Category Archives: Saugatuck

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.

Bad Parkers: They’re Baaaaack!

Westport’s Very Entitled Drivers took the weekend off, for the blizzard.

But the moment the lots were semi-cleared, at least one sprang into action.

Here was the scene yesterday, at 544 Riverside Avenue:

Entitled parker 1 - 544 Riverside Avenue

For all you lawyers out there who say, “Yeah, but what about the driver’s side?”:

Entitled parker 2 - 544 Riverside Avenue

Meanwhile, here’s one from downtown, sent a few days before the storm:

Entitled parker - downtown Westport

And yes, that car blocking the intersection — and the curb cut — was parked.

With no one inside.

Stop The Presses: Restaurant Actually OPENS In Westport

The restaurant gods take away, and then they giveth.

Just a day after Post 154 served its last, little-lamented meal downtown, Saugatuck welcomed its newest eatery.

In one of its oldest locations.

While dining at Rizzuto’s tonight, an alert “06880” reader noticed some activity across the street. He wandered over to see.

Parker Mansion — the reverently named successor to Mansion Clam House — is open for business.

Parker Mansion - front

Our diner was blown away by the interior. The formerly cramped ground floor is now wide and expansive.

Seating on the 2nd floor overlooks the action below.

Parker Mansion - view from 2nd floor

An outdoor deck will be packed in summer. Even tonight, the view of the river — and the bridge, still sporting holiday lights — was very cool.

Parker Mansion - view from deck

The menu includes steak, other meats and fish. There’s a wide selection of burgers, sandwiches, and “sides and sliders.” Soup specials change daily.

A number of familiar faces are behind the bar, and on the serving floor.

“This is one of those places you hope will make it,” our “06880” reporter says.

Welcome to the neighborhood, Parker Mansion!

Donald Trump Comes To Westport

The Iowa caucus is February 1. The New Hampshire primary is 8 days later.

As 2016 approaches, the presidential campaign will soon begin for real.

I’ve seen a few bumper stickers around Westport already: “Feel the Bern,” Hillary with her right-leaning “H” arrow, Rand Paul and Rubio.

But the award for the 1st yard sign of the 2016 race goes to this one, spotted on Saugatuck Avenue:

Trump sign - Saugatuck Avenue

Late Harvest

Last April, Mario’s closed. In June, “0688o” reported that Harvest — the restaurant taking its place, with “custom cuisine from farm to fork” — would open in September.

Here was the scene Friday:

Harvest restaurant

Workers said it will open by the end of the month.

That’s a bit later than promised.

But loooong before the completion of the Merritt Parkway North Avenue bridge.

 

Sweet Saugatuck News

Saugatuck Sweets is all about community. Westport’s happiest store sponsors summer concerts on the plaza, and Halloween fun in the fall.

As the holidays approach, they’ve added festive decorations out front, and a mailbox for Santa’s letters by the door.

So it seems entirely appropriate that the place where everyone hangs out and shares news should have some of its own.

Saugatuck Sweets Christmas

“It’s A Boy!” boasts a blue stork sign, right near the festive lights on Riverside Avenue.

Whose boy?

Owner Al DiGuido — everyone’s favorite angel — and his wife Chris welcomed their 6th grandchild on Tuesday. Their oldest daughter Rosemarie gave birth to Reagan Alexander DiGuido. He’s 5 pounds, 2 ounces.

It won’t be long before he joins every other local kid, lining up for the best ice cream and coolest candy in town.

 

Yes, Only 3 Weeks Till Christmas…

…though you wouldn’t know it from the late-October foliage at Longshore.

The course is in great shape, and these golfers were out earlier today on the 8th hole:

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

(Photo/Fred Cantor)

Meanwhile, the Saugatuck River is still pleasant enough for paddling. Alert “06880” reader Jamie Lindenbaum was out this morning, and captured this scene:

Saugatuck River paddle - Jamie Lindenbaum

Happy holidays! The weather outside is definitely not frightful!

