Category Archives: Local politics

Recycling The Bag Ban At CVS

In 2008, when Kim Lake served on Westport’s Green Task Force, the group prodded the RTM to ban plastic bags. The 26-5 vote made this the 1st municipality east of the Mississippi to enact such legislation.

Despite fears ranging from deforestation to the cost of potential litigation, Westporters adapted easily. We now tote reusable bags without a second thought, and find it archaic that out-of-town merchants still use plastic bags.*

So the other day Kim did a double take. Instead of a paper bag, she got this at CVS:

CVS bag 1

I got a similar bag last week. I was surprised too.

Kim — who in addition to being an alert “06880” reader, is also an attorney — fished out the old ordinance.

The CVS bag meets — even exceeds — the legal standards, she says. Any retail reusable bag must have at least 40% post-consumer recycled material. This one has “at least 80%” — according to the bag, anyway.

But read the fine print. It’s “designed for at least 125 uses.” We’re advised to clean the bag by rinsing it, then hanging it upside down to dry.

Yes, and after doing that, you and I will read the 57,000-word terms of service before clicking “agree” the next time we download a new version of iTunes!

CVS bag 2

Kim wonders how “reusable” this plastic bag really is. “It looks a lot like a disposable plastic bag that the rule was written to eradicate,” she says.

What do you think? Is this the beginning of the end for Westport’s plastic bag ban? Does the ordinance need revision? Or should we just bag this whole environmental thing? Click “Comments” below to weigh in.

*Except at Stew’s.

Bridging Saugatuck

Everyone in Westport calls it (redundantly) the “Bridge Street bridge.” No one uses the official “William F. Cribari Memorial Bridge” name. (He was a popular cop who, for years, theatrically directed rush-hour traffic at the Riverside Avenue intersection.)

In a while, though, everyone in town will be talking about it.

Preliminary discussions between local and state officials have begun regarding repairs — or perhaps replacement — of the 131-year-old, 287-foot structure.

It’s the oldest surviving movable bridge in Connecticut. It’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It carries 16,000 vehicles a day.

Maritime commerce in long-ago Saugatuck — and upriver, downtown Westport — depended on the bridge’s ability to open. It was a tedious, hand-cranking process.

It also put a lot of stress on the bridge — stress that’s been aggravated by tremendous vehicular traffic, and occasional collisions with vessels. Now its girders are rusting — and possibly cracking.

An idyllic shot of the Bridge Street bridge. Usually, it's filled with traffic.

An idyllic shot of the Bridge Street bridge. Usually, it’s filled with traffic.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation has identified serious deficiencies with the Bridge Street bridge. They’ve got their eyes on it. (And many others — our infrastructure is not exactly healthy.)

Renovation or replacement would entail considerable disruption to a structure vital to our town. (Repairs a while back resulted in a temporary span being constructed adjacent to the permanent one. That’s when a much-needed northbound turning lane was added, coming off the bridge by the old Mansion Clam House.)

There’s no question something must be done. When it is, will other issues be addressed — like the congestion that currently clogs Saugatuck for hours each day?

Will there be discussion of (let’s say) using some of the land at (let’s say) Rizzuto’s parking lot for a roundabout, moving traffic continuously through without a light? It’s been done elsewhere.

“Improvements” are in the eye of the beholder. Would you like to see the old truss bridge remain? Would you prefer a completely new structure?

If you have ideas on how to improve the Bridge Street bridge — and the traffic mess on and around it — click “Comments.” Please use your real name. Feel free to add thoughts on when and how you use the bridge, and what you think of it.

The Bridge Street bridge and environs, as seen on Google Earth view.

The Bridge Street bridge and environs, as seen on Google Earth view.

Westport Mulls Commission On Disabilities

Yesterday (Sunday, July 26) marked the 25 anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

You may have missed it. If you’re non-disabled, you probably never think of it. If you have a disability, you may have been out on a glorious Westport day. Perhaps you were at the beach or Longshore, or enjoyed a night at the Levitt — all easily accessible for everyone.

As a town, Westport has enabled access, supported transportation and provided programs and services that promote inclusion for people with disabilities.

When the beach wheelchair was delivered 10 years ago, then-Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy gave Rotary president Irwin Lebish a ride.

When a new beach wheelchair was delivered 3 years ago, then-Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy gave Rotary president Irwin Lebish a ride.

Now, the town hopes to do more.

First Selectman Jim Marpe, and a steering committee headed by Barbara Butler (director of Westport Human Services) and Jim Ross (chair of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee) are considering a proposal to create a permanent Westport Commission on People with Disabilities.

The group would serve as a resource for people with disabilities and their families, as well as offer guidance to town officials on the development of programs and policies enabling residents to participate fully in community life.

