Category Archives: Real estate

Affordable Housing: Westport By The Numbers

We’ve all heard a lot about 8-30g — the state’s “affordable housing” statute.

But what is “8-30g”? And what does “affordable housing” really mean?

At last Thursday’s Planning and Zoning Commission meeting — where members voted unanimously to deny an application for a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex (including 15 affordable units) — P&Z member Catherine Walsh entered into the record a report on that topic.

She noted that Westport currently has “a diversity of housing stock for low income groups, special needs, the homeless and the elderly.”

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

Canal Park offers affordable housing for seniors, near downtown. Because it was built before 1990, it does not count for points under 8-30g standards.

However, 8-30g counts only units constructed after 1990, and those that are deed-restricted for 40 years. Most Westport units that serve lower-income groups do not fall into either category, she said.

But they do exist.

According to the 2010 census, 10,399 dwelling units are used for calculating 8-30g “points.” Of those, 9,860 are single-family homes.

Among “single family” units, there are 1,069 documented apartments. Only 7 are deed-restricted, to comply with 8-30g.

She included other figures, including group homes and approved-but-not-yet-completed units, as well as low-income units that do not fully comply with all aspects, yet still serve low-income citizens.

“Westport has always believed in and encouraged increasing the diversity of housing stock while maintaining our small town character,” Walsh said.

Hales Court was built in the 1950s. A recent rebuilding effort added twice the number of lower-income housing units.

Hales Court was built in the 1950s. A recent rebuilding effort added twice the number of lower-income housing units.

In recent years the P&Z took action to “further encourage diversity of housing,” and comply with 8-30g requirements. Members enacted legislation covering mobile home replacement units, and created a variety of zones. These range from 15% affordable, to 100%.

Westport has also encouraged legalizing existing apartments in private homes. Over 1,000 units would benefit lower-income residents, but do not comply with the statute. (Most homeowners oppose 40-year deed restrictions.) Over 200 in-home apartments have been legalized.

The old Saugatuck School on Bridge Street has been repurposed into low-cost housing for the elderly. Those 36 units do not count toward 8-30g.

In 2010 the P&Z passed text amendments to allow affordable housing in 8 split commercial/residential zones. There were no applications until 2014. The Geiger project (Post Road and North Morningside) is currently under construction.

In addition, the town — through its Housing  Authority — has upgraded low-income housing units at Hales Court and Sasco Creek. Hales Court (built in the 1950s) now has twice the number of units (78). Sasco Creek also increases the number of affordable units.

The original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street is now elderly housing. Built (way) before 1990, it is not included as "affordable" by 8-30g regulations.

The original Saugatuck Elementary School on Bridge Street is now elderly housing. Built (way) before 1990, it is not included as “affordable” by 8-30g regulations.

In other affordable housing news, RTM member Matthew Mandell sent “06880” a link to an equation he developed (with help from Staples High School teachers Bill Walsh and David Rollison). Click here to see it.

Inputting a few figures lets you know how many units must be built to reach the 10% affordable figure mandated in 8-30g. It works for any town — not just Westport.

Mandell takes his math one step further. Start with a round figure of 10,000 housing units in Westport. Approximately 270 are deemed “affordable,” by 8-30g standards.

To get to the statute’s target of 1,000 units, you’d think we’d need to build 730 more.

Wrong, Mandell says. It’s more like 3,650.

What?!

Mandell notes that the affordable units being proposed now in Westport are part of bigger complexes. Every unit in a new proposal is not “affordably” priced.

So a developer who builds a 150-unit building with 45 affordable apartments has also built 105 that are not. And the town’s housing stock has increased by 150 as well — meaning more, not fewer, affordable units now must be built. The end number keeps moving further away.

“If we built 3 buildings with 250 units each — all of them affordable — we could do it,” Mandell says.

“But that’s impossible. We can’t get to 10% without destroying the very fabric of our community.”

 

Westport’s Place In World History Up For Sale

The commercial real estate listing is pretty straightforward: An 11,000-square foot brick and stone office building on Saugatuck Avenue, close to I-95 and the train station.

There’s a photo —

Eno Foundation

— and a name: The Eno Foundation Building.

But the listing doesn’t give a hint what the Eno Foundation was.

It’s named for William Phelps Eno. He was a Westport businessman known as the “Father of Traffic Safety.” His innovations included the stop sign, pedestrian crosswalk, traffic circle, 1-way street, taxi stand and pedestrian safety island. He designed traffic plans for New York, Paris and London.

For many years, his worldwide traffic institute was headquartered on Saugatuck Avenue, near the Norwalk line.

