Category Archives: Local politics

Cell Phone Controversy Towers Over Green’s Farms

5 RTM members — including 4 from Green’s Farms, the center of this issue — sent this letter to “06880.” Don Bergmann (District 1), and District 5 members Seth Braunstein, Peter Gold,  Paul Rossi and John Suggs write:

An AT&T cell tower may be located in a Residence AA Zone, close to the intersection of Hillspoint and Greens Farms Roads. The tower will be 120 feet tall. It would loom above the tree line at this “gateway” intersection leading toward our beaches. The address of the site is 92 Greens Farms Road, a private residence.

The house on the left is 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

The house on the left is 92 Greens Farms Road. (Photo courtesy of Google Maps)

We write to engage the public, and to express our abhorrence of a 120-foot cell tower in a residential zone. A citizens group has been formed, and all avenues of opposition are being explored.

Cell phones are part of day-to-day living. They are convenient and, in emergencies, important. Nevertheless, the adverse impacts of a cell tower resonate with most citizens.

Cell towers generate health risks. Also, the size of cell towers, particularly their massive foundations, requires and impacts upon a large land mass.  That will be particularly so at 92 Greens Farms Road, since there are water courses that flow into a nearby pond and also under I-95 to the Sherwood Mill Pond.

The cell phone industry managed in 1996 to secure the passage of very favorable federal legislation. As implemented in Connecticut by the unfortunate creation of a State Siting Council, local communities are severely constrained in their ability to impact upon cell tower siting. Those constraints preclude challenges based upon the adverse effects from electromagnetic fields and radio waves generated by cell towers.

An AT&T cell tower.

An AT&T cell tower.

Those dangers, particularly for the young and those with certain genetic pre-dispositions, are well known, but must be ignored in any site determination by reason of the law. The law also pre-empts local zoning regulations, for example a regulation adopted by Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission in 2000.

Our P&Z regulation makes it clear that Westport does not want any cell tower in a residential zone. Sadly, the law negates the effectiveness of our regulation, except as a public declaration by Westport in opposition to cell towers in residential zones. We believe Westport does not want a 120-foot tall cell tower looming above the trees at 92 Greens Farms Road.

First Selectman Jim Marpe is pursuing avenues that he believes appropriate. However, whatever the town undertakes, public interest and concern is crucial. We need to stop this before it gets to the Siting Council. So please join in this battle. Let us or others on the RTM know of your support. Even better, contact the citizens group by e mailing: notowerat92@gmail.com, or Hope Hageman, hhagema1@gmail.com.

Please engage. Like Joni Mitchell’s “tearing down trees for a parking lot,” this cell tower will also be a blight.

“06880″ readers, what do you think? Dangerous? Unsightly? Necessary? An issue of one property owner doing what he wants with his property, or one where the wishes of a majority of neighborhood residents should take precedence? Click “Comments” — and please use your full, real name. If relevant, include your neighborhood too.

 

 

Skip Lane: “Imagine Sand And Sea Grass, Not Steel And Chrome”

Skip Lane is a native Westporter, former professional football player and current realtor who grew up on Soundview Drive. He’s also a member of the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee.

Yesterday he emailed “06880.” Emphasizing that he is speaking only for himself, he offers these insights into the current — and, he hopes, future — state of the beach:

Our volunteer committee was organized to improve the overall beach experience. Collectively the committee has hundreds of years of experience at the beach, but we all acknowledge that beach life has changed.

The number of people using it all year round, and the number of walkers and runners, has increased dramatically.

Skip Lane

Skip Lane

Our 1st goal is to address these people, and make the beach more accessible for these activities. We think we have done so, by adding a pedestrian path from one end of the beach to the other.

Our 2nd concern is the queuing of cars trying to get into the beach. I think the proposed plan addresses this as well.

The bathhouse is a disgrace. It needs to be updated and storm-proofed.

The big issue of public concern seems to be the proposal to move cars away from our beautiful beach.

If you go to any beautiful beach on the East Coast, you do not see any cars parked along the actual shore. From Cape Cod to Nantucket, the natural beauty of the shore is protected. The beaches are differentiated from parking lots. Why should we park on ours?