A Post-Apocalyptic Saugatuck

The back cover of Flesh & Wires — a new science fiction book just published by Jackie Hatton — reads:

Following a failed alien invasion the world is left sparsely populated with psychologically scarred survivors, some of them technologically-enhanced women. Lo, leader of the small safe haven of Saugatuck,…

Whoa! Does our little town star in a very intriguing work by that rare species: a female science fiction writer?

Yep.

Jackie Hatton

Jackie Hatton

Hatton — an Australian who grew up in Tasmania, earned a master’s in American history in Melbourne, and a Ph.D. in the same subject at Cornell — landed here when her husband got a job in Stamford. They knew Westport was a beautiful town, and heard it was “open-minded and open-hearted.” They bought their 1st house on Treadwell Avenue in 1998, attracted by the nearby water.

Hatton was a freelance writer, which worked well. She wrote all morning, then had lunch on the beach. She wrote again in the afternoon, and grabbed dinner somewhere in the neighborhood. Some days, she gardened — and thought.

She and her husband planted a small apple orchard. She calls it “a charmed and charming period” in their lives.

“We spent perhaps too many happy hours in Viva’s and Dunville’s,” she laughs. But she volunteered at the Westport Historical Society, and met friends through New Neighbors.

With Turkish friends, they bought a boat and spent every summer weekend on the Sound.

When Hatton and  her husband were bored, they played a game: “Looking for Keith Richards.” They’d head to lively bars with great music, like the Georgetown Saloon. They never found him.

Jackie Hatton's beloved house on Treadwell Avenue.

Jackie Hatton’s beloved house on Treadwell Avenue.

They moved in 2003 for work reasons — first to a minimalist place in New York City, then to the magical old streets and canals of Amsterdam. They’re still in the Netherlands, but Hatton calls Westport “the most beautiful place I have ever lived.”

The town remained vivid in her mind. Hatton always wanted to set a story here. She began writing a murder mystery, but that genre in a New England setting seemed like a cliche.

One day, rooting around for a more original premise, she recalled the one thing she’d always found strange about Westport: “there are no men there during the day.” Suddenly, she wondered: What if all the men were not just at work in New York?

Then she realized: If the men never came home, the place would still run. Women already maintain the properties, organize the activities and run errands all day long.

They manage many shops, and the small businesses operating out of big homes: freelance consultancies, part-time practices and the like.

Flesh & WiresHatton kept thinking: How would women handle a real crisis? So she added aliens.

Despite their circumstances, the women in Flesh & Wires — who have created an oasis of civilization in Saugatuck — still care about home decoration, gardening, cooking, dancing and clothes. She included those details because she believes that making things beautiful can be a way of “dealing with darkness and difficulties.” How women spend their time is a serious thread throughout the book.

Of course, Hatton has a few laughs too. She turns a nail salon into a military training center. She also enjoys demolishing I-95.

Her book includes the cute little 19th-century cottage that was their old house; Saugatuck Rowing Club and Longshore; Mansion Clam House and Peter’s Bridge Market (both now gone).

The Bridge Street bridge — which may or may not be gone long before the apocalypse — serves as a major checkpoint into town. Downtown has been flooded into oblivion. And Cockenoe Island serves as a prison.

The Bridge Street bridge: While Westporters debate its future, Jackie Hatton turns it into a post-apocalyptic checkpoint into and out of Saugatuck.

The Bridge Street bridge: While Westporters debate its future, Jackie Hatton turns it into a post-apocalyptic checkpoint.

“I’m interested to hear if Westporters find post-apocalyptic Saugatuck beautiful or horrific,” she says. “I love the new park I created, but I hate the idea of living in fear behind fortified walls.”

So what’s next, in the pre-apocalyptic real world?

“My great fantasy is that Hollywood buys the movie rights to Flesh & Wires,” Hatton says. “And then pays me to spend the summer on location in my favorite place in the world.”

More realistically, she hopes that promotional activities bring her back to Westport soon.

“There’s a margarita waiting for me at Viva’s,” she notes. “And a bar stool at Dunville’s with my name on it.”

(Click on www.jackiehatton.net to learn more about the author and her book — including a feature on how she uses Westport settings.)

Give The Gift Of…

Sure, you could have blown off your family, friends and football, and spent Thanksgiving at a mall.

