Category Archives: Local politics

Golden Shadows, Compo Acres, And Eternal Vigilance

Planning and Zoning Commission meetings are often humdrum affairs. Applications are presented, text amendments debated, building sites approved. Much of the action is conducted not in English, but Legalese.

Occasionally, however, real interesting stuff happens. That was the case last Thursday.

At the end of a P&Z session — right before adjourning — chairman Chip Stephens announced 2 extra pieces of business.

First, he talked about the houses on Baron’s South. The property has already been approved for senior housing — which may be built in time for today’s kindergartners to use — but in the meantime, he’s concerned about 3 houses there.

Calling them “beautiful and historic,” Chip noted that the Baron’s old residence — yes, there was an actual baron; he was a perfume magnate, and named his home “Golden Shadows” after one of his creations — is in disrepair.

Westporters toured Golden Shadows several years ago, after the town bought  the property.

Westporters toured Golden Shadows several years ago, after the town bought the property.

The library is storing books inside, and the weight has caused part of the foundation to crack. Copper gutters have been stolen, and Belgian block along the driveway has disappeared.

The Tudor house next door — used as a guest house — is being used too. (Chip did not say so, but I’ve heard it’s a haven for the homeless.)

The Tudor house next door to Golden Shadows.

The Tudor house next door to Golden Shadows.

And another guest house — the white one, which sits on South Compo Road — is being used for storing furniture. (I’ve heard it comes from foreclosed homes.)

The 3rd town-owned house, on South Compo Road.

The 3rd town-owned house, on South Compo Road.

Chip’s questions are simple: What is happening to these town-owned houses? And do we care about saving them?

New Canaan did it (with Waveny House). Norwalk did it (Cranbury Park). We seem to be losing a “golden” opportunity, at a similarly well-suited spot.

Chip then asked about work being done on the parking lot behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

Excavation work behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

Excavation work behind Compo Acres Shopping Center.

P&Z director Larry Bradley reported that the project has “gone beyond” what the P&Z approved.

The hillside was excavated more extensively. More trees were removed. And more will have to come down, as a result of the work already done.

He said that the P&Z permit will be revoked. A new one must be applied for, and approved.

The only reason the revocation did not come earlier was because immediate cessation of work could endanger stability of the hillside.

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty. It’s also, apparently, the price of construction in Westport.

And of preservation of what we already own.

(To view the entire P&Z meeting, click on the town website. To see only the Baron’s South and Compo Acres portions, slide the timer to 1:23.)

New Life For Old Trees

Last January, tree warden Bruce Lindsay determined that some of the mature trees in the beloved entrance drive to Longshore had reached the end of their useful lives. For safety reasons, they had to go.

This being Westport, the decision created a firestorm (figuratively). Many folks lamented the loss of the iconic and beautiful trees. Many others pointed out that nothing lasts forever — and that, though beautiful, they’d become dangerous.

The Longshore entrance road, several years ago.

The Longshore entrance road, several years ago.

The discussion on “06880″ was robust. Amid the fury, several commenters suggested that the trees be repurposed for furniture, benches or in other useful ways.

The trees were removed. The entryway still looks great, thanks to the foresight of Parks and Recreation officials 20 years ago who planted replacement trees near the older ones they knew would eventually go.

Now the old trees are back — just as some smart Westporters suggested.

Tomorrow (Monday, November 10, 2 p.m.), a hand-crafted bench repurposed from those trees will be dedicated at the Westport Library, near the copy center. A pictorial exhibit depicts the entire process.

A repurposed table on display in the library.

The repurposed bench on display in the library…

Lindsay, First Selectman Jim Marpe, library director Maxine Bleiweis and “furniture artist” Zeb Essylstyn will answer questions.

Unlike most old trees — which end up in landfill or as mulch — the Longshore specimens live on handsomely. Essylstyn’s Higganum, Connecticut-based company City Bench created 2 tables, plus the library bench. The tables are on display at Town Hall.

...and the Town Hall table.

…and the Town Hall table.

All are on sale to the public. So are additional pieces that City Bench will create. A portion of the proceeds goes to the town’s Tree Fund, to support further plantings.

If you want to buy a table or bench, email info@city-bench.com, or call 860-716-8111.

To simply admire them, head to the library or Town Hall.