Believe it or not, Westport — with all our traffic woes — was once the place where transportation ideas that transformed the world were hatched.

William Phelps Eno — who (you can’t make this up) never learned to drive — is no longer around to solve our current traffic issues. He died in 1945. If he were, he could start right around the corner from his headquarters, then work his way through town, ending up at the Merritt Parkway Exit 42/Weston Road/Main Street/Easton Road goat rodeo.

But you can now buy his building. It’s a beauty.

And there’s plenty of on-site parking.

 William Phelps Eno was honored with a plaque at the old Westport YMCA.

William Phelps Eno was honored with a plaque at the old Westport YMCA.

(For more information on the real estate listing — or to buy it! — click here. Hat tip: Kate Schwartz.)

 

Apartment Application Denied

In the 1st stop along what may be a long legal journey, the Planning and Zoning Commission last night unanimously denied an application to build a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex on one of the busiest, most environmentally sensitive corners of Westport.

Concerns about safety and damage to wetlands adjacent to the 1.16-acre parcel at the corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North dominated last night’s proceedings in Town Hall.

P&Z commissioners questioned the developer — Garden Homes Management — about many aspects of the plan. They also appeared miffed that a consultant and lawyer for Garden Homes did not attend (due to illness and a conflict), and that Garden Homes submitted a raft of supporting materials at the meeting, but refused to request an extension so the P&Z could study that information.

P&Z members also refuted Garden Homes’ contentions that the commissioners’ minds were already made up — and that they were opposed to the plan because a portion of the apartments would be deemed “affordable” under state 8-30g regulations.

“We never said we’d fight 8-30g,” P&Z chair  Chip Stephens said. “We said we would fight inappropriate locations for 8-30g. Period.”

Garden Homes president Richard Freedman promised to appeal the decision.

122 Wilton Road -- site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building -- sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

122 Wilton Road — site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building — sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

The Best Small House In America

In one corner, we have a 6-story, 48-unit apartment complex proposed for a 1.16-acre parcel of land on the corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North.

Right next to it, we have an 1,800-square foot home, on 1.8 acres. In 1988, it won a House Beautiful contest for the “Best Small House in America.”

That home — being cited by opponents of the planned apartments as much more in keeping with the streetscape, scale and marshland environment of the heavily trafficked area — was featured in a March 13, 1988 New York Times story.

Front view of "The Best Small House in America," on Wilton Road near the corner of Kings Highway North.

Front view of “The Best Small House in America,” on Wilton Road near the corner of Kings Highway North…

The house is 42 feet at its highest point. There’s a 30-foot high cathedral, plus 3 bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, office, 3 full baths, 2 half-baths, sauna, exercise room and family room, Not too shabby — or small, really.

Architect Bruce Beinfield’s “whimsical” design, blended modern and traditional architecture. The view from the rear looks across the Taylortown salt marsh and Saugatuck River, to downtown Westport.

...and the rear view, looking across the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

…and the rear view, from the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

The Times said the land — purchased in April 1987 for $213,000 — passed through a number of owners over the years. During construction, workers found evidence of a house from a half century ago.

Asked why no one had developed the site since then, builder James A. Olson Sr. said, “Apparently people didn’t realize the potential of the property.”

The owners of the proposed 48 apartment complex next door sure do.

Bonus fun fact: The home was listed originally for $990,000. A William Pitt broker said, “I guess some people felt that because it’s small, it would sell for about $200,000.”

Railroad Place Redevelopment: Still Stalled

The opening of Harvest restaurant — in the former Mario’s space — has brought renewed attention to Railroad Place.

It’s also reminded people of the long-rumored Railroad Place project — a redevelopment plan for a larger area that shares the name of the small but significant street on the westbound side of the railroad station.

With Saugatuck Center completed and thriving — Riverside Avenue is now a hot spot filled with new restaurants, a butcher shop, gourmet food store, sweet shop, paddle rental store, 27 apartments and more — Westporters have waited for the next phase.

It’s unrelated — who’s-who-wise — to the Gault family’s Saugatuck Center work. But it’s been rumored for years, as a natural next step.

Negotiations have proceeded, in fits and starts, since 2011. In 2012, LandTech — the highly regarded engineering and planning firm headquartered on Riverside Avenue — drew up an RFP for the families who have owned the property for nearly 100 years, to seek developers.

It involved all the land bordered by Railroad Place, Charles Street and Riverside Avenue, as well as the private parking lot adjacent to Luciano Park.

All the land, that is, except the Mario’s/Harvest building, and the grim, out-of-character office building at 21 Charles Street. They have their own owners. All the rest of the property in the plan is owned by 2 families.

