Category Archives: Real estate

Geiger’s Redevelopment: You Can Bank On It

Lost in last week’s hoopla over what Jon Stewart called  “Blizzardpocalypsegeddon” were positive reviews given by the Planning & Zoning Commission to plans to redevelop the 2-acre Geiger’s property.

Neighbors — who have worried about the future of the garden center, which looks handsome from the front but shabby in back — were also largely positive.

So what will go on the site, at the corner of the Post Road and Morningside North?

A commercial/residential complex. It includes 12 residential rental units — 2 of them classified as “affordable” — along with a retail building.

And a bank.

That last part is particularly good news. Because — as every Westporter knows — if there’s one thing this town needs, it’s banks.

Geigers

 

All You Ever Wanted To Know About Coleytown, But Never Knew To Ask

Mary Gai is many things: an alert “06880” reader. A realtor. A lover of Westport history.

Those 3 elements come together in her fascinating story about the Coleytown neighborhood:

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw 277 North Avenue in the early 1980s. But I immediately knew I was looking at history.

Standing hundreds of feet from any road, the dramatic lines of the 1740s saltbox — constructed to avoid taxes the King of England imposed on 2-story houses — had not changed since it was built.

Amazingly, it still exists today — along with a carriage house, barn and surrounding acreage. The fact that it does is due to a series of little miracles. The first was that James Earle Fraser and Laura Gardin Fraser bought sizable chunks of Coleytown starting in 1914, including this property.

James Earle Fraser, at work on a bust of Theodore Roosevelt in his Westport studio.

James Earle Fraser, at work on a bust of Theodore Roosevelt in his Westport studio.

Westport would not be Westport if not for the Frasers.  They were the most famous residents of Westport ever (according to his 1953 obituary). The 1st polo games ever in Westport were held on their property. A year later they founded The Fairfield County Hunt Club.

They were also among the founders of the Westport Beach Club (now known as Longshore), and Shorehaven Country Club.

These politically active, internationally famous sculptors attracted to Westport a dizzying array of internationally famous visitors, including both Roosevelt first ladies, Edsel Ford, the Harvey Firestones, the Mayos, Averell Harriman, the George Patton family, famous poets, architects, writers, activists and philanthropists. Three-time Pulitzer Prize winning poet Edwin Arlington Robinson lived with them in Westport for 15 years.

Public records reveal that the Frasers intentionally purchased property to keep their neighborhood quiet enough for their creativity. They then sold some land to other artists, effectively founding Westport’s famous artists colony.

Former Fraser student and famous sculptor Lila Wheelock Howard and her illustrator husband Oscar bought the old mill and barn on Coleytown Road in 1919. Kerr Eby, world-famous artist and pacifist, bought the Coley homestead from the Frasers in 1923, just a few hundred feet from the Fraser studios. The property that he named “Driftway” became the inspiration for many of his etchings (still sold today). He lived in his beloved old saltbox for the rest of this life.

Water was an important part of the property, for many reasons.

Water was an important part of the property, for many reasons.

Heir to the Montgomery Ward fortune Ward Thorne and his wife Judith bought Driftway from the Eby estate in 1949. They lived there for the rest of their lives as well. To insure that the property be taken seriously by historians, they donated it to the Antiquarian & Landmarks society.

The current sellers are true heroes of preservation. They stabilized and restored the magnificent saltbox, insuring that it will “live on” with its 5 working fireplaces, chestnut beams, floors and gorgeous woodwork. A family addition echoes the saltbox form, and adds functionality for today. They also purchased the old mill and barn to reunite the property and the main building components, which now includes 3 antique homes, 2 barns and 10.5 acres of the original farm homestead.

277 North Avenue today. The original lines of the 1740s saltbox still remain.

277 North Avenue today. The original lines of the 1740s saltbox still remain.

The area is called “Coleytown” because of the Coley family. They farmed their land for 200 years, and had quite a sophisticated operation. Fresh water from the Aspetuck River helped grow grapes, flax, corn, onions and other crops.

The Coley wharf was located on the Saugatuck River just south of Gorham Island. Produce — including grain processed at the Coley mill — was transported on the Coley’s sloop “Nancy” to New York and Boston on a regular basis.

