Business For Sale Or Lease. Cleanup Required.

Dozens of vacant stores line the Post Road.

But it’s doubtful any are as messy and cluttered as the one formerly occupied by SoNo Baking Company and A&J’s Farm market, near Goodwill.

Furnishings, freezers and other debris have sat in the parking lot for months.

Half-sawed logs, too.

It’s a great location, with plenty of traffic.

And the photos above are what every driver sees, every day.

Finding The UN At Earthplace Camp

Every jUNe Day, Westport hosts hundreds of guests from around the world.

As you walk along Compo Beach, you hear dozens of languages.

For Jaime Bairaktaris, his “Westport United Nations” moment comes at Earthplace.

The 2016 Staples High School graduate has worked for several seasons as an Earthplace summer counselor. Previously, he was a camper there himself.

Every year, Jaime is impressed at the number of international visiting campers. They come from China, Spain, Germany, Singapore, England and everywhere else. They’re all ages too.

He and the kids climb trees, run through the brook, build stick shelters, have mud fights, swim and canoe down the Saugatuck River.

“No matter where they’re from, we all realize the nature sanctuary doesn’t have a language,” Jaime says.

Last week was extra special. In his group of 5 youngsters, only 1 — Andres — was from Westport.

Andres’ cousin is from Chile. Sofie lives in New York. Liv and Adam come from Paris.

The world comes to Earthplace. On the right is camp co-director Becky Newman.

Jaime relied on “Spanish for Dummies,” “French for Dummies” and Google Translate. He’d switch in mid-sentence from one language to another, without missing a beat.

But, he says, “these kids, without fail, form a connection. They communicate with each other. They start to play. They figure out how to work together.”

As always, children adapt — often better than their parents. One family signed up for just one day at camp. By the afternoon their child was talking excitedly about tomorrow. The parents quickly enrolled for the whole week.

“Our goal is to get them to a level where they’re comfortable and feel safe, by simply showing them they have nothing to worry about — that we don’t have words in English to describe the things we’ll be doing, so it doesn’t matter anyway,” Jaime explains.

The children quickly surpass that basic level of comfort. They mimic his voice, words and hand motions, especially as he counts down from 3 or tells them to quiet down.

“We use handshakes, fist bumps, pinky swears, hugs and a lot of facial expression when we need to explain something,” Jaime says. There are also plenty of high fives, smiles and Charades.

If things get confusing they laugh, grab his iPhone for Google Translate — then laugh some more at the “universal” emojis.

Once, Jaime pointed to words on his phone to show a young boy that they were going to a pond. His sister yelled at Jaime — in French — that he could not yet read. “Whoops!” Jaime laughs.

The Earthplace camp gang. (Photos/Jaime Bairaktaris)

For the counselor, the interactions between campers are his favorite parts.

“There’s nothing better than watching 6-year-olds sit down, build a perfect Lego house — sharing pieces, adjusting them — and then realize after 10 minutes that they didn’t even know they spoke different languages,” he says.

“Most kids truly have no clue there’s a language barrier. And when they do, they just keep playing.”

Some things need no talking. One child extends a hand to another, as they climb a tree. Together, they run over to show Jaime a frog they’ve caught.

“I think something of major importance happens here,” Jaime notes.

“In a world where screen time and organization is so prevalent, nature still teaches us how to be just human beings before we become students, athletes or artists.”

Earthplace’s “unscheduled” schedule is “whatever we want it to be. And whatever it turns out to be, we’re okay with. It’s a level playing field that binds them together, by making them equals.

“If an adult goes into the woods and sees a dead log, we see a dead log. They see a seesaw, and build one. Instead of watching a video about how tadpoles transform into frogs, they catch them — and see what’s happening.

“They can’t bury their head in their phone or rely on a computer to socialize. It’s all done outside, by themselves, and it works out just fine.”

Jaime loves that the Earthplace camp celebrates getting outside, and going with the flow.

