35 Church Lane

First came a text amendment to permit a 60-foot movie theater downtown.

The next proposed change involves 35 Church Lane — the Victorian building next to the YMCA.

Next Thursday (October 20, 7 p.m., Town Hall ), the Planning and Zoning Commission meets to discuss a zoning map amendment that would permit a developer’s request to permit a building almost 4 times the size of what’s currently allowed.

Four times the size.  On a narrow, traffic-clogged, 1-way street.

The handsome building now houses several offices.

In the application, the developer says he will explore “several possible amendments to the zoning regulations.”

What are they?

How would they change downtown?

What will happen next?

And — most importantly — what do Westporters think of all this?

96 responses to “35 Church Lane

  1. Thank you Dan for asking such relevant questions, and making people aware of this proposed zone change. I have one more question to add: What does the the P&Z mean when they talk about “revitalizing the downtown area”?

  2. Hello White Plains!!!!!

  3. mary ruggiero

    If other articles that I read on this proposal are accurate, the proposed change would permit a 6 or 7 story building after the Victorian is razed – on a rise – resulting in a possible 8 story building height on this LANE. If you don’t know what a lane is – visit Church Lane and imagine what that new building could look like from street level. Anyone who is interested in this proposal should appear at the P n Z meeting on Thursday, I know I will be there!

  4. Slightly off topic question for the Westport Historians – what was the deal behind the YMCA acquiring the old fire headquarters? Was it an outright gift? Did the town receive compensation? Was there a handshake agreement it wouldn’t be turned into a mall?

  5. Netflix. We don’t need another movie theater. Anyway, it’s a beautiful building which I am sure can still be rented to businesses who need the space.

  6. let me guess the developer is…..David (hey i know all the zoning rules but let me knock down my historic house before anyone notices) Waldman, and if we don’t stop him Ron (I have a vision for downtown the hell with the rest of westport) Corwin will put his stamp of approval on this!!! Lets go people of 06880 stop this now.

  7. The almost hysterical reluctance to accept change from Westport residents makes me wonder how residents from the world’s more beautiful cities and towns reacted to change in their time. Did residents in Bruges charge the town hall (you know what I mean) in protest of plans to tear down that cute hay-roofed cottage? Did residents of Amsterdam picket when Renaissance style buildings were built on the local pig farm?

  8. Ha! If we let all the downtown landlords/developer building proposals run with their proposals……….imagine the sight of our downtown. How short sighted! I think when we don’t keep our eye on what buildings are torn down and replaced, we risk these “changes” that some of our other tri-state areas have let themselves fall victim to. Please visit our neighboring states with endless tacky strip malls and large land lord money making square footage. Thank goodness for the concerned residents of Westport!

  9. How does this differ from the Westport Cinema Initiative amendment proposal?

  10. I would also like to comment, that many of the beautiful cities I’ve seen in our great country, have one thing in common, and that is the preservation of their early architecture.

  11. OMG… the profound insanity of P&Z [Bradley + Corwin, et al] and the lack of oversight [Joseloff] should encourage all WESTPORTERs to vote Republican next month.

    Add up just a few of the Democrats ideas: Poop Park at Winslow; give away land at Baron’s South, violate last will of lady via Hope Homes, rezone everything, forget to include all town retirees in funding, filthy restrooms at Compo etc etc etc.

    One would almost hope that it was a conspiracy rather than incompetence, but which is worse? Someone stands to make money from all these changes… any suggestions ?

    • The upcoming election is exactly why all these major text amendments are being pushed through P&Z…..the handwriting is on the wall. Westport is waking up to the fact that 14 years of having every town board and the selectman’s office controlled by a single party (Democratic) has left us with the highest debt per capita in the state, not including $50 million+ of previously unknown unfunded liabilities, an administration hell-bent on giving away Barron’s South for the benefit of possibly 1% or less of the town’s senior citizens, and a development philosophy that is inconsistent with the desires of the community. This P&Z majority knows its days are numbered.

    • While it is clear that Westport Democrats have a pro development bias, I have not seen anything from the Westport GOP to suggest that they would be any different – especially considering the GOP’s congenital desire to satisfy business/development interests.