The c.1760 gristmill — replaced by steam power — became a cotton mill by 1840. Batting produced from Southern cotton was sent to manufacturers to fill the need for textiles in Northeastern cities. A piece of cotton mill apparatus still hangs from the barn rafters, and an original millstone decorates the riverfront landscape. A footbridge and waterfall create a gorgeous, unspoiled landscape.

The original mill house.

The original mill house.

The Frasers and 4 other owners of this property not only preserved the antique buildings and land along the Aspetuck River. They also preserved the largely forgotten village center, first called “Coley Ville.”

The mill and converted barn on Coleytown Road were the center of the little village. It included a small green, schoolhouse, shoemaker, blacksmith, yarn manufacturer, horse stables, 5 Coley homesteads, and probably a couple of other shops.

The original Coley homestead.

The original Coley homestead. (All photos courtesy of Mary Gai)

Today, the former village gristmill, barn and the Coley homestead are looking for new stewards. Let’s hope they preserve the character of this special neighborhood — one that has endured even longer than our nation itself.

(For much more information on the property, click here; then follow the “Driftway” links on the left.)

Behind The Baron

The Baron is back in the news.

For years, Westporters have talked about “Baron’s South” — the hilly, wooded 30 acres of municipal land, once owned by “the Baron” between South Compo Road and Imperial Avenue. (“Baron’s South” differentiates it from the old “Baron’s property,” the 32 acres across the Post Road on North Compo, renamed Winslow Park after the town bought it nearly 3 decades ago.)

The Baron’s house — Golden Shadows — is in the news too, as Westport debates what to do with that perhaps historic, perhaps blah 1959 home on Baron’s South.

But who was this guy? Was he a real baron? Or was this just a high-falutin’, self-styled nickname, the way Elvis Presley called himself “The King”?

Golden Shadows perfume, by Evyan.

Golden Shadows perfume, by Evyan.

He’s legit. His real name was Walter Langer, aka Baron Walter Langer von Langendorff of Austria. But I guess barons also need day jobs, so he became a chemist (and a Ph.D. doctor).

He founded Evyan Perfumes in the mid-1930s, bought the South Compo estate in 1967, and lived there until his death in 1983. Evyan was meant to “challenge the French perfume industry.”

His wife — the baronness — was British-born Evelyn Diane Westall. She was also known as “Lady Evyan.”

I know this thanks in part to Wendy Crowther. She loves the Baron’s property, and wants to preserve his home. She sent along a couple of fascinating articles.

An ad for White Shoulders perfume.

An ad for White Shoulders perfume.

One — from the “Vintage Perfume Vault” blog (“Where the scent of yesterday’s vogue lives”) — says that Evyan’s famed White Shoulders perfume was launched in the 1940s. It’s remained very popular, through Evyan’s sale to Elizabeth Arden. It may even be “the iconic American fragrance.”

(Fun factIt was named, perhaps, for Lady Evyan’s beautiful white shoulders.)

Wendy also sent a link to a 1987 New York Times story. Back then, all eyes were focused on the baron’s North Compo Road land. A referendum — ultimately successful — was held on whether to acquire the property by condemnation.

The cost was $8.75 million, and the town wanted to act quickly. With the baron’s estate “tangled” thanks to 5 wills and many legatees, the cost was expected to rise in the future.

The baron had bought it in 1970 — 3 years after purchasing his South Compo estate. He was seen as a savior, since the previous owner — developer Albert Phelps — wanted to put a B. Altman shopping center there. (Click here for a fascinating story on the previous history of what is now Winslow Park, including a sanitarium and the most luxurious estate in Westport.)

The Golden Shadows house, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The Golden Shadows house, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

But back to Baron’s South, and “Golden Shadows.” The estate — which at one point included not only his house but others on the land, plus magnificent gardens and arbors — got its name from another Evyan perfume.

Golden Shadows — the scent — was launched in 1950. The Baron created it himself. The New Yorker called it a “first cousin” to White Shoulders (with a “more nonchalant mien”).

Baron’s South will be a major topic of discussion in Westport, for months to come. We’ll talk too about the fate of Golden Shadows.

As we do, we should remember the man behind the land, the home, and the perfumes that provided the fortune that enabled him to buy — and preserve — such magnificent open space.

All You Ever Wanted To Know About 8-30g

8-30g.