Our committee examined other beaches along the coast. We decided our beach would be much more natural and beautiful if we moved the cars back, and made the beach a beach. God forbid Westporters have to walk an extra 30 yards.

An East Coast beach with sand dunes, not parking.

An East Coast beach with sand dunes, not parking.

I recommend everyone go and walk Fairfield beach, Sherwood Island, Hammonaset and most beaches north of that. Compo will never be a state park, but do know that those parks were designed by professionals who had the natural beauty of the beach in mind.

I understand the issue of senior citizens, and I think we need to address them.

But imagine you are in your beach chair. You turn around and see sand and sea grass, instead of steel and chrome. It’s a tad less convenient, but imagine the difference. That is all I ask.

(The committee’s next meeting is Wednesday, April 23, at 5:30 p.m. in Town Hall Room 201. To follow the progress of the committee, and make comments, click here.)

 

Compo Beach Improvement Chair: “We Hear You Loud And Clear”

Town Hall’s Room 201 was jammed like the fireworks today, as the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee met for the 1st time since Mike Calise’s public letter lamenting the proposed elimination of perimeter parking.

Chairman Andy Moss opened the meeting by acknowledging the SRO crowd. He said that the committee — whose charge is to “refresh our much-loved town asset” — would define its success by achieving compromise.

“We have no illusions we will please everyone,” the former Parks and Recreation Commission chair added.

Moss noted that the committee was examining issues relating to safety, traffic flow, improving South Beach, pedestrian and bike access and more.

Early arrivals examined a proposed Compo Beach site plan, before today's meeting.

Early arrivals examined a proposed Compo Beach site plan, before today’s meeting.

An unidentified consultant to the committee described the new beach plan. It includes a new entrance area opposite Bradley Street; a roundabout; an “activity area,” and 700 paved (“or gravel,” she quickly added) parking spaces.

A self-described 52-year resident of the town shouted, “Have there been many pedestrian accidents?”

Parks and Rec director Stuart McCarthy described the desire to keep cars and pedestrians separate. He emphasized that the plan was “conceptual,” and that the town and various boards would make the final decision.

Several speakers noted the importance of easy access to the beach for elderly users, and families with small children. A comment about New Yorkers taking “all the early spots” drew applause.

Committee member Skip Lane compared the new plan to a state park like Hammonasset or Sherwood Island, with centralized parking. In response, several speakers said that what is right for a state park does not work well for a town beach.

That caused an audience member to yell, “We’re fixing a problem that doesn’t exist. Please tell me the problem. I’ve been here since 1970, and I came because of Compo. It’s spectacular!”

Westporters never tire of the views from Compo.

Westporters never tire of life at Compo.

Moss pointed out various areas that need improvement: the brick wall near Joey’s destroyed by Hurricane Sandy; traffic that backs up to Owenoke; port-a-potties on South Beach.

“Rather than fixing things piecemeal, we’re looking at the big picture,” he said.

When RTM member Jack Klinge said that he was very pleased with the proposed new entrance and bathhouse, but had been asked by “hundreds” of seniors to protect convenient access to the bathhouse, Moss reiterated: “That’s coming through loud and clear.”

The back-and-forth continued. Bob Driscoll said, “I’ve been coming to the beach for 80 years, and it’s worked out pretty damn well.”

Every day at the beach is not, well, a day at the beach.  But even storm clouds can be beautiful.

Every day at the beach is not, well, a day at the beach. But even storm clouds can be beautiful.

A self-described “traffic and logistics guy” claimed the committee was taking a traffic and safety problem, and turning it into “a major reconstruction.”

Moss repeated, “I hear the concerns about parking along the beach. That’s very important to hear.”

Recent Staples graduate Hannah Dickison had the last word. “I’ve seen a lot of changes here in 10 years,” she said. “Please don’t chip away at the beach too.”

After most of the crowd left, the committee turned its attention to policy issues. Among other things, they discussed the removal of the skate park, and the importance of parking revenue from out-of-towners.