      I may have bought Obama’s Hope/Change bait and switch in 2008, it is unlikely I will buy a similar one from the far less nuanced Westport GOP in 2011.

      • If you haven’t seen it that’s because you haven’t looked. The Westport P&Z candidates, all of them, have been endorsed by the Save Westport Now Party. Do your homework before you claim “same old GOP”.

        • The Save Westport Now endorsements do not move me. The lie of the moderate republican is alive and well and Westport.

          • Bet you didn’t mind SWN endorsing Democratic candidates consistently until the last election. Anyone who might have an interest in learning what it would mean to have a Republican controlled P&Z can check out http://www.votefor4.com.

            • As Mencken said, a politician can ride the fence with both ears on the ground. GOP or Donkey. Same ole rhetoric. Same ole results.

              • Well enjoy spending election day with the 60% of Westporters who don’t vote in town-only elections and then complain for the next 4 years how things never change.

                • Considering that more people vote for “American Idol” than President, I shall await the moans and complaints. I do vote. But I reserve the right to complain as well. I do believe that is more the system and who it attracts than labels we seem destined to place on our “leaders.”

                  • I agree on a national/state level but on a local level it is all volunteers not professional pols, ex the first selectman.

                    • Still ego driven. Wrong reasons. System is dysfunctional. Do you really think if 100% voted that it would be any different???

                    • Considering that there is no requirement that voters be informed before they vote, probably not.

                  • And since our schools suck, we will remain stupid.

  12. Can't Drive 55

    It would seem change is inevitable with greedy developers and bought & sold Planning/Zoning committees but I wish they would submit some type of overall plan instead of cherry picking various buildings.

  13. Westporters think P&Z = Preposterous & Zany.

  14. As one of the members of the development team who is requesting the zone change I feel it is very important for all sides to have the correct information as it pertains to our requested zone change, as opposed to misleading, incorrect information circulated to scare people into opposition.

    So, here are the facts: The zone change, if approved, would grant us the ability to increase the current rentable space from 9,400 s/f to 19,859 s/f, an increase of 10,459 s/f or 1.11 times bigger (not 4 times as reported above and presented in flyers from Save Westport Now). That 19,859 could either be in one building with a foot print of no more than 10,000 s/f or two separate buildings (5,000 s/f footprint) and of the total 19,859 s/f, 75% would have to be for residential uses. Second, the zone change would allow us to achieve a height of no more than 3 stories and 35 feet, not 6-7 (or 8) stories as reported above. Keep in mind that the existing YMCA’s Weeks pavilion is 58′ in height off of church lane and Patagonia is 52′ in height. Never have we considered or presented a building of 8 stories on Church Lane and the 6 story concept we presented in our pre-application hearing had only 2/3 stories visible from grade on Church Lane and 4 from grade on Elm Street.

    As for the preservation of the Victorian, we would be more than happy if anyone in town would like to move the house place it wherever they feel it would best serve them. For our development site, the benefits of the combined properties as outlined below far outweigh the concept of preserving the building for the sake of preservation. 35 Elm Street and the adjacent single story doctors office which sits on the same site are out of place with their abutting neighbors . 36 Elm Street (designs within reach) is in the RORD zone is built far beyond today’s current BCD standards and the existing Weeks Pavilion of the YMCA, which is clearly an architectural gem, is over 58 feet in height and has a wall of concrete running the lenght of 35 Elm Street. Our future proposed development will complement the historic Bedford Mansion and Fire House (a property which was owned by the Y at the time we became involved) as well as the buildings housing Patagonia, Urban Outfitters and the soon to be new Gray Goose restaurant. They will be constructed using real material, sustainable designs and in a scale far better then what exists today.

    The benefits of our request would allow for the construction of additional downtown housing, a use which is currently prohibited in the on this RORD site (because it does not have frontage on a designated Arterial Street); additional retail and restaurant space running at street level down Church Lane and rounding the corner up Elm Street towards Main; new pedestrian connections and public courtyards, wider, tree lined sidewalks on Church Lane and most importantly the creation of over 100 concealed (underground) parking spaces which would exit across from the entrance/exit of Christ and Holy Trinity Church (which as a result will provide safer, easier vehicular management and reduce the traffic on Church Lane. Also keep in mind the the majority of the traffic issues on Church Lane are a direct result of the use of the YMCA.

