Category Archives: People

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.

No, Staples Students Probably Have Not Read “The Brothers Karamazov”

Leon Botstein is the subject of an intriguing profile in the current New Yorker.

Leon Botstein

Leon Botstein

The president of Bard College has instituted a new admissions procedure. Described by one faculty member as “a classic Leon gesture” — meaning “idealistic, expeditiously enacted, showmanly, and absolutely earnest in spirit,” it gives high school students a choice.

They can submit test scores, GPAs and teacher recommendations, like applicants to every other school. Or they can write 4 very rigorous essays (10,000 words total) on subjects like Kantian ethics, economic inequality and prion disorders. Bard professors grade them; students with an average of B+ or better are automatically admitted.

It’s audacious. It’s Bard. And it’s not the 1st time Botstein has courted controversy over college admissions.

In 1985 — just a few months before Gene Maeroff of the New York Times named Staples one of the 46 outstanding high schools in the country — Harper’s magazine ran a 2-page spread of an actual transcript. It belonged to a female student at “a typical affluent suburban Connecticut school, regarded as among America’s finest.”

Staples sealThe transcript was accompanied by withering commentary from Botstein — already 10 years into his presidency of Bard. Staples was not mentioned by name, but among the activities listed for the unnamed student – called, perhaps not coincidentally, “S” — was Inklings. Botstein declined to say whether the transcript was from Staples, but he noted disingenuously that Inklings was a common name for school publications.

The transcript was selected at random from applications to Bard submitted over the years, Botstein said. His commentary focused on what he called the lack of thorough preparation high school graduates receive. “High school curriculums aren’t rigorous and focused enough,” Dr. Botstein claimed, citing the student transcript with “only” 2 years of biology, 1 of chemistry and none of physics. In addition, she took “only” one year of US history as a sophomore, and studied modern European history, and India and Southeast Asia, for a half year each.

A Staples' student took Functions, and many other diverse classes at Staples. That was not rigorous enough, though, for Dr. Botstein.

A Staples’ student took Functions, and many other diverse classes at Staples. That was not rigorous enough, though, for Dr. Botstein.

Though the transcript showed a wealth of difficult classes — Advanced Placement English, Creative Writing Seminar, French 5 Speakers, French Advanced Reading, Functions B and Theater 3, along with all those science and social studies classes — Botstein criticized “S” for not filling her day with “4 or 5 demanding courses.”

And although the student received a 600 on the SAT verbal, Botstein said that above-average scores did not indicate an ability to read critically or write clearly. He belittled her score of 60-plus on the Test of Standard Written English – the highest possible – by noting that she received it only once.

He added that although the high school she attended was a member of a regional association, its accreditation was no defense against bad teaching, poor curricula or inadequate facilities.

Botstein postulated that although the student would probably be admitted to one of America’s many reasonably competitive colleges, she would enter with an education deficient in many basic areas.

Based on a Staples student's transcript, Leon Botstein condemned her for (probably) not reading "The Brothers Karamazov" in high school.

Based on a Staples student’s transcript, Leon Botstein condemned her for (probably) not reading “The Brothers Karamazov” in high school.

“It is likely that ‘S’ does not know what is in the Constitution, knows nothing about economics, can tell you little about the theory and practice of capitalism, socialism or communism, cannot grasp the science and technology germane to medicine or defense, has never read The Republic, the Koran or The Brothers Karamazov. It is also reasonable to assume that hers has been a passive education by textbooks, workbooks and multiple-choice tests, in oversize classes and from teachers better versed in pedagogy than in their respective disciplines. And this is one of the country’s best high schools.”

In an interview with the Westport News, he added: “I have enormous respect for (Staples).”

The reaction on campus was primarily eye-rolling and head-shaking. If the state of high school education was so bad, students and staff wondered, why would Botstein have such respect for a school like Staples? And, if students – or, let’s say, presidents — at a highly regarded college such as Bard made leaps of assumption about, let’s say, high school pedagogy and class size based solely on the names of courses on a transcript, what did that say about their own capacity for critical, independent thinking?