(The committee’s next meeting is Wednesday, April 23, at 5:30 p.m. in Town Hall Room 201. To follow the progress of the committee, and make comments, click here.)

 

 

 

2 Quick Days, 2 Big Meetings

Whatever your passion — the beach, historic preservation or downtown — Westport’s got a meeting for you.

Today at 5:30 p.m., the Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee meets at Town Hall (Room 201). Based on the 79 comments (and counting) to Mike Calise’s plea to retain perimeter parking near the sand — and 0 in favor — it should be interesting.

Tomorrow (7 p.m., Town Hall auditorium), the Planning and Zoning Commission will hear presentations from 2 committees: Village District and Downtown Steering.

It’s a work session, meaning the public can observe but not participate. Here’s what observers will see:

The Village District Committee, chaired by Historic District Commission chair Randy Henkels, will present information from their consulting group, headed by Steven Cecil from Boston.

Finding the right balance between old and new: an eternal downtown question. (Photo/Craig Schwartz)

Finding the right balance between old and new: an eternal downtown question. (Photo/Craig Schwartz)

The presentation will describe exactly what a Village District offers Westport, in terms of preservation of buildings and historic character. It’s part of a state-funded project to promote preservation in Connecticut; reports can be utilized by a town and its land-use agencies.

Tomorrow’s report may describe regulations and restrictions that have been successfully implemented in other Connecticut towns (including being upheld against court challenges.)

The Downtown Steering Committee — chaired by Dewey Loselle — has asked its consulting group, RBA, to to present Phase 1 of its project. It’s a baseline traffic study of the extended downtown area.

The study will include a computer-animated vision of traffic patterns, which can serve as a tool to evaluate the impact of traffic on forthcoming land-use proposals.

Some of the most infamous Post Road intersections have been studied, including Wilton Road and Riverside Avenue, and Compo Roads North and South.

Charming, no?

Charming, no?

Phase 2 — the vision of downtown, regarding traffic flow, parking, greening of the riverfront, the size and mix of commercial buildings, and residences — will be touched upon tomorrow too.

The train has not yet left the station, regarding Compo, historic preservation or downtown.

But it has pulled in. If you’re a Westporter who cares about this town, get on board.

 

 

 

 

Thank You, Allen Raymond

Allen Raymond has lived on Compo Cove since 1922.

The unique, beautiful spit of land drew his parents to Westport nearly a century ago, and kept Allen here ever since. (He added a house on King’s Highway, which is perfectly fitting. It’s the most historic part of town, and no one knows Westport’s history better than Allen Raymond.)

Allen is 91 years old now, and his heart is failing. This afternoon – the 1st sparkling day of spring — he visited his beloved Old Mill home. It’s rented out, but he sat on the porch, gazed at the rippling high tide and spectacular views of Compo Hill, and reminisced.

Allen Raymond this afternoon, in the Compo Cove home he has loved for 91 years. (Photo/Scott Smith)

Allen Raymond this afternoon, in the Compo Cove home he has loved for 91 years. (Photo/Scott Smith)

Allen spoke about his childhood days on the water, his summers growing up, and the life he’s lived here — and loved — ever since.

What a remarkable 9 decades Allen has spent in town.

He’s served on more boards, brokered more good and smart deals, and contributed more to every facet of life — educational, recreational, spiritual — than anyone since the Bedfords. (And there were a lot more of them than him.)

The Westport Y has named the entrance road to their new facility at Camp Mahackeno after their longtime friend.

The Westport Y has named the entrance road to their new facility at Camp Mahackeno after their longtime friend.

Allen has contributed unfathomable amounts of time, energy (and money) to the Green’s Farms Congregational Church, and the Y. He led the Westport Historical Society into (paradoxically) the modern era, and Earthplace to sustainability.

He has advised nearly every elected official in town, at one time or other. He’s saved many of them from political disasters, and us from the financial fallout.

It is safe to say Westport would not be the town it is — nor would we be the people we are — without the love (sometimes gentle, sometimes tough) that Allen Raymond has lavished on us for longer than nearly any of us have been alive.

Perhaps his greatest gift to the town, though, is the 169 acres on South Compo Road known as Longshore.