    As for what will happen next, that, like everything in our town, will require additional public meetings and approvals. Nothing would nor has ever been done behind closed doors or without the public being able to voice its opinion. I, along with other members of our development team, have proven ourselves as it pertains to historical redevelopment. This is eveident in the newly restored 101-107 Post Road East (Urban Outfitters and the old Sherwood Mansion) as well as 87 Post Road East (Old Westport Bank and Trust). We understand and are sensitive to the environment we build in. Our preservation of the Bedford Mansion and Fire House will be to the highest standard and our proposed addition will meld beautifully and complement its surrounding neighborhood. Our development will add hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax revenue to the town and create jobs, evening activity and life where it currently does not exist (but belongs).

    If you want to oppose our development, at least get your facts straight. If you can do that, we may be able to have intelligent conversations about development, smart growth and the overall success of our Downtown.

    • david waldman

      This post was written by David A. Waldman. It was not meant to be anonymous.

    • Yes, this sounds very similar to the Westport Cinema Initiative. Don’t get fooled again!

    • I thought the Westport Cinema Initiative was already voted down.

    • Hey David nice posts, good spin in my heart of hearts I know you don’t care about Westport you care about your bottom line!!! Which you should Good luck but don’t give me your good boy all about Westport crap. If you want me out of one of your properties are you breaking in?? David knows of what I speak everyone else google it.

  15. The last post was not meant to be anonymous. It was written by David Waldman.

    • I guess we have to become INTELLIGENT to enter this fray. Sort of like taking three entries on a blog to get your name straight. LOL

  16. The last post was not meant to be anonymous. It was written by David A. Waldman

  17. Princeton '82

    = Pathetic & Zipsaggers

  18. david waldman

    Sorry i am not a professional blogger but at least i am willing to put my name on my comments

    • My name is bRA. I am not sure there is such a thing as a professional blogger but if there is, you sure could make a bundle with the number of words you use. Perhaps you should consider a career change??

  19. While certainly and obviously not a professional blogger, David Waldman is without question a developer who genuinely and deeply cares about the town. Several of you might not agree with his aesthetic-style but certainly most Westporters do; and, whether you agree with his aesthetic-style or not, you can’t dispute the depth of the quality of his work.

    • The destruction of the Paul Rudolph house was unforgivable. Far more significant and historic than anything we are talking about here, but seemingly all but forgotten.

  20. Arthur Champlin, Esq.

    Waldman cares about money. Period.

    • david waldman

      Arthur, as a resident of Westport, which for now I will assume you are, you should also care about money. You should care about the jobs our projects create. You should care about the tax dollars they bring to our town, and state. Every developer cares about the economics of the projects they create and to not would be foolish.

      As for the Rudolph, which I will never forget because of the pain it caused me, it was Dr. Michaels’, the 90 year old holocaust survivor who built, designed and owned the property that was responsible for its destruction, not me. Since you clearly do not understand how a property can become protected, let me educate you. Only the owner of a property can protect it from the wrecking ball. In order to get a historical designation, and the protection it affords (like I did for 87 Post Road East), you have to be willing to sign documents restricting your personal property rights allowing for such a designation. Dr. Michaels’ could have done that and the Rudolph would have been spared from the wrecking ball. That said, since it was HIS property, he chose to sell it for its land value, to the highest bidder, so he could retire and move closer to his children. For years prior to its sale, he tried to sell it for its “architectural value”, but no one, not even the Rudolph Foundation, stepped up and did anything. They, like most reactionist, waited until someone bad was going to happen and only then used loop holes in our laws to try and prolong and prevent the inevitable.

      And again, it would be nice if you, and the others on this blog, did not hide behind “anonymous”! At least Arthur was man enough to put his name on his comment.

      • Your purchase contract on the house was contingent upon the seller obtaining a demolition permit.

    • And exactly what do you care about?

  21. Talk is cheap. If the no change at any price crowd want to have their way, why don’t they buy the building in question? The meddlers at every level love to spend other people’s money.

    • Agreed. Waldman is playing the free market and appears to be the only player in town. Whine all you want but at least he is doing something while many wish for the Remarkable Book store to return.