Guidance counselors predicted a dip in Staples applications to Bard.

Isaac Stein Sets The Criterion

With his University of Chicago classes starting much later than most other schools’ — this week — Isaac Stein might have spent the last month Snapchatting or sleeping in.

The 2012 Staples grad did neither. Instead, he sparked a journalistic renaissance in a Bridgeport high school.

Writing was always Isaac’s passion. As a senior writer and web editor-in-chief for the Staples school newspaper, Inklings, he fought student disenfranchisement, and crusaded for change on many fronts.

One memorable story exposed Matsu Sushi’s policy of tacking tips onto teenagers’ bills — without telling them ahead of time.

At Chicago, Isaac became news editor of The MaroonThis summer, back home, he worked at the Minuteman. Looking at public schools’ website, he noticed Central High School’s excellent online archives. One issue, from the 1990s, featured front-page stories on a Laotian student’s immigration issues and the AIDS Quilt exhibit.

But, Isaac learned, the Criterion had been defunct since 2001, when Central’s journalism class was cut.

Central High School in Bridgeport.

Central High School in Bridgeport.

Isaac is a firm believer in the power of high school journalism to give students a voice, and foster social justice. He met Central principal Eric Graf, who put him in touch with English department co-chair Joe Jeffery.

When school started, Isaac visited English classrooms (including that of Westporter Andy McConnell). He preached his vision of a new Criterion. 

Almost immediately, 30 teenagers showed up at twice-weekly meetings. Isaac taught them the basics. They took it from there.

The online paper — www.bptcriterion.com — has featured an op-ed piece on Ferguson, sexism and the appropriation of the word “ghetto.” It’s a lively, provocative paper. Isaac gives all the credit to the students — most of whom are just a couple of years younger than he.

Isaac Stein (left) and J.P. Rossi, Criterion's editor-in-chief.

Isaac Stein (left) and J.P. Rossi, Criterion’s editor-in-chief.

Isaac has been impressed with their talent, enthusiasm, and level of respect. He also bristles at stereotypes.

“Before I went in, people said, ‘Don’t go there. They’re a bunch of animals,'” he says.

“That’s not-so-veiled racism. And it’s very disturbing.”

Isaac loves his students’ creativity and intelligence, and the “raw people power” he sees. He’s disturbed at the obstacles they face. But he’s amazed, for example, that there is no centralized email system, making communication difficult.

When Isaac played basketball at Staples, he and his teammates had to pass through metal detectors at Central. That was the only contact he had with the school.

Now, he knows, students wait 40 minutes before class every day at those metal detectors. “That’s 3 1/2 hours a week of dead weight, lost time,” he says. “Staples has 12 doors, and everyone walks right through. I never thought about that.”

His young writers are already working on a news story and op-ed piece about that issue.

It will run without Isaac, however. He’s finally back at Chicago, ready to start classes.

But — hundreds of miles away — his legacy lives on. An editor-in chief has been chosen for the Criterion. A permanent advisor has been named.

And funds have been promised for the next 2 years.

 

 

 

 

Remembering Ann Brannigan

Terry Brannigan’s mother Ann died peacefully this week, surrounded by loved ones. She lived in Westport with her husband Robert for nearly 60 years. Terry writes:

Many people kn0w Ann as a mother of 3 and grandmother to 9 Westporters, or for her selfless contributions to the town.

Few know the story of Ann’s wonderful career in dance, musical theater and television.  In an era of reality TV fame and extreme divas, her modesty is rare.

Act 1:

She was born in Pittsburgh during the Depression. It was devastating to everyone and every city, but none suffered more than a single mother in a steel town. Times were hard, but Ann was gifted. At 15 she graduated from high school and moved to New York City, along with her mother and grandmother, to pursue an extraordinary career in dance, theater and the newly emerging media called television.

Ann Brannigan

Ann Brannigan

Act 2:

For more than 15 years Ann did not miss a day of work on Broadway. Her credits include Annie Get Your Gun, Brigadoon, High Button Shoes and countless others — including an early stint as a Rockette.