Allen Raymond, circa 1963.

Allen Raymond, circa 1963.

Few Westporters realize that our town jewel camethisclose to being something else entirely. In early 1960, the privately owned Longshore Beach and Country Club — with a golf course, tennis courts, pools, marina, inn/restaurant and play areas — came up for sale.

The typical Westport response — build houses! — was strongly considered.  But First Selectman Herb  Baldwin and his kitchen cabinet decided to make a bid, on behalf of the town. Baldwin put his best adviser in charge of the project: Allen Raymond.

The group had to act quickly. In just 18 days they put together a $1.9 million package — then earned approval from the Board of Finance and RTM.  The latter vote was 38-0. (The RTM doesn’t even name bridges or approve jUNe Day unanimously.)

A month and a half later — on May 28, 1960 — Longshore Club Park opened to the public. It’s been one of the town jewels ever since.

As has Allen Raymond.

He is a remarkable, inspiring, truly wonderful man.

Allen Raymond, last month. (Photo/Scott Smith)

Allen Raymond, this winter. (Photo/Scott Smith)

“Old Man Sues Citi Bike, NYC For $15M After Crash”

That’s not my headline. It’s — in its own inimitable style — the New York Post‘s.

The Daily News is a bit gentler: “Conn. man files $15 million lawsuit against NYC, Citi Bike, claiming nerve damage from bike crash.”

The gist of the stories — the Daily News’ is (surprise!) a bit longer — is that a 73-year-old man flipped over at a Citi Bike docking station last fall. He claims that nerve damage in his brain has robbed him of his senses of taste and smell.

He is believed to be the first rider in New York City’s bike-sharing program to file a personal injury suit.

The “old man” is Ronald Corwin — former Westport Planning and Zoning Commission chairman.

Ron Corwin

Ron Corwin

PS: The New York Times has not yet picked up the story.

Dewey Does Downtown

Bedford Square. The library. Westport Arts Center. The Levitt. The new movie theater. National Hall. Save the Children.

Those projects — costing $200 million or so — are all in the pipeline. Some are more advanced than others. But even if just some come to fruition, the look and feel of downtown is about to change dramatically.

Hard to believe that Westport has never accepted a detailed, operational plan for downtown development.

Or even commissioned its own traffic study.

After being sworn in as 1st selectman in November, Jim Marpe formed a Downtown Steering Committee. Adding members from various sectors — architects, elected officials, members of the Planning and Zoning Department, the Public Works director, representatives of the Historic District Commission and Downtown Merchants Association, plus a downtown resident — he gave them the charge: Pick up where the Downtown 2020 group ended.

Downtown Westport comprises a very small section of town. But its impact -- economic, aesthetic and psychic -- is huge.

Downtown Westport comprises a very small section of town. But its impact — economic, aesthetic and psychic — is huge.

“We have diverse views and opinions,” says the committee’s new chairman, Dewey Loselle. “We’re not stacked in any one particular way. I think that gives us legitimacy in everyone’s eyes, and a means to move ahead.”

The committee has already contracted with the RBA consulting group. As they analyze their traffic and parking study — all previous ones have been conducted by developers — they’ll examine all sides of the issue. Does downtown Westport have enough parking? Too much? Is it in the right places? Should we charge for spots?

That analysis will lead to design questions. If we move parking away from the river, for example — opening up green space — does that mean we should deck the Baldwin lot?

The committee will then look at how downtown can become “more vital,  functional, aesthetically pleasing and pedestrian-friendly,” Loselle says.

They’ll also study streetscape issues: sidewalks, lights, public spaces. And, of course, traffic patterns and flooding.

Mitigating frequent flooding is an important concern for the Downtown Steering Committee.

Mitigating frequent flooding is an important concern for the Downtown Steering Committee.

The goal is to have a draft plan ready in 6 to 8 months. Then comes the real debate: how to get everything done. What are the priorities? Who will take charge? Where will the funds come from?

All meetings will be open to the public. Important design workshops are also planned, where Westporters can look at different lighting fixtures, facades and sidewalk motifs, and provide input.