  22. If I’m not mistaken, David stopped the demolition and offered to sell the Rudolph house to anyone who wanted to save it. NO TAKERS. David was more than “fair” on this issue. He offered it at the price he paid… no profit.

  23. This is the Westport CInema Initiative project. Sugarcoat it all you want.

  24. What Westport should do is preserve more of its character and history, especially downtown. What Westport does not need is more retail or office space. In case you haven’t noticed, there are plenty of vacancies all over town.

  25. Ah, another opportunity to post on “preserve downtown” top is – seems we are being given quite a few of these opportunities lately by those currently in control of the P&Z. This text amendment (that’s zoning-speak for re-writing the zoning regulations) is necessary to accommodate the developer’s plan because the current zoning regulations (Church lane is in the “Business Center District / Historic” zone) would not allow what he has in mind. Because Church Lane was meant to remain a quiet, quaint, leafy lane with historic buildings; at least that’s what the idea was behind the BCD/H that the Corwin-led P&Z is now seeking to unwind.

    While I appreciate the energy of Mr. Waldman, and I do respect him for posting here under his name, I don’t believe this rewriting of the BCD/H to suit this project is consistent with preserving downtown, and it will certainly lead to more traffic congestion in this quiet area of downtown. That’s what I am interested in.

    • Jack, this is not the re-writting of the BCD-H zone. It is a request to change the current RORD zone to a BCD zone. We are not asking for the H designation because we have made or intentions clear that we plan on taking down the structures to make way for the new project. The combination has many benefits which i outlined above. The property is neighbored by 36 Elm Street (RORD but built beyond the current BCD regulations) and the YMCA, which is BCD-H, as as we have said, we plan on preserving the Bedford Mansion and Fire House and integrating them into the overall design. For a man running for P&Z I would hope you would understand the zoning as it exists today before you decide to comment on what you THINK we are trying to do.

      • Who’s “we”?

      • Sorry, David Waldman

      • We is Bedford Square and I am David Waldman

        • David, you shouldn’t take shots at Jack. You are not telling the whole story here. You may only be looking to rezone your property to the BCD now but the BCD only allows for 2 story buildings. In the July presentation to the P&Z your group stated you wanted to build a 5 story building. Now you say a 3 story. Which is it? You can’t build either without a text amendment to the zoning regulations.

      • Ah yes, it’s true your project occupies BOTH the BCD/H zone as well as the RORD zone, but I think we can only pour just so much zoning jargon down the throats of people that don’t live with the zoning map (it’s right here for those who care: http://www.westportct.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=507).

        Without boring the good people here, the stated purpose of the RORD can be found at Section 22-1 of the Zoning Regulations: http://www.westportct.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=382, and the specific rules for that RORD zone are found in subsequent subsections of Section 22.

        The stated purpose of the BCD/H zone can be found at Section 29A-1 of the Zoning Regulations: http://www.westportct.gov/modules/showdocument.aspx?documentid=473, and the rules for that zone follow in the subsections of Section 29A.

        I think it’s fair to say that your proposal (what we know of it) is incompatible with the current zoning regulations that apply in the area, so much so that a Text Amendment (a re-write of the zoning regulations) is being proposed in order to accommodate your proposal. If you think I have misstated that, I invite you to correct me.

        I am not adverse to your good intentions, but I am not wildly in favor of re-writing the zoning regulations to accommodate ANYONE’s general proposals that have not been detailed in a formal submission, especially in a historically-sensitive area of Town. I would much prefer a fully-detailed submission in accordance with the relevant zoning regulations, and hopefully the builder-developer would try to tailor his plan to the requirements of the zone rather than seek to have the zone in the area completely changed to suit his wishes. I happen to be of the view that this text amendment method of addressing informal proposals is a bit backward.

        And since you are proceeding on this path, we really don’t know exactly what it is you are proposing to do – so we are left to THINK we know enough to understand what you might do. I hope you forgive me for not knowing what you haven’t told us.

  26. I’m votin for Jack on the P&Z.

    • That’s kind of you, but just voting for me won’t do much to change the P&Z – you need to vote for all four of the Save Westport Now candidates (including me) to actually change the P&Z.

      • OK. I’ll vote for all 4.
        Change is healthy.

