Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

On Thursday night the Planning and Zoning Commission’s withdrew a proposed amendment that would have allowed construction of a 60-foot-high movie theater downtown.

Yesterday, a longtime Westporter reacted with relief.  And a plea.

He addressed this open letter to all “06880” readers:

When I was in school, textbooks called China a “sleeping dog.”  The giant would arise some day — but until then, let sleeping dogs lie.

Those words were prophetic.

Also when we were younger, there was passion among Westporters when outsiders threatened us.  United Illuminated wanted to build a nuclear power plant on Cockeone Island. Bloomingdale’s wanted to build on the baron’s property (now Winslow Park).

Westporters rallied, and beat them back.

Over the next 3 decades Westport seemed to fall asleep.   Very little activism seemed to be present — except for occasional McMansion debates, the Y discussions and a few others.

That changed this week.

Downtown Westport -- with not a 6-story building in sight.

This month the spirit of Westport arose like a phoenix.  We pushed back against the P & Z, as our own elected officials in a bit of an overzealous move tried to push through an amendment that would have allowed 60-foot buildings in order to accommodate a movie theater in town.

Over 2 nights Westporters flocked to the Town hall to express 2 loud and uniform messages:  They would love a movie theater (as they loved Fine Arts 1-4), and Westport likes the way it looks and exists in a small-town downtown where 60-foot buildings do not fit.

As Mike Calise put so well, we let things get out of hand in the 1960s and ’70s with lax regulation.  We ended up with the Wright Street building, the current Gap building (125 Main Street), the Riverside Avenue 4-story buildings and the one on Charles Street.

New rules stopped that madness, and we thank those who took that step.  Without it, Westport would look much different now.

The P & Z and developers today seem intent on undoing those rules, with the theater overlay amendment (now dead),  the 6-story proposed building next to the Y, a 4-story parking garage on the Baldwin lot, and other projects proposed downtown and on the Post Road.

After the amendment was withdrawn last night, I feel Westport will rise to the challenge of the next battles.  It was a proud moment for us long-timers still around.

Maybe the P & Z should take a lesson from our old textbooks:  Let sleeping dogs lie.

16 responses to “Let Sleeping Dogs Lie?

  1. I totally agree! Westpot can use some sprucing up downtown but as long as the commercial property owners there are singularly focused on maintaining the highest possible rents, we will see no real progress. We are, in a sense, victims if our own prosperity. With downtown Fairfield developing into a vibrant place to eat, shop or just walk around, downtown Westport looks stale by comparison. A 60 foot movie theater here is definitely not the answer. Neither is a multi level parking garage. But Main Street Westport looks more like an outdoor version of Stamford Tow Center. We need more creative solutions than what we have seen. The fact is that the downtown property owners are not our partners in this venture.

  2. Maybe now we could have a town-wide meeting to brainstorm some
    ideas for revitalizing downtown.

  3. It’s not just the “old timers” who want Westport Downtown to become vital without changing it’s character. the “new timers” moved here for most of the same reasons – if I had wanted to live in Stamford, or Norwalk, I would be there now.

  4. Way to go Westport !

  5. I too was so pleased to see the people of this Town mobilize (going door to door to get the word out, and show up at the meetings) and come together in a united voice. We aren’t so complacent after all!

    Mike Calise really captured my thoughts – the P&Z leadership who led this Theater Overlay Zone initiative are taking piecemeal swipes at this Town’s plan of zoning that was itself a reaction to these same forces that were creating big “mistakes” that we live with today. These mistakes (like the Wright Street building) should serve as reminders to us of what not to do, rather than as benchmarks for the next wave of development, as Ron Corwin seemed to suggest in his support for this 60′ building height TOZ.

  6. Larry Perlstein

    I understand there is animosity in town for Ron Corwin and the P&Z but I think they deserve credit for running a governmental process that worked, and not be blamed for an “overzealous move”. The sub committee authored an amendment that they felt would provide the most flexibility to anyone interested in bringing a theater to downtown. The P&Z put the amendment out for public hearing, the public spoke and the amendment was withdrawn. What do you know!?! This process actually worked! If we could execute our governmental processes this well at all levels, and drop the personal attacks and misinformation, we might actually be able to get something done!

  7. To me at least, the movie theater should be located in Saugatuck, replacing the old post office: plenty of parking and restaurants and nightlife, easy on/off 95, and no real trouble with 60′ buildings. The downtown movie lobby HAS to be developer/P&Z driven.

  8. As someone who lived through the Wright Street/Riverside Avenue development explosion and lamented it plenty even as a teenager, this is good news. I do hope a smaller-scale movie theater downtown can come to fruition.

    And all this talk on this blog really makes me want to check out downtown Fairfield!

  9. The Dude Abides

    A+++++++ But tough to let sleeping dogs lay in a dog eat dog environment.