Category Archives: Local politics

Affordable Housing: Westport By The Numbers

We’ve all heard a lot about 8-30g — the state’s “affordable housing” statute.

But what is “8-30g”? And what does “affordable housing” really mean?

At last Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting — where members voted unanimously to deny an application for a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex (including 15 affordable units) — P&Z member Catherine Walsh entered into the record a report on that topic.

She noted that Westport currently has “a diversity of housing stock for low income groups, special needs, the homeless and the elderly.”

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

However, 8-30g counts only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years. Most Westport units that serve lower-income groups do not fall into either category, she said.

But they do exist.

According to the 2010 census, 10,399 dwelling units are used for calculating 8-30g “points.” Of those, 9,860 are single-family homes.

Among “single family” units, there are 1,069 documented apartments. Only 7 are deed-restricted, to comply with 8-30g.

She included other figures, including group homes and approved-but-not-yet-completed units, as well as low-income units that do not fully comply with all aspects, yet still serve low-income citizens.

“Westport has always believed in and encouraged increasing the diversity of housing stock while maintaining our small town character,” Walsh said.

Hales Court was built in the 1950s. A recent rebuilding effort added twice the number of lower-income housing units.

Hales Court was built in the 1950s. A recent rebuilding effort added twice the number of lower-income housing units.

In recent years the P&Z took action to “further encourage diversity of housing,” and comply with 8-30g requirements. Members enacted legislation covering mobile home replacement units, and created a variety of zones. These range from 15% affordable, to 100%.

Westport has also encouraged legalizing existing apartments in private homes. Over 1,000 units would benefit lower-income residents, but do not comply with the statute. (Most homeowners oppose 40-year deed restrictions.) Over 200 in-home apartments have been legalized.

The old Saugatuck School on Bridge Street has been repurposed into low-cost housing for the elderly. Those 36 units do not count toward 8-30g.

In 2010 the P&Z passed text amendments to allow affordable housing in 8 split commercial/residential zones. There were no applications until 2014. The Geiger project (Post Road and North Morningside) is currently under construction.

In addition, the town — through its Housing  Authority — has upgraded low-income housing units at Hales Court and Sasco Creek. Hales Court (built in the 1950s) now has twice the number of units (78). Sasco Creek also increases the number of affordable units.

The original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street is now elderly housing. Built (way) before 1990, it is not included as "affordable" by 8-30g regulations.

The original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street is now elderly housing. Built (way) before 1990, it is not included as “affordable” by 8-30g regulations.

In other affordable housing news, RTM member Matthew Mandell sent “06880” a link to an equation he developed (with help from Staples High School teachers Bill Walsh and David Rollison). Click here to see it.

Inputting a few figures lets you know how many units must be built to reach the 10% affordable figure mandated in 8-30g. It works for any town — not just Westport.

Mandell takes his math one step further. Start with a round figure of 10,000 housing units in Westport. Approximately 270 are deemed “affordable,” by 8-30g standards.

To get to the statute’s target of 1,000 units, you’d think we’d need to build 730 more.

Wrong, Mandell says. It’s more like 3,650.

What?!

Mandell notes that the affordable units being proposed now in Westport are part of bigger complexes. Every unit in a new proposal is not “affordably” priced.

So a developer who builds a 150-unit building with 45 affordable apartments has also built 105 that are not. And the town’s housing stock has increased by 150 as well — meaning more, not fewer, affordable units now must be built. The end number keeps moving further away.

“If we built 3 buildings with 250 units each — all of them affordable — we could do it,” Mandell says.

“But that’s impossible. We can’t get to 10% without destroying the very fabric of our community.”

 

Apartment Application Denied

In the 1st stop along what may be a long legal journey, the Planning and Zoning Commission last night unanimously denied an application to build a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex on one of the busiest, most environmentally sensitive corners of Westport.

Concerns about safety and damage to wetlands adjacent to the 1.16-acre parcel at the corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North dominated last night’s proceedings in Town Hall.

P&Z commissioners questioned the developer — Garden Homes Management — about many aspects of the plan. They also appeared miffed that a consultant and lawyer for Garden Homes did not attend (due to illness and a conflict), and that Garden Homes submitted a raft of supporting materials at the meeting, but refused to request an extension so the P&Z could study that information.

P&Z members also refuted Garden Homes’ contentions that the commissioners’ minds were already made up — and that they were opposed to the plan because a portion of the apartments would be deemed “affordable” under state 8-30g regulations.

“We never said we’d fight 8-30g,” P&Z chair  Chip Stephens said. “We said we would fight inappropriate locations for 8-30g. Period.”