Along the way she fell in love with a handsome stagehand named Bobby Brannigan, while working together on the Broadway production of Two on the Aisle. He was a World War II submariner who left Pittsburgh at 17, and came from a long line of stagehands. Ann and Bob were married at Mahachy’s Actor’s Chapel, between the matinee and evening performances of the shows they were working on.

Robert and Ann Brannigan.

Robert and Ann Brannigan.

Act 3:

In the 1950s, Westport was famous for its arts community, culture and proximity to New York. Eager to start a family but not ready to slow down, the time was right for the young couple to move here.

Another connection to the theatre led Ann to her beloved Old Mill cottage.  Working together on a show, Ann, Robert, Darren McGavin and another cast  member all discovered the peaceful cove, and bought their houses at the same time. Ann described Westport — and Old Mill Cove in particular — as “heaven.”

Ann Brannigan from Roth Magazine, in 1952.

Ann Brannigan from Roth Magazine, in 1952.

Bob commuted to New York to work backstage, and Ann performed for years. Bob’s career included senior roles at Lincoln Center and City Center. Ann transitioned to television, and for many years was part of the regular casts of pioneering shows like “Your Show of Shows,” “Jimmy Durante” and “Danny Thomas.” She finally retired from the stage to raise her 3 children, then cherished her role as grandmother.

Act 4:

Ann turned her focus to her husband, children, grandchildren and community. She never missed a game, performance or chance to be part of her family’s activities. Ann took great pleasure in helping choreograph school performances from Hillspoint Elementary through Staples. But in her unassuming fashion she shunned any reference to her contribution.

What was most striking about Ann’s accomplishments is that she never spoke of them — even when asked. For example, one day she was appalled by the poor health of Kenny Montgomery, owner of the Old Mill Market (now Elvira’s). The former ballerina tended to his medical needs, and volunteered behind the counter until he died.

The performing arts did not pay what it does today. To help put her children through school, Ann worked for years in administrative roles. She served others who had absolutely no idea of the stages she had danced on, or the talent she collaborated with. She was never one to brag.

A recent photo of Ann Brannigan.

A recent photo of Ann Brannigan.

Westport is full of treasures, some more conspicuous than others. In a town rightfully proud of the famous people who live here or pass through, I am sure many will read this post and say, “Ann Brannigan, from Loretta Court? Ann, who always talked about her grandkids? Wow! Who knew?”

Maybe that says it all.

A memorial service for Ann Brannigan will be held this Saturday (October 4, 10 a.m.) at Assumption Church on Riverside Avenue. A reception will follow.

Westporter To Lead UN Ebola Response

In more than 25 years as a peacekeeper and emergency management expert, Anthony Banbury has served the United Nations — and the world — in crises like the 2010 Haiti earthquake and 2004 Japan tsunami.

From 2003 to 2009 he was Asia regional director for the World Food Program.

Anthony Banbury

Anthony Banbury

Now the Westport resident has a new — and crucial — job. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon has named Banbury as special representative and head of the UN Mission for Ebola Emergency Response.

Banbury leaves tomorrow for Africa. Under his leadership, the mission will provide the operational framework to treat infected patients, ensure essential services, preserve stability and prevent the disease’s spread to other countries.

Before joining the UN, Banbury worked in the White House with the National Security Council, and at the Department of Defense.

Fox On The Run

For over a century, Westporters have enjoyed Old Mill Beach.

But wildlife has been here longer than that. And — after decades away — it seems at least one species is back.

Robin Tauck owns a quintessential, weather-beaten home on Compo Cove. Yesterday, while enjoying perfect late-September weather, she spotted a large, seemingly wounded red fox.

The fox on Old Mill Beach. (Photo/Robin Tauck)

The fox on Old Mill Beach. (Photo/Robin Tauck)

He spent much of the afternoon “cruising the beach.”

As Robin noted, he was “cute, fast, limping and watchful.” He may also be rabid.