Many Westporters have heard of it. Not many know what it really says, means or does.

8-30g is the formal designation of a Connecticut statute — the Affordable Housing Law — mandating that 10% of a town’s housing stock be “affordable.” It compels local planning and zoning boards to justify any denial of an “affordable housing” application. It’s pretty powerful.

And — with Westport’s “affordable” housing stock right now designated as 2.75% — it’s the engine behind a couple of big development proposals. One — for 186 units — is on Hiawatha Lane. The other is on Post Road East, where 200 units are planned for the site of the Westport Inn.

A drawing of the proposed 200-unit apartment complex, planned for the current site of the Westport Inn on Post Road East near the Southport line.

A drawing of the proposed 200-unit apartment complex, planned for the current site of the Westport Inn on Post Road East near the Southport line.

If you want to know more about 8-30g — and you should — then get yourself to tomorrow’s RTM Planning and Zoning committee public informational meeting (Tuesday, January 20, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall auditorium).

Town attorney Ira Bloom, P&Z Department director Larry Bradley and State Representative Jonathan Steinberg will be there to answer questions.

Whether they’ll be able to allay concerns is another matter entirely.

Hiawatha Lane Proposal Withdrawn — For Now

First Selectman Jim Marpe announced today that Summit Saugatuck is withdrawing its application to the Water Pollution Control Authority for a sewer extension to Hiawatha Lane Extension.

However, the attorney for the developer — who had hoped to build 186 housing units on the property abutting I-95 exit 17 — said that this does not mean Summit is abandoning its development plans. A new application will be filed soon.

Marpe said, “I was pleased to receive this letter. The report the town commissioned from Weston & Sampson engineers clearly showed the limits to the pump station serving this area. I hope that Summit will take this opportunity to reconsider the scope of its proposal.”

Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It's below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image).

Hiawatha Lane extension is shown by an arrow, on this Google Map image. It’s below I-95. The entrance is via West Ferry Lane, which is off Saugatuck Avenue (diagonal road on the right side of the image).

Historic Designation Sought For Golden Shadows

The best use of the Baron’s South property is still a subject of debate.

But a group of Westporters want to make sure that whatever it is, it includes Golden Shadows.

The 1959 Colonial Revival-style structure — built as a private residence by the perfume magnate Baron Walter von Langendorff (hence the perfume-scented name “Golden Shadows”) — sits in the middle of the hilly property, between South Compo Road and Imperial Avenue.

It’s unoccupied — save for some books stored there by the library, and perhaps some woodland creatures — but it’s still in decent condition.

Golden Shadows, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Golden Shadows, looking southwest. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

Golden Shadows is listed on Westport’s Historic Resources Inventory. Last April, the Historic District Commission voted unanimously to support its designation as a Local Historic Landmark Property. Now, concerned Westporters want the RTM to weigh in with their vote too.

“On the heels of the Planning and Zoning Open Space Subcommittee’s January 8 vote to recommend re-zoning Baron’s South as open space,” a petition submitted to the RTM reads, “we thought it might also be an appropriate time to establish similar protections for Golden Shadows.”

The petition says that the home could be re-purposed as office space, event space or some other municipal use. (New Canaan did something similar with Waveny Park; Norwalk did it with Cranbury Park.)

The “landmark” designation would help conserve the building’s historic features, preventing it from demolition or inappropriate alteration, while also permitting the town to earn a grant for a needs assessment and plan of preservation.

A view into the central parlor shows a chandelier and circular staircase.  (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

A view into the central parlor shows a chandelier and circular staircase. (Photo/Wendy Crowther)

The designation would not force the town to do anything. But it does raise Golden Shadow’s profile, and — if passed — flags it as something the RTM deems important.

2015 will see continued debate on Baron’s South. Now, that debate will include a possibly historic landmark home, standing right in its midst.

Sewer Wars Set Stage for Saugatuck Battle

A journey of 1000 miles begins with a single sewer application.

Last night marked the first step on a lengthy path toward approval or denial of a proposed 186-unit housing development that could irrevocably alter the look, feel and life of the entire Saugatuck neighborhood.

The battle began with a Planning and Zoning Commission public hearing on Summit Saugatuck’s proposal to extend the sewer line from Davenport Avenue 1600 feet west, to a 5.3-acre parcel on Hiawatha Lane Extension. That’s where the developers — led by Westporter Felix Charney, a former P&Z member — hope to build their project.