Garden Homes president Richard Freedman promised to appeal the decision.

122 Wilton Road -- site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building -- sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

122 Wilton Road — site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building — sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

The Best Small House In America

In one corner, we have a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex proposed for a 1.16-acre parcel of land on the corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North.

Right next to it, we have an 1,800-square foot home, on 1.8 acres. In 1988, it won a House Beautiful contest for the “Best Small House in America.”

That home — being cited by opponents of the planned apartments as much more in keeping with the streetscape, scale and marshland environment of the heavily trafficked area — was featured in a March 13, 1988 New York Times story.

Front view of "The Best Small House in America," on Wilton Road near the corner of Kings Highway North.

Front view of “The Best Small House in America,” on Wilton Road near the corner of Kings Highway North…

The house is 42 feet at its highest point. There’s a 30-foot high cathedral, plus 3 bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, office, 3 full baths, 2 half-baths, sauna, exercise room and family room, Not too shabby — or small, really.

Architect Bruce Beinfield’s “whimsical” design, blended modern and traditional architecture. The view from the rear looks across the Taylortown salt marsh and Saugatuck River, to downtown Westport.

...and the rear view, looking across the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

…and the rear view, from the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

The Times said the land — purchased in April 1987 for $213,000 — passed through a number of owners over the years. During construction, workers found evidence of a house from a half century ago.

Asked why no one had developed the site since then, builder James A. Olson Sr. said, “Apparently people didn’t realize the potential of the property.”

The owners of the proposed 48 apartment complex next door sure do.

Bonus fun fact: The home was listed originally for $990,000. A William Pitt broker said, “I guess some people felt that because it’s small, it would sell for about $200,000.”

Online Petition Plea: No Wilton Road Apartments

An online petition opposing the proposed 4-story, 48-unit apartment complex at the corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North is picking up steam.

In its first 2 days, nearly 200 Westporters asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to deny an application to build on the environmentally sensitive, heavily trafficked site.

Petition organizer Adrian Little — a 19-year Westport resident — lives a mile away. He says, “People in Green’s Farms and Coleytown should be just as concerned about this as those who live nearby. We have only one town.”

Little notes that most residents signing the petition also leave comments. They cite 3 overwhelming concerns: traffic, the environment and aesthetics.

The fact that some of the units will be deemed “affordable housing” is not an issue, Little notes.

“No one is troubled by the notion of affordable housing,” he says. “The problem is the location, bulk, and sheer lack of concern for our environment.”

(To see the petition, click here.  For more background on the proposed apartment complex, click here.)

The Taylortown Salt Marsh abuts the proposed apartment complex at 122 Wilton Road.

The Taylortown Salt Marsh abuts the proposed apartment complex at 122 Wilton Road.

Remembering Doug Wood

Doug Wood was 1st selectman from 1989-93, and RTM moderator before that. However, Westporters just learned today that he died on January 8 in Punta Gorda, Florida, where he and his wife lived in retirement. Before his election as 1st selectman, Wood was an IBM executive.

He chose not to run for re-election — the 1st Westport 1st Selectman in history not to do so after 1 term. He said that if he served 4 more years he would be 67 when he stepped down — and there were many things in life he wanted to do.

Current 1st selectman Jim Marpe says:

Doug set a management and leadership standard for the office of 1st selectman that has guided the activities of his successors, including me. In the 4 years he served Westport as 1st selectman he made a lasting impact on a variety of town functions and facilities, including a no-tax increase objective; bringing state-of- the-art data processing procedures to Town Hall; restoring the tide gates at Sherwood Mill Pond, and establishing a successful composting facility at the former Nike site on North Avenue (now Bedford Middle School).

Doug Wood

Doug Wood

In addition, he enabled the construction of the first Little League ball field in 2 decades; obtained funding for 2 playing fields that were later built at Wakeman Farm, and initiated the Mid-Fairfield County Selective Enforcement Unit, the first government cooperative police effort with neighboring towns.

Further, under the Wood administration, the town obtained approvals and funding for engineering design work for the expansion of the Compo Marina; added 152 parking spaces for commuters at Green’s Farms and Saugatuck railroad stations; revived long dormant flood control improvement projects, and initiated an architect designed master plan for refurbishing Longshore Club Park.

Those accomplishments notwithstanding, I understand from those who knew him well that Doug was a poised, calm and accomplished businessman who placed the needs and concerns of Westport at the forefront of his administration’s agenda.  In the end, generations of Westporters now and in the future will benefit from his insight and leadership.

