Category Archives: Local politics

New Taxes On Tap Via “County Government”?

Fairfield is a county in name only. Since 1960 — when the General Assembly abolished county governments — Connecticut’s 8 counties are about as useful as your appendix. The only reason they still exist, really, is to organize our judicial system.

Fairfield County is not the same as a proposed regional "Council of Government." But it would add another administrative layer to the state.

Fairfield County is not the same as a proposed regional “Council of Government.” But it would add another administrative layer to the state.

Except — according to State Representative Gail Lavielle — state legislators may introduce a new layer of taxing authority in the state. It may not officially be based on county governments (“regional Council of Governments” is the term) — but the effect would be the same.

Lavielle — who represents Westport, Wilton and Norwalk — says that if passed, SB 1 (“An Act Concerning Tax Fairness and Economic Development”) would establish a “regional property tax base revenue sharing system.”

She writes:

Each municipality would remit part of its local property taxes to its regional Council of Governments, which would in turn redistribute those funds among all of its member towns and cities, according to a formula that takes into account factors including each municipality’s population and property value.

Some towns would gain revenues; others would lose.

Lavielle says that in 2013 — when the General Assembly imposed the COG structure on all regional planning organizations — there was much discussion about its implications. The bill’s proponents assured Lavielle and others that COGs would not be responsible for property taxation issues on a regional basis, or any other level, she says.

But, she adds: “That assurance is not upheld in SB 1.”

(Hat tip: Bart Shuldman)

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!)

 

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.

Eminent Domain: Coming To Saugatuck Soon?

This morning’s post on a recent Town Hall meeting with state representatives carried a brief mention of a proposed bill. It would create an entity — the Connecticut Transit Corridor Development Authority — aimed at encouraging business development within a 1/2-mile radius of rail or bus transit stations.

State Representative Gail Lavielle responded quickly to “06880.” The bill, she says, would “make 8-30g” — Connecticut’s affordable housing mandate — “look like a picnic.”

Lavielle says the TCDA could “allow 11 state-level political appointees to do anything they wanted in the name of transit-oriented development (build affordable housing, expropriate people and businesses, build multi-story buildings, etc.)” — and do it within half a mile of the Saugatuck train station.

And, she notes, it could be done “without any approvals from Westporters or their elected officials at all.”

Uh oh.

Bridge Square is within half a mile of the Saugatuck railroad station. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

Bridge Square is within half a mile of the Saugatuck railroad station. (Photo by Terry Cosgrave)

The bill has been flying under the radar, Lavielle says. She found out about it only because, as an Appropriations subcommittee member responsible for the Department of Transportation budget, she asked about a line item for it.

DOT knew nothing about it, she says. She had to get facts from the governor’s office.

Lavielle says that in Newington — site of a new busway — concerned citizens have started a Facebook page called “Our Town. Our Choice. No to HB 6851.”

train station parkingLavielle believes that the Metro-North/I-95 corridor is a prime target area for TDCA’s activities.

And, she adds, “unlike with 8-30g, there is no appeals process. Not even a bad one.”

Saugatuck has been buzzing lately about plans for Phase III of its redevelopment.

Suddenly, there’s a bit more to buzz about.

(To read the full House Bill 6851, click here. To read Lavielle’s piece about the proposal in the Norwalk Hour, click here.)

Gene Borio: Our State Reps Really Listen

It was not the most glamorous event last week.

But Thursday’s “city hall” meeting with our state legislators at Town Hall drew about 30 Westporters.

Alert “06880” reader Gene Borio was there. And although the subject matter was dry — the budget, transportation, infrastructure — the 3 politicians were very impressive.

State senator Toni Boucher, and representatives Gail Lavielle and Jonathan Steinberg (Tony Hwang was working late in Hartford) addressed many tough issues with “equanimity, intelligence and perspicacity,” Gene says.

Also: bipartisanship.

There was no rancor or petty sniping between the 2 Republicans and 1 Democrat.

