Category Archives: Real estate

Coleytown? That’s Rich!

Recently — tired of posting stories like “How to Destroy the Stock Market in 8 Steps” and “Why Men Are Dressing Better” – Business Insider asked a few interns (aka recently unemployed college graduates who are sons and daughters of actual business insiders) to write “The 25 Richest Neighborhoods in the New York City Suburbs.”

Hey, it was a slow news day.

Based on census tract data compiled by Stephen Higley, professor emeritus of urban social geography at the University of Montevallo — you’ve seen all those “University of Montevallo” college stickers, right? — the website posted its list.

New York State boasts 12 of the most affluent census tracts: 9 in Westchester, 3 on Long Island. Connecticut has 10; New Jersey, only 3. (Who wants to live in a place with so many traffic jams, right?)

Of those 10 — all in Fairfield County — half are in New Canaan. Greenwich has 3 (including the richest neighborhood in the entire friggin’ country: the Golden Triangle). The median household income there is a Lamborghini- and Bvlgari-popping $614,242.

Darien has 1. We have the other. It’s #10 overall.

Business Insider's photo of a home in Westport's richest neighborhood, courtesy of Zillow.

Business Insider’s photo of a home in Westport’s richest neighborhood, courtesy of Zillow.

It is … drum roll, please … not a surprise if you read the headline … Coleytown.

According to Business Insider:

Westport is a coastal town with colonial origins. Coleytown sits at the northernmost edge of town. Most homes date back to the 1950s, with some as old as the ’30s.

The area has a higher proportion of married couples living there than most other U.S. neighborhoods.

And, the site helpfully adds:

Coleytown is 91.7% white, 3.1% Asian, 2.7% Latino, 0.9% black.

Eat your heart out, Beachside.

(To see the entire Top 25 list, click here.)

20 Maplewood Avenue: The Sequel

Maplewood Avenue is a great neighborhood, filled with older homes. Residents love the streetscape, and work hard to protect it.

In 1996, Bill Dohme — a restoration builder — and his wife wanted to expand their home, at 20 Maplewood Avenue. They drew up plans that kept the body — and historical integrity — of the house intact. But other expenses put the remodeling on hold.

20 Maplewood Avenue

20 Maplewood Avenue last year…

Right after Memorial Day last year, the Dohmes sold their house. Knowing that teardowns are rampant all over Westport, they made the remodeling plans available to the new owner.

In February — hearing that 20 Maplewood would be torn down — Bill gave the plans to the Historic District Commission. He hoped they’d meet with the new owner, and urge him to reconsider.

It did not happen. On Tuesday, the bulldozers moved in.

Yesterday, they were done.

...and today.

…and today.

This Old House Has Plenty Of Heart

If I made a list of my favorite houses in Westport, Betsyand Dan Kahn’s would be near the top.

It fits every criteria: location (a few feet from Compo Beach). Uniqueness. Beauty. Charm. Funkitude.

Betsy and Dan Kahn's house, at 9 Danbury Avenue.

Betsy and Dan Kahn’s house, 100 steps from the water.

“This Old House” likes it too. The website’s many readers chose it as one of their “20 most loved historical, whole-house remodels.”

Calling it “A Home With a Lot of Heart,” TOH described the back story.

The couple met 10 years ago in Honduras. One night, Dan drew a heart in the sand by her bungalow, and put a conch shell in the middle.

A year later — tired of their long-distance relationship — Betsy moved her interior design business from North Carolina to Westport. Dan had grown up here; now he has 2 kids.

9 Danbury Avenue, before the renovation.

9 Danbury Avenue, before the renovation.

They wanted “a fresh start in a home that they could call their own, so they embarked on a remodel project that could either make or break their bond,” TOH reports. They found a 1930s Craftsman cottage on Danbury Avenue.

Yellow vinyl siding went. So did asphalt shingles. Up and in went stained glass windows, wood floors, cedar shingles.

The couple paid tremendous attention to historical detail, used expert artisans, and incorporated as much recycled material as they could. (They even found huge slabs from the sub-floor of a South Carolina cotton mill.)

The renovation was not easy. “I thought we’d get divorced and we weren’t even married yet,” Betsy told This Old House.

The back yard features stone paving, plants and a 2nd-store balcony.

The back yard features stone paving, plants and a 2nd-store balcony.

But with “love and devotion” to their home — and to each other — they made it work.

And that love theme is not just mushy words. Heart shapes fill the house everywhere (they’re even melded into doors and windows). It’s one part of this old house’s charm. Part of the reason the home — sitting on just 1/10 of an acre — is one of my favorites.

And part of the reason why “This Old House” readers love it too.