It’s Election Day. Have You Voted Yet?

People all over the world have fought — and died — for the right to vote.

They still are.

There is no excuse not to vote. None.

Especially not knowing where to cast your ballot. If you’re not sure, click here.

The polls are open until 8 p.m. But do it now!

Both the sun and Election Day signs were up early this morning, at the Westport Library polling place.

Both the sun and Election Day signs were up early this morning, at the Westport Library polling place.

 

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Which Of These Halloween Candy Wrappers Seems Different From The Rest?

Halloween candy

Compo Skate Park: The Sequel

While discussion about the Compo Beach renovation plan has died down recently — the calm before another storm, perhaps — a subset of users has been quietly at work, hoping to save their beloved section of sand.

Well, asphalt.

It’s not a group known for their political activism: skateboarders.

But there’s a grassroots effort in town to save the Compo skate park. On Saturday afternoon — the final weekend of the beach’s skateboard season — they sponsored a skating party, with pizza and a DJ. The weather was fantastic, drawing luminaries like 1st Selectman Jim Marpe and Compo Beach Improvement Committee member George Franciscovich.

A small part of the big crowd of Saturday's skaters.

A small part of the big crowd of Saturday’s skaters.

The skaters will be out in force this Thursday (October 30, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall) for the next Parks and Rec Commission/Compo Beach Site Improvement Committee meeting. It’s listen-only for the audience, but they want to hear what’s in the works.

Some teenage skaters have formed their own committee. They want to present their side to town groups like Parks & Rec, the Compo Beach committee and the Westport Youth Commission. (The skate park itself was an outgrowth of a Youth Commission objective, back in the day.)

They’re figuring out how Compo’s skate park can be brought up to date to enhance its appeal and safety, and lower maintenance costs.

They’re marshaling plenty of good arguments. They’re learning how to participate in town democracy.

They may wipe out once or twice. That’s part of the process.

If so, they’ll get right back up. They hope to be standing — and skating — at the end.

The scene last Saturday.

The scene last Saturday.

 

A Sneak Peek At What’s Coming Down The Pike…

…or, more accurately, next to the Turnpike.

And on the Post Road.

A Westporter with political connections gives some background:

Connecticut legislation known as 8-30g mandates that new development projects include 30% “affordable” residential units. Developers around the state have made humongous proposals that include large amounts of affordable housing — then “offer” a “compromise” of scaling back, in order to get what they really originally wanted.

Last week, a developer came to Town Hall with an application to demolish the Westport Inn. In its place would come 2 levels of underground parking. On top would be 2 stories of housing — with 50 units per floor. It would be the largest new building on the Post Road in decades — rivaling the Wright Street office complex across town.

The Westport Inn has stood on the Post Road East since 1960 (it started as a motel). It may not stay there forever.

The Westport Inn has stood on the Post Road East since 1960 (it started as a motel). It may not stay there forever.

Also across town from the Westport Inn, a developer is eyeing Hiawatha Lane. That’s the limited access neighborhood adjacent to the I-95 Exit 17 on/off ramp, which already includes some of the most affordable houses in Westport. The developer would like to build 100 — maybe even 200 — units of housing there.

If both — or even one — of those proposals passes the many approval hurdles, it would affect every aspect of life in Westport. Education, traffic, emergency services, you name it — all would be impacted, in a variety of ways.

Neither proposal is on the Planning & Zoning calendar yet, where such developments usually begin.

But people on the street — Post Road East, Saugatuck Avenue, and points in between — are already talking about them.

Town Takes Over Riverwalk Maintenance

In 1992, a volunteer committee led by the indefatigable Betty Lou Cummings created the Library Riverwalk and Gardens.

A 6-month fundraising campaign drew 5,000 contributors, donating cash as well as services.

Together with a 2nd phase 7 years later, the accomplishments are stunning:

  • 11,000 bricks, many of them engraved, in a path 638 feet long
  • 57 benches, 3 picnic tables, 23 pole lights and 2 sculptures
  • 127 shrubs and bushes, plus 19 trees (and a sprinkler system)
  • Stairs from the library to the water, and a boat launch walkway.
A small portion of the library Riverwalk.

A small portion of the library Riverwalk.

After 22 years, the committee has asked the town to take over responsibility for maintanance. They’ve turned over $15,000 in their account to help.

