstairs the dining-room floor is pear, the working kitchen is oak and the floor in the kitchen’s dining area is cherry.

Upstairs, the pine floorboards are original to the house, and many are as wide as 20 inches. Back in the 1700s, it was illegal for colonists to take down trees larger than 12 inches in diameter. They were considered property of the king, who needed large trees for ship masts since much of England’s forests were exhausted. Royal surveyors would mark large trees to keep them off-limits, but colonists took them down anyway in protest and used them for upstairs floors, where they’d be out of sight.

Jose Feliciano in his home recording studio. He has a new album out this summer. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Jose Feliciano in his home recording studio. He has a new album out this summer. (Photo/Dorothy Hong for Wall Street Journal)

Our house has four working fireplace. My favorite is in the kitchen. When we make fires there in the cold months, I sit in the rocking chair Susan gave me when we were first dating and listen to the wood burning. I hear the sap sizzling and the logs snapping. It makes me imagine how hard life must have been hundreds of years ago. I also like playing guitar and composing in front of the fire, which warms my soul.

Last fall, we had to take down an old maple tree that was near the power lines, so now we have eight cords of wood. I love feeling the seasons change. In the spring, I smell the greenery and hear things coming alive, like the songbirds and sparrows. The Saugatuck River is just 50-feet wide here and cuts through our backyard, so I can hear the river’s motion and cascading waterfall from our bedroom. The water attracts river otters, deer and wild turkeys to our land. Summer has its own vibrant sounds.

I also love hearing my neighbors going about their lives. Our house is private and remote, but we’re not isolated. We wouldn’t want that. When you isolate yourself too much, you lose your compassion for others. I don’t ever want that to happen to us.

Westport and Weston are filled with intriguing homes. Some were built yesterday; others have stood for centuries. Unwittingly today, the Wall Street Journal has shown the world those 2 extremes.

(Hat tip to John Karrel)

Location, Location, Location

The osprey that calls a Fresh Market utility pole home has fascinated Westporters since April.

Alert “06880″ reader Alan Beasley has waited patiently for the right moment.

The other day he captured the magnificent bird sitting on the nest, swooping off, then returning with a new stick.

It’s a great sight. Just don’t park (or stand) underneath.

Osprey - collage

Green Task Force Says: Go Solar

The Westport Green Task Force is (surprise!) a big fan of solar energy. Today, the organization responds to a recent “06880″ post on the drawbacks of that power source — first by highlighting an upcoming event, then by offering some thoughts on the benefits of solar.

A”Solar Open House” is set for today (Saturday, June 21, 1-3 p.m., 10 Stone Drive, near Clinton Avenue). Anyone interested in learning more about solar is invited.

The Westport Green Task force is also promoting a Group Solar Purchase until June 30, as part of the Thermal Imaging and Energy Efficiency Program.  Westport was one of 5 state towns chosen to participate in this effort, by the CT Clean Energy Financing and Investment Authority. Astrum Solar was chosen to be the vendor for the solar photovoltaic portion of the program. It offers some of the best quality equipment, pricing, warranties and production guarantees.

The program ends soon. So right about now homeowners who are on the fence are asking important questions. The most frequent is: “Is solar a good investment for me?”

This Westport home was retrofitted with a 5 kW solar system using 225 watt solar panels. It won an award -- but is it cost-efficient? (Photo courtesy of SunPower)

This Westport home was retrofitted with a 5 kW solar system using 225 watt solar panels. It won an award — but is it cost-efficient? (Photo courtesy of SunPower)

Before we discuss the cost of the system, let’s acknowledge that solar PV has remarkably predictable returns (electricity generated that decreases your overall electricity bill). There is minimal risk, as Astrum Solar guarantees 95% of the predicted electricity output. Perhaps Astrum Solar can offer this guarantee because it is installing microinverters (which convert DC to AC current) with every solar panel, which helps the system work more efficiently, even in shady conditions. All the equipment is warrantied for 25 years, including the microinverters.

What about the cost of a solar system? Conventional wisdom says the cost of panels will decline over time. But the state rebates that have made solar so appealing up to now have also declined, and are predicted to continue doing so. In addition, the federal tax incentive of 30% is scheduled to expire on December 31, 2016. So now  is the best time to go solar.

As for return on investment, it tends to be 6-9 years for a residential system with an internal rate of return of 9-12%. If you are concerned about financial liquidity there is a lease option, with no upfront cost. You can go solar for no money out of pocket, and save 10% to 20% a month on your electricity bill.