The steering committee has created a short survey, seeking feedback on the initiative. They ask all “06880” readers to click here to participate.

Town Hall Is Out To Lunch

At noon today, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and town operations director Dewey Loselle decided to take their Town Hall office staff to lunch.

It’s Thursday, so what better spot than the Westport Farmers’ Market?

Rear: Town operations director Dewey Loselle, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Sitting: Administrative assistant Janet Suchsland, office manager Eileen Francis.

Rear: Town operations director Dewey Loselle, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe. Front: Administrative assistant Janet Suchsland, office manager Eileen Francis.

No word on whether they went for pizza, seafood, Spanish omelets, tapas, quiche, hot dogs or burritos — all available every week, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Westporters need not worry about the lunchtime excursion, Marpe says. “We’ve got people covering the phones.”

[UPDATE] Remembering Dora Stuttman

Dora Stuttman — a tireless volunteer in Democratic politics for over 50 years — died yesterday. She was 90 years old.

Dora Stuttman

Dora Stuttman

Former managing editor of a national fashion magazine, Dora joined the Westport Democratic Town Committee soon after moving here in 1962. Her organizational skills were a hallmark of her more than 50 years of service.

She served 1 term as DTC chair, organized Democratic headquarters and volunteers during numerous elections, and ran several individual state campaigns.

She also headed Diane Farrell’s successful campaign for first selectman, and Farrell’s 2 unsuccessful runs for Congress against incumbent Chris Shays.

Last fall, the Democratic Town Committee honored her by creating a Dora Stuttman Campaign Leadership Award.

Dora was also a PTA president, PTA Council member, and head of several local boards and commissions.

Dora’s funeral will be held on Thursday, July 9 (11 a.m.), Abraham Green & Son in Fairfield. Following the service, internment will be at Willowbrook Cemetery in Westport. Refreshments will be served afterward at the Stuttmans’ home: 2 Cardinal Lane, Westport.

 

Click below to see Dora Stuttman and Martha Aasen talk about 50 years of local politics:

Ted Diamond To Receive France’s Highest Honor

Bob Loomis is not the only Westporter being honored by the French government for heroism during World War II.

Next Friday (July 3), Ted Diamond receives France’s highest medal: the insignia of Chevalier (knight) of the Legion of Honor.

The award — established by Napoleon in 1802 — acknowledges the longtime Westporter (and former 2nd selectman’s) enduring contribution to the success of Operation Dragoon, a military campaign to free the nation from Nazi domination.

Ted Diamond

Ted Diamond

Diamond was an Army Air Corps combat navigator with the 15th Air Force. He flew 50 missions over highly secured military installations throughout Europe, often leading a group of 28 B-17s.

Diamond has spent the last 60 years in Westport. In addition to 3 terms as 2nd selectman, he was a 3-term RTM member, and volunteered on numerous town committees, commissions and boards.

The Legion of Honor ceremony takes place at 5 p.m. on Pier 15 at the South Street Seaport. The site is fitting: in front of the frigate Hermione, an exact replica of the 18th-century ship that brought Lafayette here to support General Washington.

July 3 is the day before America’s national holiday. It’s also Diamond’s 98th birthday. He says he is humbled by the honor, and wishes the 9 other crew members on his 50 missions were alive to share it with him.

He does call it “one helluva birthday present.”

 

Downtown Plan Nears Final Approval

Remember Westport’s Downtown Master Plan?

The 1st draft of the 159-page document — the result of several years’ worth of meetings, surveys and studies — was introduced with moderate fanfare in January.

Now — after 5 more months of restructuring and reorganization — the final draft is done.

Larry Untermeyer’s spectacular aerial photo in the opening pages of the planning report highlights the inherent charm — and problems — of downtown.

Larry Untermeyer’s spectacular aerial photo in the opening pages of the planning report highlights the inherent charm — and problems — of downtown.

The 44 recommendations from the RBA Group consultants — ranging from big-picture creative ideas to practical smaller improvements — are are almost all the same.

But the document itself is much more intuitive and user-friendly. It includes far more illustrations, demonstrating some of the concepts and proposed changes. The section on storm waters and flooding — crucial to any Westport downtown plan — is deeper (ho ho). The “design guidelines” section has been beefed up with more examples, guidance and photos.

Greater emphasis is placed on management issues — for example, how to implement all these projects, and how to improve downtown services.

A newly detailed implementation and funding section notes — for each project – who will be involved, and which permits to obtain, legal issues to address and approvals to secure.

Finally, there are new cost estimates, accompanied by likely sources of funding: private developer contributions, other private partner funds, state and federal grants, and/or town capital funding.

The Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge looks spectacular -- in this view. The river is one key to unifying all of downtown. (Photo/Alan Hamilton -- William Raveis Real Estate)

The Ruth Steinkraus Cohen Bridge looks spectacular — in this view. The river is one key to unifying all of downtown. (Photo/Alan Hamilton — William Raveis Real Estate)

Downtown Steering Committee chair Melissa Kane and her group have done a thorough, clear job. They have made their plan as easy to understand as possible.

On June 4, her committee voted to accept the report as the final document. Next, they’ll present it to the board of selectmen — hopefully at a nighttime meeting, with all town boards in attendance. That date has not yet been set.

“We’re very proud of our work,” Kane says. “A lot of ‘Westport’ has gone into this.'”

To read the full report, click here.

Meanwhile, here are some highlights:

Short-term

  • Improve and complete the sidewalk network throughout downtow
  • Redesign Church Lane into a “shared street”
  • Support improvements to Toquet Hall
  • Support the redevelopment of the west side riverfront
  • Restore and revitalize Elm Street
  • Coordinate with and integrate redevelopment of the west side riverfront
  • Build a pedestrian bridge crossing the Saugatuck
  • Create a Westport Arts & Culture Heritage “Trail”
  • Improve pedestrian safety at Post Road crossings
  • Improve pedestrian and vehicular safety at Post Road intersections through traffic signal modifications
  • Redesign Myrtle Avenue intersections
  • Improve traffic movements at the Route 1/33 intersection
Traffic often backs up on Wilton Road, near the Post Road intersection. Development of the west side of the river is an important element of the Downtown Master Plan.

Traffic often backs up on Wilton Road, near the Post Road intersection. Development of the west side of the river is an important element of the Downtown Master Plan.

  • Improve the wayfinding system for motorists
  • Develop directional and informational signs for pedestrians
  • Support initiatives to access and connect downtown through transit
  • Provide amenities for public transit passengers
  • Provide bicycle parking in downtown
  • Combine and co-manage public and private parking lots (Baldwin lot with Avery Place; Gillespie Center with old Town Hall)
  • Redesign the Main  Street/Elm Street intersection
  • Change parking from 1-hour to 2-hour maximum in downtown
  • Implement seasonal valet parking
  • Relocate long-term parking to south of Post Road
  • Coordinate flood prevention efforts with neighboring upstream towns
  • Replace existing culverts and pipes; conduct flood audits of downtown commercial properties; control building development in downtown’s flood hazard zone

Mid-term

  • Coordinate with and integrate the library transformation project
  • Transform Parker Harding Plaza
  • Reinvent Jesup Green
  • Provide public restrooms (either on Jesup or Parker Harding)
  • Redesign Taylor Place into a “shared street”
  • Coordinate with and integrate the relocation of the Westport Arts Center
  • Coordinate with and integrate the Westport Cinema Initiative
  • Implement/install standard streetscape elements throughout downtown
  • Create/improve pedestrian passageways
  • Create a new street: Library Lane
  • Build a bridge to connect to the Imperial Avenue parking lot; improve the appearance and safety of the lot
  • Redesign Jesup Road
  • Evaluate implementing a real-time parking information system
  • Evaluate a fee-based system to manage parking in certain locations
  • Evaluate the need for structured parking at Baldwin/Elm lots
Modifications to Elm Street are shown in this rendering. The old Westport Pizzeria is on the right; Vineyard Vines is hidden behind trees at center.

Modifications to Elm Street are shown in this rendering. The old Westport Pizzeria is on the right; Vineyard Vines is hidden behind trees at center.

An illustration of the possible reinvention of Jesup Green shows a pier, and relocation of parking.

An illustration of the possible reinvention of Jesup Green shows a pier, and relocation of parking. The library is at right.

Long-term

  • Place a cafe on the green
  • Construct a downtown landing
  • Create a barge restaurant
  • Extend the westside riverwalk
  • Evaluate the need for structured parking on police station lot or Gillespie Center/Old Town Hall lot
  • Evaluate strategies to combat tidal events/sea level rise

Remembering Mickey Feiner

It’s astonishing that someone lives over 100 years, and dies in obscurity.

It happened this fall to Vivien Testa. A superb art teacher, townwide director of art, and mentor to countless students and teachers; a 40-year educator who began teaching here in 1936, and a Westport resident for over 70 years, she died in September at 102. The 1st notice of her death was on this blog, 2 months later.

Mickey Feiner’s passing was similarly unnoticed. He died April 23 — just a couple of months shy of his 107th birthday.

And what a full 107 years he had!

Born on July 4, 1908 in Springfield, Massachusetts, he began his retailing career at Hartford’s fabled G. Fox. He spent the bulk of his career with May Department Stores, retiring as president of May Merchandising in 1974.

In other words: After a lifetime of working, he retired during the Ford administration.