And there will be charrettes — open sessions where participants brainstorm collaboratively in small groups. (Parks & Rec sponsored a very successful charrette in November, as part of its Compo Beach study.)

Dewey Loselle

Dewey Loselle

“We want everyone to participate — not just the same people you see all the time,” Loselle says.

“They’re great citizens and volunteers. But we’re interested in people who are not always engaged in the town, because they have young kids or are very busy. They’re the ones who will be here for many more years. They’ll really be impacted by this. We need to hear their voices too.”

With “high citizen participation and acceptance,” Loselle says — including collaboration with 2 other entities, the Downtown Planning Subcommittee of the P&Z, and the Historic District Commission’s Village District Steering Committee — “I’m very excited that we can make this succeed.”

In fact, this may be downtown Westport’s last chance at success.

“We have a real opportunity here,” the chairman notes. “If we can’t get a master plan done now, we probably won’t for a long time to come.”

He pauses.

“We can guide what’s going on. Or we can let it happen to us.”

The iconic view of downtown Westport. All Westporters are invited to enhance the area, for years to come.

The iconic view of downtown Westport. All Westporters are invited to enhance the area, for years to come.

Trains Suck, But Transit District Ridership Soars

It’s one bit of good news on the commuter front: Though Westporters suffer daily woes on Metro-North trains, many more folks ride Westport Transit District buses to board them.

Combined with after-school increases, the WTD projects a near 11% rise in riders this year. After a decade of dwindling numbers — both a cause and effect of funding and service cuts — that’s impressive news indeed.

From July 1, 2012 to June 30, 2013, the WTD carried 63,000 riders. This year, it’s on track for 70,000. And that includes 3 weeks when Metro-North’s worst woes kept nearly everyone off the rails.

The ridership increases work out to 8.5% for fixed-route commuter buses, and 40% in after-school riders. One of the key after-school routes is to Earthplace, where several dozen students have internships.

A Westport transit bus makes a pickup at Saugatuck station.

A Westport transit bus makes a pickup at Saugatuck station.

Jim Ross — chair of the Westport Citizens Transit Committee — ties much of the increase to the “huge efforts” of unpaid transit directors Jennifer Johnson and Gene Cedarbaum.

“They’ve single-handedly upped the WTD’s game by tirelessly working with state, town and business communities to raise awareness and support,” Ross says.

He also cites a “smart, cost-effective marketing effort” that includes internet and social media efforts, new route and schedule brochures, train station signage, and community outreach programs.

Today, for example, the WTD is handing out brochures — and free coffee — at Westport’s train stations.

The Westport bus shuttle map.

The Westport bus shuttle map.

Early next month, they’ll unveil a “transit info kiosk” at the Senior Center. It will contain brochures and information about all Westport transportation options, from WTD buses to shared-ride services and taxis.

“We haven’t reinvented the wheel,” Ross says. (It’s unclear whether his pun was intentional or not.)

“But this is a bit of proof that if we get information out to people, they realize there’s a need. This isn’t the Friends of the Library. It’s not a charity. It’s public transportation, which is as un-sexy as it gets. But it is a service. Citizens are showing that they want it.

“If town officials really commit to this — if they move from a discussion of ‘Should we have it?’ to ‘This is a town gem’ — we can really move forward.”

As budget season begins, the wheels on Westport’s bus service are clearly on a roll.

The Next Battle? Landlord Blasts Proposal Limiting Downtown Space

Next Thursday (February 27, 7 p.m., Town Hall) the Planning & Zoning Commission will review Text Amendment 672. It would limit the size of commercial tenant spaces in the Business Center District and Business Center District/Historic to no more than 10,000 square feet. The amendment would also preclude the merger of commercial properties or tenant spaces across property lines within these 2 zones.

At least 1 downtown landlord opposes the change. Writing to fellow property owners, the landlord says that passage “could have long-term negative effects on our downtown,” and on future property values.

The landlord continues:

In its simplest form, this amendment would prohibit a single building/landlord, who has a property with more than 10,000 square feet of leasable retail space (either on one level or multiple levels), from combining spaces to allow for a new 10,000 s/f or greater tenant. This applies to reconfiguring existing spaces as well as new projects within the 2 zones — essentially all of downtown Westport.  This  would apply if a single landlord or multiple landlords with adjoining properties wanted to do the same.