Parks and Rec is happy to accept the responsibility. Over the past several years they’ve taken a more active role in assisting the committee. With the opening of the renovated Levitt Pavilion nearby, the time is ripe for the transfer to happen.

The Riverwalk is one of Westport’s hidden gems.

Okay, it’s not really hidden. Plenty of people enjoy it, at all times of day and throughout the year.

But many others don’t know it exists. And not many know the back story of its creation.

Thanks, Betty Lou and the 5,000 donors who helped make it a reality. More than 2 decades later, your work is greatly appreciated.

And it looks better than ever.

Save Westport Now: P&Z Denial Of Senior Housing Plan Was Correct

In response to recent “06880″ posts — by 2 Planning & Zoning commissioners, and the Coalition for Westport — regarding the denial of senior housing on town owned property Save Westport Now adds its voice. Chairman Sidney Kramer says:

We would like provide clarity to the decision and offer high praise to all those who have, and will, continue to work diligently to address this complicated and challenging issue. In addition, we compliment the current P&Z Commissioners, who are duly elected representatives of both the Democrat and Republican parties, for their thoughtful deliberation of this matter.

We believe that the Commission’s near-unanimous decision to reject this text amendment was correct. It needed to be rejected—not because of political pressure or bias, but because the amendment itself was deeply and unacceptably flawed and would have created far more problems than it solved, all at the expense of Westport taxpayers.

Part of the Baron's South property, where a senior housing facility was proposed.

Part of the Baron’s South property, where a senior housing facility was proposed.

As the town moves toward an acceptable solution, we must keep in mind some of the problems with the denied amendment (see below), many of which have gotten lost in the heat of the discussion. These are things every Westport resident — and most especially our seniors — should know:

  1. The Amendment would have required developers to set aside ONLY 20% (or just 29 units) as “affordable”—whereas current state law requires that 30% be set aside and our P&Z has already determined that 60% is the appropriate number to justify utilizing town land for this purpose;
  2. If passed, the town would basically have been subsidizing housing for the well-to-do, since the income tests for the non-affordable units were very high;
  3. The amendment would have put the town further behind in terms of meeting the state minimum for affordable housing dictated by Connecticut State Statute 8-30G, since it would have increased the total number of units in town without a corresponding 30% increase of affordable units. That, in turn, would allow developers of other affordable housing projects to override existing zoning regulations anywhere in town, given that we would no longer have the benefits of a moratorium on the state-mandated minimum;
  4. The amendment would have allowed a private developer to acquire a valuable town asset (8+ acres of prime real estate with an estimated value of $10,000,000) for a mere $1,000,000 — less than the average cost of many residential building lots;
  5. The Amendment would have allowed for a 99-year lease that contained liberal assignment clauses that the town would not fully control;
  6. The additional amenities being offered by the developer were minimal (a therapy pool not the same as a full-sized town pool) and could not make up for the loss of this valuable asset or the increased problems this project would create in terms of the state mandate on affordable housing;
  7. The amendment would have exempted the entire project (as opposed to just the 29 affordable units) from the current 10% town-wide cap on multi-family dwellings. With 13 sites eligible for the same treatment, we could have easily ended up with significantly greater density, traffic and stresses on our town services (fire, police, emergency, and recreation); and
  8. Although the amendment purported to cover 13 sites, it was primarily targeted for Baron’s South (potentially making it illegal “spot zoning”), with insufficient thought given to its impact on the other eligible sites in town.

Finally, we note that portraying Westport as a place with no senior housing is inaccurate. One only needs to look at Whitney Glen, where the owners tried to get the town to lower the age requirement from 65 to 55 due to the fact that there are too many vacant units and not enough seniors applying.

The Whitney Glen condominiums behind Compo Shopping Center are age-restricted.

The Whitney Glen condominiums behind Compo Shopping Center are age-restricted.

We appreciate that this recent decision will delay things. But in the context of Westport’s more than 200-year history and with such valuable resources in play (for decades to come!), the 6 years spent on this matter is a drop in the bucket. We honor those who came before us, and those who will follow, by taking the long view and acting with great care in managing our town’s scarce and precious resources. Progress has already been made, and the investments of time and effort to date have not been for naught.  If we can solve the problems outlined above, we can find a solution that works for all of Westport.