Mickey Feiner

Mickey Feiner

He and his wife Elaine moved from Westport — his home of nearly 20 years — to Florida. He began a new career in politics, serving 13 years as mayor of Key Colony Beach. He spent 6 more after that as chairman of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council.

Then, in 1995 — around the time Bob Dole was gearing up to challenge the incumbent President Clinton — the Feiners moved back to Westport. At the age of 87 he got re-involved in civic service. Mickey served 2 years on the  Town Site Planning Committee, 5 on the School Building Committee, and 2 years as vice chair of the Greens Farms School renovations subcommittee.

I met Mickey Feiner a few years ago, at his beautiful Stony Point home. Well over 100, he was still working — as facilities manager of a Norwalk shopping center. Yet that was not even the most remarkable thing.

He wanted to show me a news story. So he headed upstairs — very steadily — and found exactly what he was looking for.

On his computer.

All of us strive for a life well spent. In 106 years, it sure seems that Mickey’s was.

I would hate for his death to pass unnoticed. It should be an inspiration to us all.

 

Jim Marpe, Board Of Ed Laud Landon

Superintendent of schools Dr. Elliott Landon announced this morning that he will retire at the end of the 2015-16 school year. First Selectman Jim Marpe praised the longtime educator: 

I have had the honor and privilege of working alongside Dr. Landon for a number of years, including my 8-year tenure as a member and chair of the Board of Education. Since taking office as first selectman, he and I have remained steadfast in our commitment to collaborating and forging a positive relationship with the town and Board of Education. I look forward to continuing this precedent during the remainder of Dr. Landon’s tenure and with his successor.

Dr. Elliott Landon (right) with First Selectman (and former Board of Education chair) Jim marpe.

Dr. Elliott Landon (right) with First Selectman (and former Board of Education chair) Jim Marpe.

On behalf of the Town of Westport, and as its First Selectman, I wish to congratulate and thank Dr. Landon for his dedication to the Town, its schools and most particularly, the multitude of children for whom he advocated. Through his 16-year career as Westport’s superintendent, he consistently raised the bar of excellence and has made the schools in Westport some of the most successful in the country.

His expertise and advocacy for our school system is laudable. Due to Dr. Landon’s leadership, Westport’s education system has provided and will continue to provide the necessary tools for the next generations to achieve personal growth and success for years to come. I wish Dr. Landon much health and happiness as he prepares for retirement.

Meanwhile, the Westport Board of Education released this statement:

We would like to thank Dr. Landon for leading our schools to tremendous heights during his 16-year tenure.  Westport is widely regarded as one of the top school districts in the state and in the nation, and Dr. Landon has been integral to our collective success.

 

Now, for the first time in 17 years, the Westport Board of Education will commence a search for a new superintendent, who will begin serving upon Dr. Landon’s retirement.  The Board is prepared for a thoughtful and thorough search process.  We will take the time necessary to find the right candidate to meet the needs of our students for the next generation.

 

We will conduct a nationwide search, and we will engage a search firm with a national scope that has worked with high-performing districts such as ours.  We have exceptionally high standards for the leader we will appoint, and we plan to involve the community throughout the process.  The Board will reach out to all of our stakeholders, including parents, teachers, administrators, staff members, students and the broader community for their input on the qualities they seek in a new superintendent.

 

We will make regular announcements about both our process and our progress, and we welcome your input at all points, starting today.  The seven of us can be reached at a single email address:  boe@westport.k12.ct.us.

 

In addition to thanking Dr. Landon, we want to thank all of the outstanding teachers, administrators and staff members who work on behalf of Westport’s children each day.  Our schools are thriving because of all of their professionalism, collaboration and dedication to our students. 

 

We very much appreciate all that Dr. Landon has done for our District and all he will continue to do for the next 13 months.  We look forward to the community’s participation as we search for his successor.

 

Jim Marpe: “Westport Not Immune” To Dealing With Serious Racial Issues

First Selectman Jim Marpe issued this statement last night, shortly after learning of the presence of racist flyers in Westport:

I am deeply concerned and disappointed that statements like this have found their way to Westport homes. This kind of racial ugliness has no place anywhere, and certainly not Westport.

I have always been proud to speak of Westport as an open and welcoming community, and I continue to believe that the vast majority of Westporters practice that belief through tolerance, inclusion and everyday civil behavior.

This past year has reminded us that our nation still needs to deal with some serious racial issues, and now we know that Westport is not immune.  I have asked TEAM Westport to work with the Interfaith Clergy, the Board of Education and the appropriate town agencies, to lead our community’s response to these outrageous statements and, more importantly, the behaviors and beliefs that underpin them.

Flyers like these were tossed onto lawns in Westport yesterday.

Flyers like these were tossed onto lawns in Westport yesterday.