In the mid-1950s, construction of I-95 ripped the heart out of the thriving Saugatuck neighborhood. Homes were demolished, entire roads wiped out, generations of families uprooted from the tightest-knit section of Westport.
Twenty years later, an incongruous multi-story office building — 21 Charles Street — rose nearby. More old houses were sacrificed, and fears rose that Saugatuck would soon devolve into one more anonymous, glass-faced business center.
It never happened. Over time Saugatuck found a new groove. Some decent restaurants and a funky art print store moved in. Bridge Square thrived, and the train station remained an important anchor.
Now Saugatuck is on the cusp of another change. As reported on WestportNow.com, an application to demolish 533 Riverside Avenue — DeRosa’s Restaurant, Westport Florists and Riverside Barber — is working its way through town government. That teardown would be one more step in the plan — approved last year by the Planning and Zoning Commission — to develop a new “Saugatuck Center” combining retail and residential properties.
I understand the retail concept — though I hope the space will be filled by local businesses, not the chain stores that sucked the life and energy out of Main Street. Gault is happy to move; as important as its location once was to the 145-year-old business, that’s no longer true. It will be cool to see the Saugatuck River opened up to everyone in town.
What I don’t get is the residential part. Will people really pay good money to live in — let’s face it — the shadow of the massive I-95 bridge? It’s one thing to shop there; it’s another thing entirely to open your window every morning directly underneath it.
Half a century ago, I-95 caused havoc for Saugatuck. Will it — unintentionally — do so again?