(Betsy and Dan’s house is not for sale. However, they recently bought the property across the street — 8 Danbury Avenue — and built a similarly stunning, Peter Wormser-designed, low country beach house, with fantastic water views. It just went on the market. If interested, email betsydesigns@hotmail.com or call 203-222-9693.) 

The kitchen is beautiful, homey, centrally located -- a perfect hangout space.

Betsy and Dan Kahn’s kitchen is beautiful, homey, centrally located — a perfect hangout space.

The front porch is a perfect place to relax -- or have a fireworks party.

The front porch is a perfect place to relax — or have a fireworks party.

Abraham Lincoln’s Westport Golf Course

Today is Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. (Happy 215th, Abe!)

Once upon a time, that was a legit holiday. Now it’s been folded into the generic “Presidents Day,” lowering Lincoln to the likes of John Tyler, Zachary Taylor and Woodrow Wilson’s wife.

But The Great Emancipator deserves an “06880″ shout-out. With, of course, a Westport twist.

Abe LincolnLincoln supposedly stayed at Hockanum, Morris Ketchum’s 69 Cross Highway estate near Roseville Road, during his presidency.  (Woody Klein‘s history of Westport says only that Salmon P. Chase — Lincoln’s Secretary of the Treasury — was a frequent guest.)  Hockanum still stands; there is a “Lincoln bedroom” upstairs, and the deed states that no changes can be made to that room.

Like the great realtor she is, alert “06880″ reader Mary Palmieri Gai has unearthed some fascinating new information about Hockanum. It doesn’t involve Lincoln directly, but it does provide a chance for me to use his name and the word “golf” in the same sentence — something that has perhaps never been done before, even though 15,000 books have been written about him. (True fact.)

Mary discovered a May 21, 1900 Norwalk Hour story that says:

Westport golfists are getting ready their clubhouse on the Morris Ketchum estate to repeat the splendid experience there of last summer.

Players from Westport, Saugatuck, the Norwalks, Greens Farms, Southport, Fairfield, Greenfield and even Bridgeport think highly of the quarters like that former old house as a place to see and to wait while others are playing. The club has completed an addition to the building. Play is indulged in every day.

Mary explains that Ketchum’s Hockanum property extended far north, long past where the Merritt Parkway is now — all the way to Lyons Plains Road. (It included homes that still stand, like the 1856 house at 499 Main Street.)

1900s golfRecently, Mary says, the owners of a house that backs up to the Unitarian Church found golf balls on their property. No one could figure out where they came from.

The answer: the Hockanum golf course.

It wasn’t there when President Lincoln (supposedly) visited. It isn’t there now.

But it sure provides a great way to look at Westport’s recreational — and presidential — past.

Putting The Heat On Westport Homes

What good is owning a home if you can’t compare it to your neighbors’?

Number of rooms. Height of the roof. Size of the backyard swing set. If we can measure it, we can win it.

Well, here’s a new metric: thermal imaging.

Starting today — thanks to a partnership between Sagewell and the Westport Green Task Force — you can find out how much heat is leaking from your house, compared to others like it.

If you live in a super-energy-efficient house — damn, no one will know.

But if yours does a better job heating the great outdoors than you — you can do something about it. Like, fix it.

The right side of the house above has had work done to prevent energy loss. The left side shows where it all goes.

The right side of the house above has had work done to prevent energy loss. The left side shows where it all goes.

Sagewell — a 5-year-old company that designs energy efficiency programs — has already worked with 40 towns in their home state of Massachusetts. Now they’re expanding to Connecticut.

A dozen communities applied for Sagewell’s initial program. Four — including Westport — were accepted.

“We have a very environmentally conscious community,” Green Task Force chair David Mann says. “It’s well organized, and people are active.”

That attracted Sagewell, says CEO Pasi Miettinen.

His program uses Google Maps-type vehicles. Driving through town on cold winter nights, they collect heat-loss data via thermal imaging.

When a homeowner requests a report, the data on that house is prepared.

A typical Sagewell report.

A typical Sagewell report. The right side describes heat loss via insulation, windows and doors.

Sagewell mapped Westport last month (and it was cold). They got about 90 percent of all houses. Those obscured by hedges or fences, more than 70 feet from the road, and condos were not mapped.

Once you see how much heat roars through your walls, you can request an in-home assessment, and consultations (including insulation, upgrading heating or air conditioning systems, new windows and solar options) from Sagewell partners. Sagewell offers email and phone help throughout the process.

The next step is taking advantage of energy efficiency measures. Some are state-subsidized, like a Home Energy Solutions visit that offers various options, rebates, incentives and financing. (Free energy efficiency measures are offered on an income-eligible basis.) Sagewell offers lists of local contractors, too.

Another option: Astrum Solar will provide solar photovoltaic for Westporters, at a discounted price. (Contracts must be signed by May 1.)