And, he emphasizes, “we don’t even need to speak the same language when we do it. At the end of the day, we’re the same people.”

There are no words to describe how great that is.

Pic Of The Day #100

E.R. Strait Marina at Longshore, last night. (Photo/Patricia McMahon)

Have You Seen Carole McClintock’s Koi?

The Fine Arts Festival that filled Main Street earlier this month was a great success.

Art lovers flocked to see — and buy — wonderful paintings, sculptures and photos. Artists happily sold as much as they could.

But one piece went mysteriously missing.

As Westporter Carole McClintock was packing up her work — no long drive home for her! — she absent-mindedly left a large, wet koi fish painting up against the brick wall of Bedford Square.

Carole McClintock, with her unfinished painting.

She spent the next 10 days traveling. So she realized only now that it was not in her studio, with the rest of that weekend’s work.

McClintock would love to have it back. Not only is it unsold, but it’s unfinished. It had not even been signed.

“My guess is that someone found the painting and kept it, not knowing what else to do with it,” she says.

If you can connect the artist with her missing work, email carolemcclintock12@gmail.com.

Unsung Hero #8

On Friday, Gail Kelly finishes her 15-year stint as Westport’s assistant town attorney. (She doesn’t say “retiring” — just moving on to new things in life.)

Everyone working at Town Hall is sorry to see her go.

But none more than Ira Bloom.

“It’s a tremendous loss for the town government — and me,” says the longtime town attorney. “Gail has done an excellent job.”

Gail Kelly

Working out of a Town Hall office — though, like Bloom, she is employed by the private Berchem, Moses & Devlin law firm — Kelly handles Westport’s day-to-day legal affairs.

That means reviewing contracts and RFPs; handling Freedom of Information inquiries; coordinating with the Representative Town Meeting on ordinances, and attending board of selectmen meetings.

Kelly is available to all Town Hall personnel, in offices ranging from the town clerk to public works to conservation.

“A lot of lawyers know the charter and ordinances,” Bloom says. “But what distinguishes Gail is her uncommon common sense, her excellent judgment and her terrific sense of humor.”

She is adept at “defusing difficult situations. She’ll tell you the law, and then she’ll have a sensible answer people accept,” Bloom adds.

For 15 years, Kelly has served the town with efficiency, poise and professionalism — and not many kudos.

Congratulations, Gail Kelly — and good luck as you retire move on!

(Know of an unsung hero we should celebrate? Email details to dwoog@optonline.net)

Morgan Stanley Furniture Dump: The Sequel

Last week, Ken Bernhard was Paul Revere.

The Cohen & Wolf lawyer — a former state representative, assistant minority leader and Westport town attorney — was appalled that Morgan Stanley was tossing at least $100,000 worth of office furniture into a wood chipper, in preparation of a move from 320 Post Road West to new digs on Post Road East.

Last Friday, a contractor tossed Morgan Stanley furniture into a wood chipper.

Bernhard contacted Jeff Wieser, CEO of Homes With Hope. The Westport housing non-profit managed to save “1/20” of the cherry desks, tables, chairs, sofas, bookcases, credenzas and other perfectly good goods.

This week, Bernhard was Kojak.

He spent the past few days trying to get answers from Morgan Stanley: about why they had thrown away so much furniture, and whether there was any truth to the rumor that a similar dump — though 4 times as large — is planned for this Friday, at the financial firm’s Nyala Farm site.

Bernhard said he hoped that Morgan Stanley would follow its own policy of “relocating” unneeded furniture “within other MS facilities,” then reselling or donating the rest to a third parties. He urged the company to work with Westport, other local communities and non-profits, allowing access to Nyala Farms for inspection and perhaps recycling of what the firm is about to discard. He even offered himself as a facilitator to help make it happen.

A small portion of the furniture Morgan Stanley threw away …

Bernhard was not pleased with the hemming, hawing and eventual silence from corporate headquarters.

Yesterday, he sent another email. He noted that a hospice facility in Stamford said it needs office furniture. They were happy to send a truck to pick it up.