An aerial view of the proposed Railroad Place development. Charles Street (including the office building is at left); the train tracks run diagonally across the top. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

An aerial view of the proposed Railroad Place development. Charles Street (including the office building) is at left; the train tracks run diagonally across the top. Luciano Park is at the bottom. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

LandTech’s proposal — in collaboration with Westport architect Peter Wormser — envisions an entirely new look for the 3-acre space.

Steps next to Harvest will lead to a bluestone plaza, similar to the one between the Whelk and Saugatuck Sweets that draws musicians, sunbathers and people-watchers.

A view from the westbound train platform across Railroad Place.

A view from the westbound train platform across Railroad Place.

Surrounding the plaza will be a mix of retail stores and apartments. There’s room for a small movie theater and boutique hotel.

A closeup of the rendering above. Mario's is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

A closeup of the rendering above. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

Nearby, planners envision an enclosed, year-round green market.

Two levels of underground parking would accommodate 480 cars.

It’s not a done deal, of course. The 4-story development would need a zone change, to embrace Transit-Oriented Development (programs to link transportation centers with surrounding neighborhoods). The floor area ration would require a text amendment.

The view across Riverside Avenue, from Tutti's. The buildings in the artist's rendering would replace the current cleaners and adjacent buildings.

The view across Riverside Avenue, from Tutti’s. The buildings in the artist’s rendering would replace the current cleaners and adjacent buildings. The Charles Street office building is on the far right.

The project has moved very slowly, in part because of land valuation questions. No developer has yet signed on.

But Railroad Place — the property — is an unpolished gem, waiting to shine. Bordered by existing businesses and a train station — with a major highway nearby — it’s ripe for development.

Stores and shops in the proposed Railroad Place development.

Stores and shops in the proposed Railroad Place development.

Exciting plans have been available for several years. They’ve been shopped around, creating excitement among everyone who’s seen them.

The 2 families that own most of Railroad Place have not yet agreed on the next steps. When — that is, if — they do, the future of one of Westport’s most intriguing, often-underutilized sections of town could be very, very cool.

Online Petition Plea: No Wilton Road Apartments

An online petition opposing the proposed 4-story, 48-unit apartment complex at the corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North is picking up steam.

In its first 2 days, nearly 200 Westporters asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to deny an application to build on the environmentally sensitive, heavily trafficked site.

Petition organizer Adrian Little — a 19-year Westport resident — lives a mile away. He says, “People in Green’s Farms and Coleytown should be just as concerned about this as those who live nearby. We have only one town.”

Little notes that most residents signing the petition also leave comments. They cite 3 overwhelming concerns: traffic, the environment and aesthetics.

The fact that some of the units will be deemed “affordable housing” is not an issue, Little notes.

“No one is troubled by the notion of affordable housing,” he says. “The problem is the location, bulk, and sheer lack of concern for our environment.”

(To see the petition, click here.  For more background on the proposed apartment complex, click here.)

The Taylortown Salt Marsh abuts the proposed apartment complex at 122 Wilton Road.

The Taylortown Salt Marsh abuts the proposed apartment complex at 122 Wilton Road.

From Starter Home To Downsizing: The Westport Housing Arc

More than 30 years ago, Rick Shelman and his wife Maryanne visited Westport. They got ice cream (he can’t remember where). His wife said, “This would be a nice place to live.”

Their oldest child was 5 years old. The Shelmans learned the school system was excellent — and home prices were high.

But they found a house they could afford. It was near the Post Road, and a bit noisy. After 4 years they moved to a bigger home, off Sturges Highway. They were there for 17 years.

Rich had his own computer supply company. As the industry changed, he embarked on a 2nd career: real estate.

A few years ago, when the youngest of their 3 children left for college, Rick and Maryanne looked around. Their 5-bedroom ranch house sat on an acre of land. They’d spent so much time ferrying their kids to various activities around town, they knew their neighbors only to wave hello.

The Shelmans always wanted to live near the water. They found a fixer-upper on a side street between Soundview and Bradley. Soon, they were in their 3rd Westport home.

The Shelmans' Compo Beach home.

The Shelmans’ Compo Beach home.

The family’s trajectory — starter house, upgrade, downsize — mirrors that of many Westport fsamilies. Despite frequent complaints that there is nowhere for empty nesters to go here (except for condos), Rick says the Compo neighborhood is perfect.

“There’s always something going on here. People are walking, jogging or out with their dogs. On Halloweeen we have 1500 kids.”

The calmness of the water balances the summertime action.