Thermal imaging is free to customers. Sagewell — a for-profit company — earns fees for referrals, and through marketing agreements.

Miggs Burroughs designed the very clever front of this informational postcard. Look for it in your mail soon.

Miggs Burroughs designed the very clever front of this informational postcard. Look for it in your mail soon.

In Belmont, Massachusetts, more than 20% of all eligible homeowners took advantage of Sagewell’s thermal imaging. (One resident who apparently passed: Mitt Romney.)

Cheshire — one of the other 3 Connecticut towns involved — has already seen over 200 homeowners participate.

Mann notes that in the past 3 years approximately 15 percent of Westport homes have been weatherized, thanks to CL&P’s Home Energy Challenge. But, he says, much more can be done.

Thermal imaging is not sexy — or visible. However, it can be very cost-efficient. And with the money you save on energy, you can build a higher fence. Add another bay to your garage. Construct an addition to your child’s treehouse.

You know — the things everyone can see.

(To participate in the program, or for more information, click here or call 203-349-3019. An informational workshop is set for Thursday, February 27, 6:30 p.m. at Earthplace.)

State Will Not Reimburse For Home-Raising; Sandy Victims Stunned

The calls went out late Friday afternoon, traditionally the best time to dump bad news: The state of Connecticut will not use federal funds to help homeowners raise their homes in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Those “hazard mitigation grant” funds will apparently go only to municipal projects, like a proposal in Westport to replace the Saugatuck Island bridge.

The calls — made by Westport Fire Chief and emergency management director Andrew Kingsbury and his assistant — caused anger, despair and confusion. Approximately 30 Westport homeowners had been led to expect (by FEMA, at information sessions) that they would receive up to 70% reimbursement for the cost of raising their waterfront structures. Flood insurance does not cover that expense.

Individual homeowners have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to raise homes at Compo Beach...

Individual homeowners have paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to raise homes at Compo Beach…

It is not clear who made the decision: FEMA or Connecticut officials. Approximately $55 million in funds are available for the state’s portion of the “hazard mitigation grant” program.

Rick Benson — a residential developer who recently built a 100%-compliant house on Saugatuck Shores, completely renovated another, and helped 8 homeowners prepare the time-consuming, complicated grant applications — estimates the “cheapest” price for raising a home in a flood-prone area is $175,000. Benson’s 8 projects range from $200,000 to $325,000. Another local proposal he heard of would cost $450,000.

“The government told homeowners they had to raise their houses, or they’d face much higher flood insurance rates,” Benson says. “But now they won’t help them out with these very expensive projects of raising them.”

One Saugatuck Shores resident calls FEMA’s projected flood insurance increases “astronomical.” He heard that a $2,500 annual policy could skyrocket to $25,000.

Tony Sousa — a 14-year resident of Saugatuck Island — has already spent $15,000 preparing his application. He’s paid for surveyors, architectural drawings and soil samples. His neighbors have paid similar amounts.

...Old Mill Beach...

…Old Mill Beach…

The 25 to 30 projects here are now in limbo. For his potential customers, Benson has already submitted comprehensive architectural plans and budgets. He advised them to spend this past weekend absorbing the news. Their next step is to decide whether to get the decision reversed, or proceed using all their own funds.

Sousa and his wife Penny are among those facing a very tough decision.

“Do we move? Take all our savings and put it into raising our house? Or do we live with the risk?” he asks. “There are not a lot of great options.”

Benson estimates that 10 to 12 homes on Compo Cove, plus another 20 or so at Compo Beach and on Saugatuck Shores, have already been lifted at homeowners’ full expense. He calls the real estate market on Saugatuck Island “soft,” noting that the only homes that seem to be selling are those already raised.

Homeowners affected by Sandy are not the only ones in FEMA limbo. According to Benson, every Westport house-lifting project proposed in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene — 14 months before Sandy — still remains unfunded.

...and on Compo Cove. (Photos by Betsy P. Kahn)

…and on Compo Cove. (Photos by Betsy P. Kahn)

108 Cross Highway: NOT A Teardown!

In June 2011, 108 Cross Highway came on the market. From all indications, it would be the next Westport teardown.

An uproar ensued. The 2-story “vernacular” — with a barn — on the well-traveled stretch between Roseville Road and North Avenue was built in 1805. Records indicated it was one of the few Westport dwellings constructed by a “free black man.”

(That assertion was later challenged. The “Henry Munroe House” may, in fact, have been built by an Indian.)

The usual Westport battle raged. On the one side were those decrying the destruction of a handsome old home — one with historic significance.

On the other side were those who say that property owners are free to do whatever they want. After all, it’s their money.

108 Cross Highway

108 Cross Highway

A few months later, the house was taken off the market, and rented. It came back on last June. The listing price was $999,000 — reduced from the original $1.25 million.