Bernhard added:

In all honesty, I don’t understand MS’s perceived intransigence in not giving away some of what the company plans to destroy. In some communities the waste of valuable, useful assets might go unnoticed or overlooked, but Westport citizens aspire to do better than that. We have a strong, vibrant recycling program, a Green Task force, and municipal goals to reduce the community’s carbon footprint. Morgan Stanley is a part of our community.

Again, I offer my services to act as facilitator in identifying not-for-profits or others that might benefit from the reuse of furniture that will otherwise be wasted.

So far, he has not heard back.

Meanwhile, the clock ticks toward Friday.

And whatever happens at Nyala Farm — the sprawling office complex tucked away in the rolling hills off the Sherwood Island Connector — will be a lot less visible than it was on Post Road West.

… and another.

Alisyn Camerota: CNN Anchor, Debut Novelist, Westporter

Three years ago — after 16 years with Fox, including co-hosting “Fox & Friends Weekend” — Alisyn Camerota left the network.

She joined CNN. She co-anchors the “New Day” morning show. She reports on breaking international stories. She’s one of their top journalists.

It’s not easy. Camerota leaves Westport — where she has lived since 2012 — at 3:30 every morning. On the plus side: With very little traffic, her commute is just an hour.

If she was still at Fox, Camerota would be one of President Trump’s favorite TV personalities.

At CNN, she — and the entire network — are in his crosshairs.

That’s fine.

“With some regularity, we report a story in the morning, and a tweet comes out directly correlated to something we or a guest said,” Camerota notes.

“We know the president is watching. And we know he sometimes objects to a question or angle we take.

“It comes with the territory. We’re not there to curry favor. But I don’t see us as the ‘opposition,’ or an ‘enemy of the people.’ Our job is to hold people accountable for what they say and do.”

That’s not to say working at CNN is easy.

“If it’s been a particularly rough day — if we got called out at a press briefing — we’ll remark on it,” Camerota admits.

“But it hasn’t changed how we do our job. I don’t sense any chilling effect. In some way, it’s invigorated us. It’s helped us define our role, and sharpened our purpose.”

Alisyn Camerota

In fact, Camerota says, wherever she is, people thank her for doing what she does.

In Westport, some are friends. Others are strangers.

Earlier this year, she moderated a panel with diehard Trump supporters. One was convinced that 3 to 5 million people had voted illegally. As Camerota pressed her — and the woman’s answers grew “increasingly illogical” — the journalist involuntarily slapped her forehead. A video of the moment went viral.

The next day, while shopping in a local store, a woman approached Camerota, and slapped her own head. Neither said a word.

Camerota’s days are full. But with the publication yesterday of her 1st novel — Amanda Wakes Up — her life is about to get even busier.

The book was 6 years in the making. In 2011 — as the ’12 presidential campaign was getting underway — Camerota was intrigued by the cast of candidates. They included colorful folks like Newt Gingrich, Michelle Bachmann, Herman Cain and Rick Perry.

“There was no dearth of stories to cover,” the journalist says. She began taking notes.

She did not know her vignettes would become a book. But — because she was a weekend anchor and “could actually have a hobby” — she began writing.

Amanda follows an ambitious young reporter who lands a plum gig at a big-time cable news station — and quickly learns her “dream” job may be a nightmare.

Samantha Bee calls it “a hilarious, eye-opening glimpse into the TV news trenches, from one who’s had to navigate them backwards and in heels.”

Booklist adds, “Camerota’s timely send-up will engross readers from both sides of the political spectrum.”

“It was fun to assign my own ethical dilemmas to a fictional character,” the author says. “I let her figure stuff out.”

So how much of Amanda is Alisyn?

“All of it,” she answers quickly. “But the difference is, she figures everything out in 1 1/2 years. It took me 25 years.” That includes pre-Fox stints with ABC and NBC.

Amanda, it turns out, “is not me. She’s a distant cousin of mine.”