Best of all, it’s a neighborhood. “We really know people here,” Rick says of one of the few places in town with cheek-to-jowl zoning. “We look out for each other.”

His neighbors are a mix of retirees and families with young children. Some houses have been renovated (and raised, to avoid hurricane damage). Some still need to be updated.

Rick and Maryanne Shelman love the neighborhood aspect of Compo Beach. They also don't mind 1500 trick-or-treaters -- many from outside the neighborhood, drawn by the denseness -- every Halloween.

Rick and Maryanne Shelman love the neighborhood aspect of Compo Beach. They also don’t mind 1500 trick-or-treaters — many from outside the neighborhood, drawn by the denseness — every Halloween. (Photo/Lynn U. Miller)

Living at the beach requires a certain mindset, Rick says. “We raised our house for a 100-year flood. A young couple across the street bought their home knowing full well Sandy had destroyed the 1st floor. They want to be here. When they can afford to, they’ll raise it.”

He thinks many Westporters in his age group — folks in their 60s and 70s — would like to downsize, and stay in town. “If they could afford to move to the beach, they would,” he says. “A lot of people have asked me for advice.”

Rick notes that the Compo neighborhood is not the only place to go. Smaller houses can be found in other areas, like Bauer Place and Oak Street — and for a lot less than the going price by the beach.

Those places will continue to be attractive for empty nesters, and young families looking to get into Westport.

Three decades ago, Rick and Maryanne Shelman were just starting out in town. They’re still here, in their 3rd home.

They have no plans to leave.

Downtown Salt Marsh Threatened By Development

Last Sunday’s photo challenge showed a sign for “Taylortown Salt Marsh.” Though the 3.2- acre preserve sits in the heart of Westport — the Saugatuck River, off Wilton Road and Kings Highway North, opposite the “Fort Apache” medical complex — it’s unknown to many Westporters.

That will change soon.

Tomorrow night (Thursday, January 21, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning and Zoning Commission discusses a proposal for a 45,796-square foot, 5-story, 48-unit apartment building planned for 122 Wilton Road.

122 Wilton Road -- site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building -- sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

122 Wilton Road — site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building — sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

The developer — Garden Homes Management — is using Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Statute. Known as “8-30G,” it allows developers to add “affordable units” that override local zoning regulations, in towns where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is considered affordable.

In this case, 30 percent of the units — numbering 15 — would be “affordable,” as defined by state housing law.

Th3 8-30G regulation was part of a 2014 plan to build 200 apartments on the site of the Westport Inn. First Selectman Jim Marpe and P&Z chair Chip Stephens instead found a local buyer who understood the importance of maintaining the lower-impact inn on that small-footprint, already-crowded stretch of the Post Road.

The Aspetuck Land Trust — which owns the Taylortown tract, and spent the last 3 years saving the marsh from invasive weeds — is not pleased.

An email from the organization warns of negative environmental impacts to the marsh and river, as well as destruction of views of the estuary.

Garden Homes believes that development of the site will not impact the wetlands.

One view of the Taylortown Salt Marsh...

One view of the Taylortown Salt Marsh…

Interestingly, the Aspetuck Land Trust itself is a direct result of a struggle to save the salt marsh from being filled and developed in the 1960s.

Back then, there was no legal protection of tidal marshes. Inland wetlands were thought of as boggy areas to be filled for level building lots, the Trust says.

When Barlow  Cutler-Wotton learned of plans to build a geriatric hospital on the Wilton Road/Kings Highway North corner, she contacted attorney Leonard Schine. He based his case on traffic congestion. The P&Z denied the application.

...and another.

…and another.

Cutler-Wotton went on to form the Aspetuck Land Trust, for Westport and Weston. The Trust buys, or receives as gifts, property that it then preserves in natural states as open space. The organization acquired Taylortown Salt Marsh in 1987.

The Trust will have to work hard now to keep it. 830G is a powerful state statute. It overrides most local rules and regulations — except those related to the environment or safety.

Let Westport’s newest battle begin.

(Tomorrow’s Planning and Zoning Commission evening meeting is open to the public. So is a P&Z field trip tomorrow morning to examine the property. It begins at 8:15 a.m., at 122 Wilton Road.)

Roseville Road’s Civil War Connection

This fall, the Westport Historical Society awarded its 300th historic house plaque.

They’re available (for a $300 donation) for any house at least 100 years old; any house within a local historic district (regardless of age), and houses less than a century old if either a special event occurred there, a prominent person lived in it, or it was designed by a noted architect.

The most recent addition — 88 Roseville Road — spotlights a bit of often-overlooked Westport history: the Civil War.