The setting was utilitarian, as Gail Lavielle, Jonathan Steinberg and Toni Boucher addressed important local issues with honesty and intelligence. (Photo/Gene Borio)

The setting was utilitarian, as Gail Lavielle, Jonathan Steinberg and Toni Boucher addressed important local issues with honesty and intelligence. (Photo/Gene Borio)

As the legislature balances Connecticut’s deficit, current and future needs, and the necessity for new funding sources, the intelligent discussion covered topics like our tax burden, loss of jobs and residents, Metro-North, and possible tolls.

The panel strongly critiqued a proposed bill that would create an entity — the Connecticut Transit Corridor Development Authority — empowered to encourage business development within a 1/2-mile radius of rail or bus transit stations. Westport alert: It would have little local oversight — and even worse, would have the power of eminent domain.

On affordable housing, the representatives gave kudos to Westport for addressing the issue years ago.

blog - CT sealThe legislators emphasized their support for environmental groups, Sherwood Island and the Westport Library. They heard — and were moved by — heart-felt stories about what happens when people served by the Department of Developmental Services (and their caregivers) grow old.

Afterwards, there was a friendly meet-and-greet. Gene says that one rep noted how gratifying it is to come to Westport, with its intelligent, informed and engaged citizens.

Of course, Gene notes, “we elected them. We’re pretty fortune to have these no-nonsense politicians, who clearly and truly serve in a tough job.”

That’s Hartford. I’ve said the same thing before, about Westport’s public servants.

Washington: Are you listening?

Remembering John Izzo

Westport lost one of its real good guys yesterday.

John Izzo — former 3rd selectman, RTM member, Staples Class of 1961 graduate and longtime voice for what he believed was best for his longtime home town — died at Norwalk Hospital. He was 71.

John Izzo

John Izzo

Izzo ran for 1st selectman as a Republican in 2001, but lost to Democrat Diane Farrell. Four years later he beat Gavin Anderson in a primary, but was defeated in the general election by Gordon Joseloff.

In typical Izzo fashion, he showed up that night at Democratic headquarters — with a bottle of Champagne for the victor.

In 2009 he ran again for 1st selectman, this time as an independent. Joseloff retained office.

Izzo served as co-grand marshal of the 2008 Festival Italiano parade. Sharing the honors: his brothers AJ, Butch and Jimmy. (He had 9 other siblings.)

1st Selectman Jim Marpe cited Izzo’s “love for and commitment to Westport.” He added:

John was personable, outgoing, and gregarious. He was a passionate golfer who loved playing at Longshore or relaxing at Compo Beach. But mostly, he loved his wife and his family. He will certainly be missed.

I last saw John Izzo a few months ago. He was at the beach, enjoying the food, the weather, the scene — and the town he loved and served, so long and well.

(Visitation hours are Tuesday, March 17, 4-8 pm at the Harding Funeral Home, 210 Post Road East. A service will be held Wednesday, March 18, 10:30 am at Assumption Church, 98 Riverside Avenue. Memorial contributions may be made to the Wounded Warrior Project, 4899 Belfort Road, Suite 300, Jacksonville, FL 32256. To leave online condolences, click here.)

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Remember The Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee?

If you haven’t heard much from the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee in a few months, there’s a reason:

It no longer exists.

After the group sent its report to the Parks & Recreation Commission in October, the committee was dissolved.

Now the commission is ready for next steps. A hearing is set for for Tuesday, March 31 (7:30 pm, Town Hall auditorium). The meeting will include public comment.

Parks and Rec chair Charlie Haberstroh says, “The Commission is anxious to move forward and make recommendations to the First Selectman, so the town can implement appropriate improvements to one of Westport’s most popular recreational facilities.”

The meeting will be televised (Channel 79 Cablevision, Channel 99 Frontier), and livestreamed at http://www.westportct.gov.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

 

Westport’s Budget: Reason Reigns

Washington may be dysfunctional.

Westport is not.