The P&Z will send a recommendation to the Board of Selectmen — acting as the Water Pollution Control Authority — to either approve or reject the extension.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It's accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp.

Hiawatha Lane is a narrow street, filled with homes that are modest by Westport standards. It’s accessible only via West Ferry Lane off Saugatuck Avenue, next to the I-95 eastbound entrance/exit ramp. (Photo/Google Street View)

Opposition to the sewer extension was vehement.

Gloria Gouveia of Land Use Consultants and area resident Carolanne Curry — who founded Save Old Saugatuck to fight the development — delivered a 1-2 punch. They discussed defects in Summit’s application, inaccuracies in its presentation, and the egregious effects on the portion of town west of the Saugatuck River if the extension is approved.

The 3-hour hearing also included testimony from Department of Public Works director Steve Edwards, and representatives of Westport’s engineering consultants Weston & Simpson. They noted that the impact of the proposal would usurp all future development west of the river, the planned sewer connection of hundreds of homes — and overburden Pump Station #2, which directs all sewage from the west side of town to the treatment plant.

The P&Z took no action in a work session following public input. But members concurred on a sense of the meeting resolution to issue a negative finding to the selectmen.

Developing News: White Barn Preserve Under Attack

As Westporters in 2 corners of town — Post Road East near the Southport border, and Saugatuck by I-95 Exit 17 — battle high-density housing, a 3rd neighborhood is also girding for a fight.

Since early 2003, Cranbury Road residents have worked to protect the former Lucille Lortel White Barn Theater property, on the Westport/Norwalk border. Nearby neighborhoods include Newtown Turnpike, and Partrick and Stonybrook Roads.

The White Barn Theatre.

The White Barn Theatre.

According to RTM member Matthew Mandell, then-Governor Jodi Rell secured 5+ acres of open space of the 15-acre property. The rest was to be taken over by the Connecticut Friends School. They would restore the historic theater and build a low-impact green school, instead of 18 houses that had been proposed.

Recently, the school decided not to go forward with its plans. The property now reverts to the Fieber Group — a New Canaan developer — which has applied for a special permit to build at least 21 homes on 7 acres. The theater would be demolished.

A new group called Save Cranbury – Again says that the proposed “conservation development” will include filling in wetlands elsewhere on the property. This may damage “the very drinking water and wildlife resources the easement was meant to protect.”

The original low-impact plan for the "green school."

The original low-impact plan for the “green school” (pink building near center).

Mandell says that the Fieber Group is using “a specific Norwalk zone where the houses are clustered and the number is determined by the amount of acreage. They are including the open space land in their calculations.”

Mandell adds: “This developer was paid by the state, by you and me, for the land to keep as open with public access. Now they are trying to double dip — on top of destroying 3000+ square feet of wetlands and building houses in the wetland setback.” He calls it “a very unsavory plan.”

Mandell says that Norwalk zoning regulations are not as tight as Westport’s — and the city moves quickly. The first planning meeting is Thursday night at Norwalk City Hall (no public comment allowed).

Mandell’s bottom line: “Over-development and its impacts do not observe town lines.”

Save Cranbury - logo

Despite What It Looks Like, Compo Acres IS Open For Business This Holiday Season

Compo Acres 1

You just have to park in the back.

Well, the waaaaay back.

Compo Acres 2

 

Open Space — For Buses?

Yesterday — as noted on WestportNow — the town’s School Bus Task Force toured Baron’s South. The town is exploring ways to save the $250,000 we spend each year leasing space from Dattco, on Post Road East across from Playhouse Square.

Meanwhile, tomorrow (Thursday, December 18, 2 p.m., Town Hall Room 201), the Planning and Zoning Commission’s open space subcommittee meets. They’ll discuss rezoning certain areas of town as — you guessed it — open space.

One example: Baron’s South. Right now, Winslow Park — across the Post Road, on Compo North — is zoned as open space. But Baron’s South is considered residential.

That means the town could sell it. A housing project could be built there.

Or it could be used for bus parking.

The P&Z open space meeting is open to the public. No word on whether School Bus Task Force members will also attend.

Part of the Baron's South property.

Part of the Baron’s South property.