Furthermore, if you produce your own electricity you are protected against utility rate increases. CL&P is scheduled to increase prices by over 8% on July 1. CT is also gearing up to convert most of its power plants to natural gas. It is predicted that electricity prices will increase as demand for natural gas (and the money to build the infrastructure to manage the natural gas) outweighs supply.

Solar PV power can be the way to go.

Solar PV power can be the way to go.

You most probably won’t need to replace the solar panels in your lifetime. Some panels installed in the 1960s are still working, and while output does decline slightly each year, panels are still working at 85% of their original efficiency after 20 years. As for resale value, recent research has shown that homes with solar panels sell for more.

Don’t forget the environmental benefits of decreasing carbon dioxide output by not using carbon fuels to generate your electricity. Chances are, if you are a prospective solar PV client, you have already considered this.

WeGreenWestportBut nothing is perfect, and it is true that when the electricity goes out, the solar panels that are connected to the grid stop working (unless you opt for a battery back-up system, which is costly and has environmental issues: most batteries consist in part of toxic chemicals and must be replaced regularly). The good news is that if your solar panels make more electricity than you need, your electric meter runs backwards, decreasing your electricity bill the next month!

While solar PV is not for every home — especially in Westport, where there are so many shade-causing trees — plenty of homes are well situated. Contact Astrum Solar (800-903-6130) as soon as possible if you have any interest in this program. Contracts must be signed by June 30; the process, including a site visit,  can take time.

Here Comes The Sun? Ed Paul Is Not So Sure.

This morning’s “06880″ post involved energy costs. This one does too — specifically, solar.

Solar energy is getting plenty of press. His curiosity piqued, alert “06880″ reader Ed Paul signed up with Westport’s Green Task Force. He wanted to learn about installing solar panels at his house.

A company called Astrum provided a proposal. Ed was stunned at the cost: over $51,000 – after rebates and incentives.

Based on his current CL&P bill, the system would save about $3,500 a year. At that rate, it would take over 14 years just to break even.

And, Ed notes, “it seems that solar panels have a limited life span. They start to lose efficiency after 10 or 15 years.”

This Westport home was retrofitted with a 5 kW solar system using 225 watt solar panels. It won an award -- but is it cost-efficient? (Photo courtesy of SunPower)

This Westport home was retrofitted with a 5 kW solar system using 225 watt solar panels. It won an award — but is it cost-efficient? (Photo courtesy of SunPower)

He wonders if his situation is unique. He’d like to hear from other “06880″ readers. If you’ve gone solar, did you do it save money? Or was it simply an environmental-based decision?

“I’d love feedback from solar users on their experiences and cost savings,” Ed says.

Click “Comments” to share your thoughts. And — in the spirit of sunshine and openness — please use your full, real names.

3 Times Is Not A Charm

Randy Newman is an avid “06880″ reader.

No, not the singer/songwriter/arranger/composer/pianist. He doesn’t live in Westport. Except for his song “Short People,” he has absolutely no connection with me.

This Randy Newman lives a normal Westport life, in a normal Westport home. It’s 3,000 square feet. He and his wife Jill have 3 kids, ages 11, 9 and 6.

The Newmans are environmentally conscious. “We have Energy Star appliances out the wazoo,” Randy says. “We have LED lights all over. I even yell at my kids to turn them off.”

The Newmans' house.

The Newmans’ house.

A while back — responding to an “06880″ story about energy audits — they had one done. The house passed with flying colors.

But, Randy says, for the past few months CL&P has told the family they use 3 times the amount of energy of an average Westport home.

Surprised and curious, Jill asked friends if they received any reports. They had. In fact, their reports show multiples of the “average usage” too.

The house — built in 1986 — is in a wooded area. In the past 5 years Randy has replaced all the windows, the furnace, his HVAC system,  and the washer and dryer. The Newmans heat their water with oil.

According to the blue line, the Newmans' energy usage is 3 times the Westport aerage.

According to the blue line, the Newmans’ energy usage is 3 times the Westport aerage.

Randy is diligently trying to figure out why his usage is so relatively high. He even installed a TED 5000 energy usage meter, showing real-time consumption.
“At one point I suspected someone was stealing my electricity,” Randy says. “It wasn’t until I used TED that I learned much of my usage was from lights.” So he added even more LED lights, which led to some reduction in usage.

“Do I like A/C?” Randy asks. “Yeah. Do I have a big TV? Yeah — a couple. But 3 times the average?  I don’t watch that much TV in the cold.”

Randy wonders, “Is everyone in Westport using 3 times the Westport average?”

If so, we should change our name to Lake Wobegon: “where all the homes are above average.”

(Gotten a notice from CL&P about your energy usage? Click “Comments” to share your story. And please, use your full, real name.)