Tomorrow (Thursday, July 27, 7 p.m.), Camerota hosts a book signing at the Westport Barnes & Noble.

As for the rest of the summer, Camerota jokes: “I’m going to take a long nap.”

But, she continues, “My ‘day job’ has a breathless pace. I’m writing furiously during a 2-minute commercial break, trying to update a story or introduce the next guest.

“There’s something therapeutic and relaxing about sitting with my keyboard, trying to figure things out while writing a novel. I’m not sure — but I may have more stories to tell.”

Of course, she will also take time to appreciate summer in Westport.

“It’s stunningly beautiful,” Camerota says. “It’s so green. The flowers are in bloom. I love the beach, and Saugatuck Sweets. This is a glorious time to be here.”

So true. That’s definitely not Fake News.

Pic Of The Day #99

Waiting in the Staples High School auditorium lobby for last weekend’s production of “Working.” The painting is “Birth of the Blues” — one of 7 in a series by Staples grad, and noted artist/musician Eric von Schmidt. (Photo copyright Lynn U. Miller)

Stephens, Steinberg Snipe Over Affordable Housing

Recently, the Connecticut General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to loosen the restrictions of 8-30g — the state’s affordable housing standards, which incentivize municipalities to make 10 percent of their housing stock be “affordable.”

(Westport has a long history with 8-30g. Some affordable housing units here were built before the 1990 date on which state standards are based. Developers have proposed large buildings on small lots, marking a few units as “affordable.” Some observers have called those proposals “blackmail.” Westport’s Planning & Zoning Commission has denied several such proposals already. They approved one, on Post Road East.)

A proposed 4-story rental property at 1177 Post Road East.

The vote — 30-6 in the Senate, 116-33 in the House — makes it easier for towns and cities to reach “moratoriums,” and in some cases increases those moratoriums beyond the previous 4 years. (For an in-depth analysis of the measure from CTMirror, via WestportNow, click here.)

Governor Dannel Malloy vetoed the bill. The Senate overrode the veto by the closest 2/3 margin possible — 24-12. The House overrode it 101-47.

Local reaction was swift.

Westport Representative Jonathan Steinberg said: “I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up.’ Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path.”

That infuriated P&Z member Chip Stephens.

He emailed an “open letter” to Steinberg:

We got your message.

How dare you grandstand and throw your fellow town officials and residents under the bus last night:

“Steinberg said he plans to take an unwavering message to his town’s leaders — act.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’m going to tell people in my town, ‘Put up or shut up. Build the units. Get to the moratorium. Stay on that path,’” Steinberg said. Only after they have been given that chance, he said, can leaders “talk about whether or not 8-30g is working.””

I suggest you consider that your town officials have worked long and hard on affordable housing, both 8-30g qualifying, and more importantly quality affordable housing as Hales Court, Sasco Creek, Canal Park and other IHZ and multifamily components.

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.

In passing the newest 8-30g complex on Post Road East we will have our first moratorium application ready as soon as the developer completes the project and gets his CO.

Next time you crawl up on that stump and blow hot air directed at your town, think hard before letting your common sense filter down hurling inflammatory and demeaning comments at Westport. We hear and we will remember.

Steinberg fired back:

I have fought for 7 years to amend 8-30g to make it easier for Westport to achieve a moratorium, while you have done very little.

How dare you lecture me on this statute when all I stated that it’s now on towns to take advantage of this new opportunity to get to a moratorium and avoid developer predation.

You have real gall calling me out, given your abject failure as a Commissioner representing Westport’s interests.

I’m responsible for giving you a tool to protect our town. Shut up and get it done.

Like the 8-30 g/affordable housing debate, this political dialogue will continue.

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (left) and Westport Planning & Zoning commissioner Chip Stephens.

Mark Mathias: Mixed Reactions At Trump’s Boy Scout Speech

Mark Mathias is many things. He’s the founder and president of Remarkable STEAM, a statewide organization promoting innovation and creativity in science, technology, engineering, arts and math. He founded Westport’s Maker Faire, has served on the Board of Education for 14 years, and volunteers with the Boy Scouts.