As we chug through the budget season, we’ve seen lots of things:

  • Clear, honest presentations
  • Tight finances, with logical — but hardly alarming — increases
  • Insightful questions, and fact-filled answers

Here is what we have not seen:

  • Partisanship
  • Gamesmanship
  • Rancor

There is still a ways to go. The Board of Finance must hold formal hearings on the town and education budgets, before a final vote. Then the RTM weighs in.

But so far, so good. Initial presentations by First Selectman Jim Marpe and Board of Ed chair Michael Gordon were met with praise from Finance members.

Town seal collage

“Thank you for the countless hours you put into this,” said Michael Rea. “You both put in fine budgets.”

“I feel so good about the budget numbers before us,” added Jennifer Tooker.

Westport’s budget process has not always been smooth. Past springs — though none recently — were filled with venom, personal attacks, and referendums.

Reasonable people can have reasonable differences, of course. But it seems that in Westport — if not in Washington — reason reigns.

 

Westport Inn: New Owners Revealed

So who exactly purchased the Westport Inn, saving it from possible demolition and Westport from the specter of a 200-unit, 5-story housing complex? And what did they pay?

The new owner is Building and Land Technology. The purchase price was $14.5 million.

Building and Land TechnologyBLT is described in a press release as “a leading real estate investor, developer and operator in Fairfield County and nationally.” It owns over 50 hotels across the US, and has developed numerous mixed-use projects, including Stamford’s Harbor Point.

Among its “premier commercial holdings”: the Nyala Farms complex, adjacent to I-95 Exit 18. Originally built for Stauffer Chemical, it now counts Bridgewater Associates as its anchor tenant.

“We’re pleased to add the Westport Inn to our local portfolio,” said Carl R. Kuehner III, CEO of BLT. “We believe that the Inn complements our office holdings here, and will continue to provide benefits for local corporations as well as residents of the Westport community.”

The Westport Inn began as The New Englander, in 1960. With BLT's purchase today for $14.5 million, it will remain a hotel.

The Westport Inn began as The New Englander, in 1960. With BLT’s purchase today for $14.5 million, it will remain a hotel.

First Selectman Jim Marpe — who with Planning and Zoning Commission chair Chip Stephens worked to find a purchaser for the Sheldon Stein-owned Inn — said that BLT has “an extraordinary local and national reputation as a real estate investor, and is an experienced hotel owner. It’s gratifying to achieve a result that forestalls previous plans to develop multifamily housing on the hotel site, which we determined was not an appropriate use here.”

Stephens noted that apartments would have resulted in “excessive densification,” as well as the loss of much-needed hotel rooms.

The  Westport Inn recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation. It includes 117 rooms, plus 6000 square feet of event space.

Breaking News — Westport Inn’s 200-Unit Housing Plan No Longer In Play

Westporters have a lot to worry about. But — as of today — the 5-story, 200-unit housing complex proposed for the site of the Westport Inn is not one of them.

The property has been sold. The new owners — an investment group — are presumed to want to continue operations as a hotel.

The sale did not simply fall from the sky. First Selectman Jim Marpe and Planning and Zoning Commission chair Chip Stephens have worked to find a buyer. They hoped to find someone local, who understood the need to maintain an inn — and not add massive new housing on a small-footprint, already-crowded part of the Post Road.

The Westport Inn will no longer be demolished, or replaced with 200 housing units.

The Westport Inn will no longer be demolished, or replaced with 200 housing units.

Part of the initial housing proposal — which was withdrawn, after P&Z commissioners raised concerns — included “affordable housing” units. Developers have cited a state statute — 8-30g — mandating that 10% of every community’s housing stock be “affordable.”

Officially, Westport is around the 3% level. But because of the way the regulation is worded — housing built before 1990 does not count, for example, toward points for a 4-year moratorium from the law — we actually do reach that threshold. may feel there is a sword hanging over us.

Other housing developments that involve 8-30g are in the works. One (temporarily withdrawn) is on Hiawatha Lane; another (flying under the radar so far) is on Post Road West, where several blighted buildings were recently torn down.

Those bear watching. But as of today, the Westport Inn no longer does.