On behalf of the Town of Westport, I want to express my sincere condolences to his wife Helen, and his entire family.

(Hat tip: Woody Klein’s book, “Westport, Connecticut: The Story of a New England Town’s Rise to Prominence.”)

Small Steps Lead To Big Beach Improvements

Remember the Compo Beach Site Improvement Plan?

Introduced in 2014, it would have included a new entrance, gatehouse, arrival court, main building, plaza area, extended boardwalk, long pedestrian pathway beginning at Owenoke, new marina buildings and promenade, fenced camp area and new camp building, new South Beach pavilion plus bathhouse and central activity lawn, planted dunes and berms, a pedestrian walkway on Soundview Drive, and Ferris wheels and roller coasters*.

It also would have eliminated perimeter parking along the beach, forced the relocation of the skate park, and cost approximately a squintillion dollars.

Part of the proposed plan showed new entranceways, an expanded boardwalk, and a parking area in the center of the beach.

Part of the proposed plan showed new entranceways, an expanded boardwalk, and a parking area in the center of the beach.

If you haven’t heard much about the plan in the past year, there’s a reason. Like elderly Eskimos put on ice floes to die, this one just sort of floated away, into the sunset.**

But one part of the plan — an element that most Westporters seemed to love — lives on.

The other day, the Board of Finance unanimously approved $97,000 to create an 8-foot-wide concrete walkway from the bathhouse to the cannons. The only effect on parking is to move spaces back 8 feet.

The bigger impact — an important one — will be to move walkers and joggers out of danger. Currently, they share that part of the parking lot with cars jockeying for spaces, and backing out.

A concrete walkway will be built between the parking lot and the sand, extending from the bathhouses to the cannons.

A concrete walkway will be built between the parking lot and the sand, extending from the bathhouses to the cannons.

Another $88,500 was approved to bring the 2 basketball courts up to regulation size. They’ll be repaved and painted; LED lights will be installed, and adjustable hoops will allow players of all ages to compete.

If the RTM approves both allocations, work could be completed by spring.

Now recreation officials can turn their attention to the next important phase of the Compo improvement: removing all Canada geese — and their poop — from the beach.

*Well, not Ferris wheels and roller coasters. But close.

** Which many folks were worried about no longer seeing from their cars, parked near the sand.

 

Save Those 1st Selectman Proclamations. They’ll Be Worth Something Someday.

Everybody has his price.

Gordon Joseloff’s is $9.50.

That’s what the winning bidder (out of 3) paid for a recent authentic autograph recently, on eBay. (Plus $4.30 shipping.)

This was not on an official document, signed when he was 1st Selectman (or, before that, RTM moderator). It had nothing to do with WestportNow, his popular town news site, which is online (so there’s of course nothing to sign).

No — Joseloff’s auctioned signature was on a 1979 letter he sent, on official CBS News letterhead, while serving as Moscow bureau chief. Mr. Henry J. Lohrengel of Kansas City apparently mailed Joseloff some photos; this letter was a polite thank-you in reply.

Gordon Joseloff letter

There’s no word on why the letter was saved, or how it ended up in Worcester, Massachusetts, with the current owner. Or, for that matter, why he (or she) decided to put it up for bid now.

That $9.50 bid may sound low. (Another political leader, George Washington, fetched $9.8 million, at Sotheby’s.)

On the other hand, a postcard signed by H. V. Kaltenborn — a very famous radio commentator (like the Chicago Tribune, he called Dewey the presidential winner in 1948 over Truman) — is currently being auctioned on eBay.

It’s drawn just 1 bid.

For 99 cents.

Surprise! Merritt Parkway North Avenue Bridge Work Will Not Be Done By Promised Date Of Late October

In mid-September, the state Department of Transportation installed a temporary traffic light on North Avenue. That allowed alternating 1-way traffic to flow over the Merritt Parkway bridge. Repairs had begun in June, and were expected to be done in late August.

Two things happened almost immediately:

  • Traffic returned to normal.
  • Repair work stopped.

It has not resumed. There were not the promised round-the-clock shifts. There were not 2 shifts. There was not enough 1 guy standing there, putting out orange cones for no good reason at all.

There was no way DOT could meet its 2nd completion date — late October — unless an entire Army Corps of Engineers division parachuted in. And then worked harder than they ever had in history. Including wartime.

Scaffolding underneath the Merritt Parkway bridge -- shown here at North Avenue last month -- has been struck 9 times since mid-June.

The Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge, when actual work was being done.

The spectacular lack of work has continued for over a month. Today, the selectman’s office announced that “unforeseen engineering problems” will further delay the repairs.