In that last capacity, he’s attending this week’s National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia. He’s joined by 35,000 Scouts from around the world (120 from Connecticut, including Westporters), and 5,000 adult support staff. Mathias’ role is radio communications.

Mark Mathias and his son Nick, at the Boy Scout Jamboree.

Yesterday was a special one at the sprawling camp. Here’s his report:

This year, we were honored to have President Trump address the Jamboree.

Scheduled to speak at 6 p.m., preparations for his visit started well over a week ago. The venue opened at 2:30, and numerous restrictions were in place. It took nearly 2 hours from the time I got in line and snaked down the pathways until I reached one of 2 entrances.

Restrictions in place for President Trump’s visit to the Boy Scout Jamboree.

All day long, and particularly in line, lots of Scouts and adults wore red “Make America Great Again” hats.

Once inside the venue, box lunches were given to each person. Free bottles of water were handed out to every attendee, since it was very hot and muggy.  Luckily there was some light cloud cover and a brief sprinkle of rain to keep people cool while we waited on the grass.

The scouting organization was good at keeping the crowd entertained, as the Scouts stayed in their troop areas.  Many patches were traded, and ice cream vendors did a land office business.

By 6 p.m. the stage was set. A man placed the presidential seal on the podium.

Around 6:20 we saw the presidential motorcade arrive, winding down the hill to the rear of the stage.  The crowd frequently chanted: “We want Trump!” and “U! S! A!”

Mark Mathias’ view of the presidential stage.

When Mr. Trump came on stage, he received a very warm welcome from the assembled Scouts.  Thunderous applause and chanting of his name was a marvel to hear.

As he started his speech, Mr. Trump indicated he would set aside political differences for the evening, and instead talk about how to be successful.  He mentioned that 10 of the members of his cabinet were Scouts, and brought on stage Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price.

Other than the time I went to Washington to see a presidential inauguration with my family, I have not attended a live event where the President of the United States has spoken. I believe that the opportunity to see and hear the president is something everyone in our country should have.  I also believe in respecting the office of the president.

President Trump addresses the Boy Scouts.

Speaking to other scoutmasters in the audience as we waited for the president, I heard that some troops had talked seriously about not attending. Luckily, the scoutmasters I spoke to did not let this opportunity pass by. As I left the venue after the speech however, I saw a handful of troops that elected to not attend.

With a great start to President Trump’s speech, I had high hopes he would use it as an opportunity to inspire this largest collection of Scouts in the United States to do great things, and have scouting be a way to give them the skills they need.

Unfortunately, President Trump moved to subjects of repealing Obamacare, “fake news,” and how well the economy and stock market are doing since his election.

The crowd welcomed most of President Trump’s comments with great cheers, although there was the occasional boo — in particular when President Trump mentioned that President Obama did not address a Jamboree. (Click below for the entire speech.)

I stood in the audience, trying to absorb what was going on around me. Was the crowd responding to the fact that they had the President of the United States speaking to them? Were they truly supportive of the policies being presented to them? A combination of these and other reasons? Am I out of touch with America?

On the walk home and in talking with the people with whom I’m working, the conversations were muted. A few people said they thought Trump did a great job. Others were more critical of his speech. But adults on both sides of the subject were remarkably unenthusiastic. It was almost as though the speech didn’t happen. It surprised me that there was not a great desire to talk about what we had just witnessed.

Mark Mathias, at the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.

The experience for me was somewhat surreal. Being in the audience as the president addressed us is a great honor. Feeling the energy of the crowd — but not the motivation — made me feel out of place. Then, after having experienced what for many is a once-in-a-lifetime experience of seeing the president in person not be ebullient about it, was downright odd.

I hope to have more opportunities to participate in events of this nature, and hear leaders in their own words. I hope to be able to share these experiences with my family and friends. Most of all, I hope that we all grow as a result of these experiences.