Or you could have blown off work and the kids, and spent yesterday shopping online, during the made-up holiday called “Cyber Monday.”

But it’s so much better to shop locally. So here — as Christmas creeps up on us, and Chanukah looms even closer (it starts Sunday!) — “06880” presents our 1st-ever Holiday Shopping Guide.

If you’re looking for something that says (or screams) “Westport,” consider:

The Beautiful Pond.” This just-released book celebrates — in stunning watercolor and text — the historic, versatile and beautiful Sherwood Mill Pond.
A labor of love from Judith Katz and Robin Tauck — with all proceeds benefiting Sound Waters’ academic enrichment programs — it’s available at Barnes & Noble, Earthplace, and online here.

Beautiful Pond cover

A restaurant gift card is always welcome. One of my favorite spots is Kibberia. Located on the Norwalk line, this unpretentious spot serves spectacular Middle Eastern food. Owner Nick Iskandar is one of the truly good guys, and deserves all the support we can give him.

Kibberia

A bit pricier — and like Kibberia, not always on everyone’s radar — is Positano. This summer the Scarpati family relocated from Old Mill Beach to the site of the old Dressing Room, next to the Westport Country Playhouse. It’s a beautiful space, with the same regional Italian cuisine and family atmosphere diners have loved for years. Mangia!

Positano

From Positano, stroll a few feet to the Playhouse. Gift certificates are available there too, for events from the 2016 season to the Family Festivities series and Script in Hand play readings. Too often, Westporters overlook this cultural (and very cool) gem.

Playhouse logo

Speaking of food, the Farmers Market (winter version) is open Saturdays, from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. at Gilberties’ Herb Gardens on Sylvan Lane. You may not always think of artisanal breads and cheeses, meats, baked goods, seasonal vegetables and hydroponically grown salad greens as holiday gifts, but there’s also organic maple syrup, interesting teas, dog biscuits and the like. Hey, I’m just trying to offer some only-in-Westport choices…

Westport farmers market logo

The chainification strangling Main Street is thankfully absent from Saugatuck. That neighborhood is still home to unique shops. The funkiest, friendliest and most fun of all may be Indulge by Mersene. From her digs on Railroad Place directly across from the train station, Mersene (like Cher and Adele, she needs only one name) sells a melange of gifts. Local artisans’ works, gourmet foods, decorative pillows, jewelry, home decor — it’s all there. The owner is as much an attraction as her goods — and that’s saying something.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

Mersene, with some of her many unique creations.

A couple of steps from Indulge by Mersene is Suited.co. This men’s store — offering custom-tailored suits, blazers and shirts — is a cut apart from traditional clothing shops. The fabrics and selections are both classic and hip. Suited.co is a little fish in a big sartorial pond, but definitely worth checking out.

Suited.co

If you’re one of those who look for worthy causes at the holidays — and I sure hope you do — you don’t have to look far. Some of my favorites in Westport are A Better ChanceAl’s Angels, Homes With Hope, Project Return and Staples Tuition Grants. Many others — including those just beyond our borders, like Mercy Learning Center and the Adam J. Lewis Preschool — do amazing work (and have amazing needs).

ABC logo

You can add your own special organization to the list. I’m sure you’ve got other gift ideas too. I’ve only scratched the surface. Click “Comments” below, to share your favorites with the very giving, very generous “06880” community.

WHS 06880 towels

Bonus idea: Why not give “06880” itself? You’ll find items like these at the Westport Historical Society.

Chris Swan’s Grand Old (And New) Flag

On Monday, Chris Swan noticed the American flag flying over Luciano Park was in tatters.

The Staples Class of 1967 graduate went to Westport Hardware to buy a replacement.

Chris is a US Air Force veteran. His father was also a vet.

So was his father-in-law: Sam Luciano.

Yes, the same man — and beloved former Westport chief of police, who died far too young — whose name graces that Saugatuck park.

What a fine way for Chris to honor every Westport veteran.

We can’t all buy American flags today. But we can keep the service of all our veterans in our hearts, all day long.

Chris Swan holds the tattered American flag. Its replacement flies proudly over Luciano Park.

Chris Swan holds the tattered American flag. Its replacement flies proudly over Luciano Park.