Some beachgoers were worried. Others, Robin said, thought it wonderful “to see and be mindful of our still-natural setting, and the species with whom we share our special environment.”

Be warned. Be careful.

But remember: The foxes were here first.

Lia’s “Ices”

Lia Ices just got a nice shout-out from Entertainment Weekly.

On her 3rd album — called “Ices” — the singer-songwriter “still sounds like that art-school girl you had a crush on,” EW wrote.

“But her songs have gotten fuller and lusher. [The album's] warm wash of ethereal vocals and electronics belies its chilly title.”

Lia Ices

Lia Ices

Lia Ices is the stage name of Leah Kessel. She’s a former Staples Player who acted in “Runaways” and “Heidi Chronicles,” before leaving for private school and NYU (where she earned a degree in experimental theater in 2007).

Her influences include Iggy Azalea, the Cocteau Twins and — this will resonate with older “06880” readers — Steely Dan.

According to Elle magazine, she splits time between the Hudson Valley (where she records) and Sonoma, California (where she lives with her winemaker boyfriend).

“I can be super reclusive and hermetic, and then I can be in California and host dinner parties and drink wine,” she says.

The track below — “Higher” — is “a chirpy schoolyard melody spliced with a killer guitar riff,” Elle says. It’s her 1st radio single.

Let’s hope “Ices” turns hot as hell.

 

Dancing With The Stars — And Be One Yourself!

“Dancing With the Stars” is a hit TV show. It’s spawned an entire genre of fundraising events.

Positive Directions is following in step — but with a twist.

Moshe Aelyon -- one Westport star -- will be dancing with another.

Moshe Aelyon — one Westport star — will be dancing with another.

On Saturday, October 18 (6:30 p.m., Patterson Club), the Westport-based youth development and counseling service offers “A Chance to Dance.” There’s the familiar format, sure: 6 local celebrities (including Westport designer Moshe Aelyon, Safe Rides co-founder Julie Mombello and graphic designer Miggs Burroughs) pair with professional dancers for a very entertaining segment, and are judged by a panel including Bill Mitchell.

But everyone else can shake their booty too. There’s also a contest to find the happiest dancer(s).

Anyone can submit a short video of dancing anywhere, any way, to Pharrell Williams’ “Happy” song.

You can dance by yourself, with a partner (or more). You can dance well or poorly. You can dance seriously or funnily.

Just dance! Make the Positive Directions folks happy.

(And pay $100. It’s a fundraiser, after all.)

Here’s Liz Beeby’s effort:

The entry deadline is Monday, October 6. The top 40 entries will be shown during the “A Chance to Dance” gala.

The winner will receive “Serenity,” an original artwork by — who else? — Miggs  Burroughs.

But, of course, if you pay your $100 and submit your video to help Positive Directions, you’re already a winner.

(For more details on submitting your video, and ticket information for the event, click the “A Chance to Dance” website.)

Close Encounters Of The Mercedes Kind

For 40 years, Paul Greenberg has been a serious cyclist. He rides about 5,000 miles a year, and is an avid racer.

For 12 years he’s commuted to work by bicycle, from his home near the beach. First he rode to Greenwich. Now it’s a bit shorter: Stamford.

Fly6He takes a shortcut through the train station, to East Norwalk. Paul rides with a very bright headlight, designed for night mountain biking, plus a bright rear light. He wears reflective clothing.

Recently, he added a Fly6 rear-mount bicycle camera. Over the past few years, drivers have become much more aggressive. He figures if there’s a hit-and-run from the rear, at least there will be video of the incident (and licence plate information).

On Wednesday around 6:30 a.m., he was biking to work through the station’s eastbound parking lot. He slowed down approaching the intersection, where many commuters make a wide left turn without looking from beyond the railroad bridge.

A woman in a Mercedes barreled eastbound on Saugatuck Avenue, cutting across the road to get to the lot entrance (below).

