RTM Rep Walks Out

I wasn’t at last Friday’s meeting about the Kemper-Gunn House, and its possible move from 35 Church Lane to the Elm Street parking lot.

Don Bergmann, an RTM member who serves on its  Planning & Zoning Committee, was. For a while.

But he walked out — protesting what he called First Selectman Gordon Joseloff’s “indecisiveness” — and said he would not longer work on the project.

The other meeting participants — Joseloff, members of his staff, RTM P&Z Committee chair Matthew Mandell, Historic District Commission chair Francis Henkels, and State Representative Jonathan Steinberg — stayed.

35 Church Lane -- also known as the Kemper-Gunn House.

35 Church Lane — also known as the Kemper-Gunn House.

In a press release, Bergmann said he was “frustrated by the lack of support of the project by the First Selectman, including an unwillingness to go on record in support of, and actively work for, the success of the project.”

According to Bergmann, the house will be moved across the street to the Baldwin lot, with all costs borne by Bedford Square Associates (the firm redeveloping Church Lane). “Once moved, the house will be renovated by a developer and then made available for commercial rentals, including obligations to provide for ‘mom and pop’ occupancies and to exclude ‘chain’ stores,” Bergmann says. He adds:

The Town will lease a portion of the Baldwin parking lot for the new site and will receive payments under that lease. The Town will also benefit by the real estate taxes that will result from the change of use of the site from parking to an historic commercial usage. The Town will not take title to the Kemper-Gunn house and will have no responsibility for the renovation….

The Kemper-Gunn house will be preserved, the new site on Elm Street is part of a transitional zone that “softens” the shift from downtown commercial to residential structures and our Town will receive lease payments and additional tax revenues.

Bergmann “loves the project,” his press release says, and he hopes to continue working on it.

However, he notes,

the efforts to date to get the First Selectman to support, drive and take ‘ownership’ of the project have been unsuccessful. Hopefully, the public and others will now convince the First Selectman to take the leadership which this project demands. Without that leadership, the Kemper-Gunn house may go the way of the wrecking ball.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff was asked yesterday morning to comment. He did not respond.

However, at last night’s Board of Finance meeting — where several Westporters and RTM members spoke in favor of moving the house — Joseloff was less than enthusiastic.

“There’s some concern that the town, even if we lock in all the ifs, ands and buts in the lease, there is some potential exposure to the town for taking care of this house down the line,” Joseloff said, according to the Westport News.

11 responses to “RTM Rep Walks Out

  1. John McCarthy

    Good for you Don.

  2. Jamie Walsh

    This is not one of our First Selectman’s pet projects. Senior housing and moving the Westport Art’s Center to Jessup Green seem to be a higher priority and get all the press on Westportnow. His comments stated in the last paragraph make no sense… The same statement can be said about the Baron’s South Senior Housing and moving the Westport Art’s Center to Jessup Green…so what’s the concern?

  3. Jamie Walsh

    Also, big thanks to Don Bergmann and David Waldman for their commitment to this vision of saving a little piece of Westport’s architectural history. This just show’s how public and private interest can work cooperatively and effectively together. Hopefully, the Town will come around and see it in the same light.

  4. Nick Thiemann

    We seem to be giving away parking spaces to anyone with a good idea. This project will cost us parking. The “pop outs” cost parking. The next thing we know there will be a big push to rip up something else because we have no parking.

  5. Seems “The Town” doesn’t really want to get involved in anything that is not related to or the brain child of Mr Joseloff. We are surrounded with intelligent, hardworking, innovative thinkers, (actually leaders in their own profession), from the private sector who are into improving things, and adapting to the wishes of other to obtain a working plan….. and Town Governments is comprised of self centered, nay sayers who can’t get out of their own way.
    When the town won’t pay for an improvement that they are responsible for, the private sector donates the money, gets it done, and the town gratefully accepts the donation. Mr. Joseloff, you can’t see the forest for the trees. This project is a win for downtown, a win for preservationists, a win for “the town”. “The town” is afraid, because they can’t get out of their own way when it comes to taking care of the property they already own.
    One would think that the money from leasing the land that this house will sit on would be kept to maintain the building, but nooooo! the town will put that money back in to the general fund to pay for pensions.

    Oh, and the parking issue, look around to other towns and let’s get our act together.

  6. Tom Prince

    Looking forward to the end of Joseloff’s tedious reign of ribbon-cutting and tacky self-promotion.

  7. Matthew Mandell

    Gordon is now moving this forward after a successful BOF meeting last night.
    Read about it on Westport Now.

  8. Bart Shuldman

    So let me understand, Gordon is worried about potential care of the house, but enthusiastically supported giving away Barons South to what could be huge liability to the town? And he would have given Barons South away, until some of us stepped in, for no income to the town but now walks away from this?

    Is it November yet?

  9. Jamie Walsh

    Glad Gordon finally relented and saw the merits of this win win opportunity that David Waldman has embraced and with vision presented. Hopefully, Don Bergmann can regain his place at the table. Still think the building could be a terrific place for the WAC. A lot cheaper for them to renovate the interior space then putting up a new building on one of the few open space left in downtown.

  10. Adele Patterson

    I think you are right Nick Thiemann. As I recall, when they built that parking lot and as it grew, there remained a little house on a lot as an island in the sea of asphalt. Eventually, the house went down and parking spread all the way to C&HT property. As a youngster, I was taken by my father to meet the woman who lived in that little house and her importance and prominence was impressed upon me. I think she was a foreign correspondent or war photographer–somethng of that sort. Do I remember this correctly and does anyone know her name?