With winter coming, the new completion date is “expected to shift to” … June 2016.

And not June 1, you eager beavers. No — June 30, 2016.

“Fortunately,” the news release chirps, “the alternating single lane will continue to operate during the winter months.”

1st Selectman Jim Marpe — whose office has repeatedly pushed DOT to please get to work — calls the latest development “a major disappointment to us all.”

The temporary traffic lights on North Avenue.

The temporary traffic lights on North Avenue.

DOT has told the town “there is no alternative solution at this time.” DOT has assured the town that “it will make all accommodations necessary to leave the bridge job site in a condition whereby snow plows can operate in the winter and that the bridge can be safely traversed.”

I ran the press release through Google Translate. Here’s its translation of DOT-talk:

“Hey, shit happens. Don’t worry. Our latest promise is only 10 months later than the original one. See ya! PS: Hope there’s not a lot of snow this winter.”

The press release concludes with DOT’s official explanation for the delay:

Due to numerous accidental strikes by unauthorized oversized vehicles on the Merritt Parkway (Rte. 15), the integrity of the temporary support system became compromised. The Contractor removed the lower support beam of the system on September 13, 2015 to assess the damage and make repairs. A revised design for a different system providing additional clearance was submitted for review to the District on November 2, 2015.

Due to this delay, which pushed temperature sensitive work into the winter season the Department and the Contractor agreed to resume work in the spring, given the additional challenges, risks and costs of winter weather work. The Town of Westport was also informed and coordinated with to ensure local traffic was accommodated for safe passage over the one lane bridge during the winter.

In the next few weeks the Contractor will conduct dowel bar pull-out tests to verify the condition of the concrete and install additional drainage on the North bound right shoulder of Rte. 15 to alleviate water runoff on the roadway and potential icing issues. The jobsite will be secured for the winter and any height restriction signs on Rte. 15 will be removed or covered until construction resumes in the spring of 2016. We estimate a revised completion date prior to June 30, 2016.

DOT logo

 

Women Represent

Local elections earlier this month were low-key. Most attention focused on the Board of Finance and Planning and Zoning Commission. Both shifted control, from Republican to Democrat.

Our Representative Town Meeting is non-partisan. Still, there was one interesting — and overlooked — result: For the 1st time in memory (probably ever), there are more RTM women than men.

RTM moderator Eileen Flug will be joined by 21 other women this term.

RTM moderator Eileen Flug will be joined by 21 other women this term.

The previous legislative body was split evenly: 18 each. The new RTM has 22 women and 14 men. That’s 60% female.

A local politician wonders if it’s because so many intelligent, highly qualified women have gotten their volunteer starts through the PTA. They’ve learned about town affairs that way — and earned name recognition.

That’s one theory. Perhaps there’s another reason. Or none at all.

The bottom line is: So what?

Westport is blessed with an energetic, dedicated and very competent group of volunteers. They make our RTM go — as well as every other town board and commission.

It doesn’t matter if they’re male or female, Democrat or Republican.

As Thanksgiving nears, we owe them all our most profound thanks.

Public Session Set For Bridge Street Bridge

“06880” readers have weighed in — often, and from many perspectives — on what should and should  not be done with the Bridge Street bridge.

Soon, officials will have to listen.

A public meeting on Monday, November 23 (7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium) is the first chance for citizen input on the future of the historic structure (also called the William F. Cribari Bridge)

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg and Connecticut Department of Transportation officials will offer a progress report on the bridge rehabilitation study report. Citizen participation is encouraged.

The controversial Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Michael Champagne)

The controversial Bridge Street Bridge. (Photo/Michael Champagne)

First Selectman Jim Marpe says:

While the study report is in its early stages, I believe it will be helpful for the DOT to present its preliminary findings with regard to the bridge’s physical condition. This will provide a forum that is earlier than would normally be scheduled by the DOT. Westporters will have an opportunity to express their views on the bridge’s history, significance to the Saugatuck area, and potential rehabilitation options.  All interested parties deserve the chance to engage with the DOT early on in the process, before the DOT begins the critical portion where rehabilitation options and other recommendations are developed.

I want to insure that DOT staff with direct knowledge of the project, as well as the staff expert on the treatment of historical assets, will be available. Recognizing that historical considerations are a concern of many Westporters, I am grateful that the DOT has confirmed that key personnel with direct knowledge of the RSR will attend the session to address questions and concerns.

The project manager, lead project engineers, the consulting firm leading the report, and DOT architectural historian Mark McMillan are scheduled to appear.