Not long ago, Raveis realtor Amy Swanson was showing homes to Rachel Ember and Jeff Porter. They live on Eno Lane, but wanted something closer to their kids’ schools: Staples High and Coleytown Middle. They were thinking of contemporaries, but Amy took them to 108 Cross Highway.

They fell in love.

“It was so appealing,” Rachel said this morning. “It felt so pastoral and warm. And the barn is awesome. It’s a perfect place to hang out.”

Rachel and Jeff are the new owners of the old house. They closed on Monday (final price: $895,000).

The couple plan to renovate the kitchen and bathrooms, and do very minor touch-ups. But, Rachel said, “we definitely plan to keep it as is. It has so much character. That’s what we love.”

One Small Square Step

Bedford Square sign

The Y’s new building at Mahackeno is moving toward completion.

The Kemper-Gunn House (above, background) — now next to the Y — will be moved across Elm Street, to the Baldwin parking lot.

And Bedford Square — the new commercial/retail/office complex on Church Lane — is moving ahead to find tenants.

All the signs are there for new excitement downtown.

Geiger Demolition: The Sequel

Alert “06880″ reader Wendy Crowther writes:

Last Tuesday (November 12), the Historic District Commission voted unanimously to uphold the 180-day demolition delays placed on both the house and vintage barn at the Geiger Garden Center, plus the small green house next to Westport Wash & Wax (formerly home to “Once a Pickle”).

It was revealed at the meeting that Coastal Construction Group is planning to purchase both sites for redevelopment. What’s interesting is that Coastal’s usual gig is building luxury homes. With these pending purchases, they are apparently considering branching out into commercial/mixed-use development.

The Geiger barn. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Geiger barn…(Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Coastal was represented at the HDC meeting by Mel Barr, whose consulting firm specializes in land use planning, development and regulatory process management. Mr. Barr will be able to report back to Coastal that tearing down the historic buildings on these sites might stir up a pot of controversy.

However, it was HDC’s position that by conserving these historic structures and incorporating them into Coastal’s new projects, benefits can be gained that would otherwise be lost if the buildings are destroyed. The HDC suggested that Mr. Barr and Coastal take a good look at what other developers have done recently to incorporate older structures into their new development projects (for example, Terrain and the Kemper Gunn House).

One of the complexities of re-developing the Geiger site will be the zoning variances  required. These will be needed whether the historic barn is destroyed or not. The HDC reminded Mr. Barr that obtaining the variances might be easier if there is public and HDC support for the project.  That support could be gained if the barn is saved.  There are also special zoning benefits that come along with properties on which historic structures reside. These benefits would also be worth considering.

... and Garden Center.

… and Garden Center.

The Geiger barn, which is over 100 years old, is listed on the Historic Barns of CT Survey. It is the last barn still standing on Westport’s Post Road. HDC chairman Randy Henkels offered to tour the barn with Mr. Barr and Coastal to help better determine its age, its key historic elements, and identify which additions made to the barn over time could be eliminated to restore it to its original form.

Mr. Barr and Coastal were invited to return to the HDC’s next meeting in December to explore options for conserving the structures.

Barr and Coastal are both Westport-based businesses. I hope that their Westport roots might help them appreciate that historic preservation and new development can be combined to make great projects.

Will they show up at HDC’s table next month? We’ll see. In the meantime, the demolition clock is ticking.

The Beach Goes On

Living at the beach is a dream.

Until something like Hurricane Sandy turns it into a nightmare.

But Compo, Old Mill and other shoreline residents say it’s worth it. They’re used to challenges.

They adapt.

These owners are already back home.

These owners are already back home…

They’re raising their homes to FEMA standards. They’re gaining safety (and maybe a garage underneath).

Plus — this is Sandy’s dark cloud/silver lining — they now enjoy fantastic new views.

...and so are these.

…and so are these.

Some homes are not fixable. In their place, owners build stronger houses.

Other homes are, or will soon be, up for sale. (Like Betsy and Dan Kahn’s — she provided these fantastic photos.)

A house near Compo Beach being raised...

A house near Compo Beach being raised…

...and 2 more at Old Mill Beach.

…and 2 more at Old Mill Beach.

Many residents have lived elsewhere for the past 9 months, or huddled in only part of their under-renovation house. The wait, they say, will be worth it.

And beach life will be better than ever.

Some houses couldn't be saved...

Some houses couldn’t be saved…

...but new homes -- like this one on Danbury Avenue -- are going up quickly. (Photos by Betsy P. Kahn)

…but new homes — like this one on Danbury Avenue — are going up quickly.

Meanwhile, on Compo Cove, approximately half of the houses are still being raised. (Photos by Betsy P. Kahn)

And on Compo Cove, many houses are still being raised. (Photos by Betsy P. Kahn)