The 3-story Gap replaced a failed vertical mall -- which was built on the site of a furniture store that burned down in the mid-1970s.

The 3-story Gap replaced a failed vertical mall — which was built on the site of a furniture store that burned down in the mid-1970s.

The landlord says the following examples would have happened if this amendment was already on the books:

  •  Banana Republic could not occupy its current location.
  • Acadia would have been prohibited from combining 3 floors of retail at 125 Main Street to allow the Gap to move in.
  • Restoration Hardware would not have been allowed to occupy its current space.

In the future:

  •  If Tiffany wants to expand to the 2nd floor retail space above it, it could not.
  •  If Nike wants to expand into the adjacent Allen Edmonds/Theory/Lulu space, it could not.
  •  If Brooks Brothers wants to expand into the adjacent William-Sonoma space, it could not.
  •  If a single tenant wants all of the first floor of 180 Post Road East (the Michele’s Pies building), it could not happen.
One tenant could not take over the 1st floor of 180 Post Road East, according to proposed regulations. (Photo/Cushman & Wakefield)

One tenant could not take over the 1st floor of 180 Post Road East, according to proposed regulations. (Photo/Cushman & Wakefield)

In addition to those individual landlord examples, the downtown property owner says that “multiple landlords crossing lot lines and combining spaces” could also be affected. For example:

  • When Barney’s was in Westport, it expanded its men’s department by breaking through a 2nd floor party wall/lot line, creating a 15,000 s/f store (2 landlords, 2 properties).
  • Talbots expanded its brand by breaking through a party wall/lot line, taking over the old Remarkable Book Store and creating a single 12,500 s/f store.

The landlord writes, “Our P&Z thinks this will create an environment that is more friendly to ‘mom and pop’ businesses. This is not the case. It will only discourage all commercial activity in downtown Westport. Would you lease a space that is 8,000 square feet with an interest in expanding, when you know you cannot go over 10,000?”

The landlord concludes, “There are many ways to encourage economic diversity within our downtown area. However, a regulation change at this point is premature, especially without consideration of any alternatives. This proposal is a knee-jerk reaction to a perceived problem that does not exist.”

“06880″ readers — property owners, shoppers, whomever — do you agree or disagree? Hit “comments” to weigh in. NOTE: Because the landlord has asked not to be identified by name, anonymous comments will be allowed for this post only. However, please keep all remarks civil and on target!

New Party Time In Westport

Though Election Day is far away — right now, it’s far more important to make it to spring — politics is always in season.

In Westport, the news is a new political party. The Coalition for Westport just became our town’s 4th official party, joining Democrats, Republicans and Save Westport Now.

Coalition for WestportThe party focuses on “activities that impact on downtown improvements,” Baron’s South, the Compo Beach Site Improvement committee, the proposed library and Westport Arts Center projects, and beautification efforts throughout the community, plus transportation issues that relate to each of those.

Chairman Mike Nayor and CFW member Denise Torve attended the 1st Downtown Steering Committee meeting as observers, and spoke. They’ll also attend Planning and Zoning Commission meetings, and report back to the CFW.

The party was formed when “it became apparent that dissatisfaction existed with the level of progress being undertaken in town,” Torve says. “Projects were discussed for years, and nothing happened.” She was a member of the Downtown Merchants Association from 2001-04, and says many of the ideas talked about then are still debated.

Downtown Westport is one focus of the new political party.

Downtown Westport is one focus of the new political party.

“There was also a concern that  Westport would go the way of over-development, and the path chosen seemed to be that of least resistance: do nothing,” Torve adds.

“No one in the Coalition favors large-scale development. We advocate for growth that respects the past and embraces the future.

“We plan to voice support or opposition when appropriate. In the long term, we would like to see a P&Z that plans as much as it zones. We support a P&Z that provides a framework for planned and controlled growth, one that can guide developers and residents. We have a role to play with respect to the continued evolution of our town, and we plan to do so.”