Compo Beach Plan Gets Rocky Reception

A member of the Compo Beach Master Plan Committee called last April’s public meeting — where opposition to new proposals, particularly perimeter parking, surfaced strongly — a “flash mob.”

Last night’s meeting at Town Hall — the 1st time the Parks and Recreation Commission reviewed the plan — was far less contentious. Citizens waited patiently through the consultants’ presentation of conceptual — not final — ideas, and a few commissioners’ questions, before speaking.

But when they spoke, they voiced a number of concerns.

As First Selectman Jim Marpe noted, Compo is used in “an amazing number of ways, and in common.” He spoke of the importance of investing in, upgrading and improving areas of the beach “where it makes sense.”

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Introducing 2 plans — Options A and B — Consultants AKRF and Lothrop Associates expressed the hope that “everyone will like everything,” but cautioned, “no one will like everything.”

They sure didn’t.

Both plans show:

  • a new entrance across from Bradley Street, with permit pass-checking deeper into the beach than now exists
  • a driving loop around the beach, with perimeter pathways for walkers, joggers and bikers
  • an extended boardwalk, toward the cannons
  • exercise stations
  • upgraded bathrooms, lockers and Joey’s
  • redesigned marina promenade
  • unobstructed parking spaces
  • new trees
  • improved facilities (including a bathroom) on South Beach
  • a central lawn for picnics and special events, like Lobsterfest
  • new walkways along Soundview Drive and Compo Beach Road.

Option A pushes all parking back from the beach. Option B removes some of that, but allows some parking similar to what now exists on South Beach.

Both plans remove 200 to 300 parking spaces from the current number, which is around 1900.

Parking is one of the most contentious parts of the 2 beach proposals.

Parking is one of the most contentious parts of the 2 beach proposals.

Parks & Rec chair Charlie Haberstroh allowed youngsters to speak first. Several spoke eloquently and passionately of the need to retain the skate park. It does not appear in the current plans, but Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy said room could be made for it.

Then came comments from older folks. An early question covered costs. New buildings would run approximately $4 million; site work would be another $4 million. (Paving alone — included in site work — is about $2 million.)

Speakers zeroed in on specific concerns: Bradley Street will become more congested. The amount of asphalt and concrete that would be added to what are now “pervious” parking lots. The number of kayak racks that would be lost (none, McCarthy said).

Among the comments:

“You’re sacrificing 200 to 400 parking spaces for lawn and shrubs.”

“Parking and views are there 365 days a year. Traffic problems, they’re only 40 days or so.”

“I don’t understand all the talk about safety. The Sound is more dangerous than the beach.”

John Brandt referred back to an earlier speech. “You don’t fracture a gem,” the longtime Westporter said. “You polish it. We need to find a way to polish this gem.”

Compo Beach: a true town gem.

Compo Beach is a true town gem.

As Compo Beach Master Plan committee chair Andy Moss noted, plenty of dialogue and debate lie ahead. The Compo Beach proposals — which are still only design concepts — must still make their way through the Recreation Commission. Then comes the Planning and Zoning Commission, the selectmen, back to Parks & Rec, back to P&Z, and finally to the town’s funding bodies (Board of Finance and RTM).

Meanwhile, Westporters will continue to debate what they want — and don’t — for the town’s crown jewel.

The dialogue began last night. It can continue here. Click “Comments” — but please, be civil. Debate ideas; don’t castigate people. And use your full, real name.

Full House For Parks & Rec Meeting

It’s perhaps the biggest turnout ever for a Parks & Recreation Commission session.

And one of the biggest in memory for any public meeting.

The Town Hall full house turned out to hear — and comment on — 2 draft proposals for improvements to Compo Beach.

At 9:05 p.m., the public got to speak. Parks & Rec Commission chair Charlie Haberstroh gave the 1st slots to “anyone under 15 years old.” A number of teens advocated for the skate park, which is not in the current plans.

Another teenager, Theo Koskoff, said simply, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

Plenty of other Westporters lined up to speak on other parts of the proposal, such as perimeter parking, the new entrance opposite Bradley Street, and changes to the marina.

A full report will appear in “06880″ tomorrow morning.

But one thing was already clear: No one is planning to do anything to the cannons.

The scene at Town Hall.

The scene at Town Hall.