Benjamin Brotherton

A photo misidentified as Benjamin Brotherton. It is actually Peter Oscar Lewis, a relative who was a highway superintendent for the town.

According to historian David Press, the home’s 2nd owner, Benjamin Brotherton, was wounded in that conflict.

In July 1862 — with the war going poorly for the north — President Lincoln called for 600,000 troops. Each state and town had numbers to fill. Henry Penfield Burr of Westport was in charge of our quota. A bounty for soldiers to join was set at $480 per year.

The next month Brotherton joined 50 other enlistees in the 250-man 17th Brigade, Company E.

He was wounded in Virginia by Stonewall Jackson’s forces, and also fought in Gettysburg.

Brotherton returned to Westport. In 1866, at age 47, he married 22-year-old Phebe Batterson. Brotherton’s father-in-law, William Batterson, had built the house around 1860, on 15 acres of land. He gave a half-acre to Brotherton as a wedding gift.

Why such little acreage? Bob Weingarten — the WHS house historian, who compiled much of this information — believes it’s because Batterson was an oysterman. He had little need for farmland.

88 Roseville Road, in an 1895 photo.

88 Roseville Road, in an 1895 photo.

The current owner is Karen Brewer. She’s lived in New York and the UK (in a converted 17th century vicarage), but with friends and family in Westport — and an admiration for the town, its architecture and history — she’s long wanted to live here.

When the company she worked for moved to Stamford, she found a house with “a sense of time and place inherent in things that are not brand new.”

It was a challenge. The house had been renovated by a builder, and maintained none of the original details. Brewer spent the last 2 years developing a plan. So far, she’s focused on the mechanicals and interior cosmetic changes. This spring, she hopes to restore the original exterior wood siding.

88 Roseville Road today. (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

88 Roseville Road today. (Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Brewer is a banker — not a farmer, oysterman or soldier. But she cherishes the heritage of her home. And she’s doing her best to preserve it

Now she’s got a historic plaque to honor it too.

Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten, current owner Karen Brewer, and the historic house plaque. (Photo/Laurence Untermeyer)

Westport Historical Society house historian Bob Weingarten, current owner Karen Brewer, and the historic house plaque. (Photo/Laurence Untermeyer)

Susan Lloyd: Save Center Street Homes!

Demolition notices are posted on Center Street.

Susan Lloyd is not pleased.

A native Westporter who has spent the last 30 years in Green’s Farms — and whose father grew up in the neighborhood (her mom is from Fairfield) — Lloyd passes 4 structures slated for destruction nearly every day.

Although 3 of the structures are old — very old — she knows that halting the process will not be easy.

One of the buildings dates back to 1700. Once classified as a blight house, she says it has been empty at least 20 years.

This house, at 21 Center Street, was built in 1700. It is one of the oldest homes still standing in Westport.

This house, at 21 Center Street, was built in 1700. It is one of the oldest homes still standing in Westport.

The 2nd house is 233 years old. Built in 1782, it belonged at one point to Joe Avery (a horseman who worked for the Bedford family and Fairfield County Hunt Club) and Marjorie Rippe Avery (a longtime Klein’s employee).

The house at 25 Center Street was built in 1782.

The house at 25 Center Street was built in 1782.

The 3rd home was built in 1880.

This house -- on the corner of Center Street and Brightfield Lane -- dates back to 1880.

This house — on the corner of Center Street and Brightfield Lane — dates back to 1880.

The youngest one — from 1938 — is still 77 years old.

“I realize these houses are not of major historical importance,” Lloyd says. “They’re not on Jennings Trail. George Washington didn’t sleep there.” (He did apparently sleep nearby, in a long-gone house at the intersection of Center Street and Lazy Brook Lane).

However, Lloyd says, “redone right, they would be perfect homes for the empty nesting baby boomers who want to stay in town. Or someone looking for a small, reasonably priced home.”

The developer is scheduled to ask the Historic District Commission to waive the balance of the demolition delay.

Lloyd hopes anyone interested in maintaining the demolition delay, and/or requesting that the developer conserve the oldest house (or at least its bones) for use in the new structures planned for the site, and/or that the structures be professionally and sensitively deconstructed by a company doing professional, historic reclamation work — attend the HDC work session and public hearing on Tuesday, January 12 (7 p.m., Town Hall Room 201).

Some of the houses on Center Street are listed on Westport’s Historic Resources Inventory. “This is good,” Lloyd says.

“But it provides no protection, other than the demolition delay (which can still be waived, so it’s no guarantee either). Maybe if the public spoke up about all the demolition of the oldest houses in town, it would be more difficult to demolish them.”