Paul Greenberg screenshot

Paul  jerked his bike left as he saw her. Commuters walking from their cars shook their heads in disbelief as she blasted by.

Paul assumed she would stop and apologize. But she just plowed ahead, as if  nothing had happened.

Only when he pedaled to her car and talked with her did she become apologetic.

Sort of.

Here’s Paul’s video of his near-miss. It’s titled: “Was She Sorry She Almost Hit Me, Or Sorry I Caught Her?”

Sorry. That’s a rhetorical question.

 

David Lessing: Put The “P” Back In “Planning And Zoning”

David Lessing is a Planning & Zoning commissioner. He responds to chairman Chip Stephens’ recent comments on “06880,” regarding the P&Z’s vote against developing senior housing on the Baron’s South property:

Chip Stephens has attempted to defend his vote against text amendments that would have facilitated progress on developing senior housing on the Baron’s South property. While Westporters should appreciate his effort to help us make belated sense of the disappointing vote, unfortunately the defenses he offers are internally contradictory and fail to provide a road map for our other elected officials. In the future, the P&Z needs to fulfill its responsibility for “planning,” rather than — after an abbreviated deliberation — handing down “no” votes that sharply reverse progress made by the painstaking efforts of other elected officials from both parties over multiple years.

In his statement, Mr. Stephens cites as his reasons for voting against the text amendments: concerns about fairness regarding who would be eligible for the new senior units, and a desire to limit density of development and preserve open space. These are each valid concerns, but are mutually exclusive.

If Mr. Stephens opposes the text amendments because they would permit additional development and more density in Westport, then he should not also purport to be concerned about the quality and fairness of allocation of the senior housing that he would not allow in any case. Arguing about who gets housing you don’t support in the first place is a pointless exercise.

Debate over what to do with the Baron's South property has continued for years.

Debate over what to do with the Baron’s South property has continued for years.

I understand the rhetorical benefit of offering both rationales and not wanting to appear unsupportive of senior housing, but as elected officials we have a responsibility to the town to provide guidance that can actually be used in planning for the future. The P&Z vote and Mr. Stephens’ explanation of it leave it unclear whether any proposal for senior housing and recreational facilities on town-owned land would be approved, regardless of how much affordable housing is associated with it.

A different result could have been achieved if members of the P&Z participated earlier and more often in public consultation with other elected officials. Too frequently, our commission criticizes plans that are developed by others, rather than rolling up our sleeves and helping guide the development of plans that would either satisfy existing zoning regulations or present strong justifications for changing them. Rather than publishing statements defending our votes rejecting efforts as significant as Baron’s South, we should be embarrassed that we were forced to vote that way in the first place.

Certainly we had ample opportunity in the several months of public testimony and the more than 5-year saga leading to last week’s vote to contribute to the development of a proposal that would have satisfied our concerns. We cannot be viewed as setting ourselves above and apart from others working to keep Westport the wonderful community we all love. We need to form consensus through our public decision-making process that will give direction to others who rely on us to provide guidance on solutions that will work.

The P&Z must take a proactive role in downtown development, David Lessing says.

The P&Z must take a proactive role in downtown development, David Lessing says.

The need to improve how we operate will become even more critical in connection with the ongoing efforts of the Downtown Steering Committee, which has worked for months to gather input from a broad range of Westporters. The DSC hosted a successful and well-attended 2-day charrette that I attended last weekend. They have had effective leadership from a bipartisan group, including chair Melissa Kane and Westport operations director Dewey Loselle. As a community, we cannot afford to have this group devote significant effort on our behalf to improve our town, only to subject any eventual recommendations requiring P&Z approval to the same process we just experienced with Baron’s South.

To be clear, the P&Z cannot always give unified, clear, and actionable guidance for why it makes its decisions. However, by not even trying, we weaken our credibility and waste the time of the well-intentioned individuals and groups trying to improve Westport. It is our obligation to provide a positive road map for the development of our town. As a member of the commission and the sole vote in favor of the text amendments, I look forward to working with my fellow Commissioners to meet that obligation in the future.