      • Are you going to whittle down the budget too???

      • What’s interesting about the P&Z election if that if all four republicans win, they would control the P&Z for four years not just the normal two. Reason: They would serve four-year terms and thus constitute a majority of the P&Z. The voters would have to live with the consequences, instead of having an opportunity to change the leadership in 2013. That’s scary because two of the four republicans have no experience on the P&Z and, from their public utterances, understand less about what a P&Z does.

  27. The Dude Abides

    And what is Westport’s character and history?? No one is going to agree on that. And if you think this recession-depression is going to last forever, you are shortsighted. “Christmas is every day in Westport” is still the mantra for many here who shop until they drop. I do agree that an overall plan/approach is necessary and renovations on Church Street should follow such a vision.

  28. Thank you, David, for posting here to outline your project and provide your answers to issues that have been raised. I believe that Westport’s downtown badly needs revitalization and is unlikely to achieve it through a blanket preservationist approach. I would much rather see someone whose roots are in Westport and has the support of local merchants take on this challenge than an outside developer or corporation. I wish you good luck on the project.

  29. The real problem with the P&Z is Ron Corwin. As long as Ron Corwin is chair and the other members of his political party fall in line with him the P&Z will be running out of control. The only way to change the direction is to elect the 4 candidates from Save Westport (a real political party). Yes, these 4 candidates are members of the Republican party but everyone needs to understand that the organizers of Save Westport are all Democrats. Party affiliation does not matter here. It’s all about whether a candidate will support Ron Corwin as continuing as chairman. It is simple, if you don’t like the direction the P&Z is going you need to vote for the Save Westport/Republican candidates in order to remove Corwin as chair.

    • If party affiliation doesn’t matter, than don’t run as Republicans. Democrats may suck, by the GOP has become a cultish, nihilist, freak show. Save Westport gives them a line on the ballot – so that means they are Republicans because they actually want to be – not just to get on the ballot.

      Anyone that aligns themselves with a party that can serve up that nightmare batch of presidential candidates will not get my vote as I strongly question their judgement… and their sanity.

      • The cultish, nihilist freak show is currently located in Zucotti Park. And guess which Party has adopted them, and vice versa?

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  30. I look forward to watching Mr. Waldman’s presentation. I think he has done many nice things for downtown Westport. Unfortunately, Mr. Waldman’s presentation to the P&Z in July for this project looked more like something to be built in Stamford. The plans presented were for a five story building. It was stated to the P&Z that their plan was to rezone the property and then go back to the P&Z for a change to the regulations to allow for the 5 stories. Mr. Waldman you stated the zone change would allow you to The current regulations only allow for 2 stories! Have you now changed your plans to Mr. Waldman?

    I hope Mr. Waldman learned from the Theater District hearings and has redrawn his plans. Otherwise Mr. Waldman is going to have a real uphill battle with public opinion/

    • The pre-application process was set up in order to allow developers to present concepts in-front of the board so they can get feedback from them on how to move forward. My partners and I have listened very carefully to the boards and the residents of Westport, we have heard the issues about the height and density and are sensitive to how our project will effect the town and surrounding areas. Our intentions are to build a project which allows for additional residential (currently prohibited on this RORD site, small retail spaces running the length of Church Lane, public courtyards and places to gather, restaurants, wider sidewalks, tree lined streets as well as over 100 concealed underground parking spaces. The rezoning of this property is the first step in allow those ideas to occur. As i mentioned above, if granted, this rezoning will only allow us an additional 10,000 on top of the 9,400 that is there today, and of that total space, 75% would have to be residential. It would allow us only 3 stories of 35 feet, and no more. If future changes are requested by our team, they will be in public with public opinion and approvals required. The benefits of this request are clearly in line with the towns plan of conservation and development and will be in character and scale with its neighborhood.

  31. This approach to zoning reminds me of the old question: How do you eat an elephant?……

    One bit at a time!

  32. read: One bite at a time.

  33. Please vote on Nov. 8th, to change things you have to VOTE
    if Westport really cares like, I believe we do Please vote and give the Vote for 4 a chance We are on 2 lines Republican or Save Westport Now
    This is not politics it is a referendum on how the P and Z has been acting over the past few years. http://www.votefor4.com