40 Years Later, Green’s Farms Renews Shopping Center Battle

In 1971 the owner of a 6-acre vacant lot on the Post Road, between South Morningside and Church Street, proposed a new shopping center.

It would include a supermarket, drugstore, retail shops and 366-seat movie theater. Plans included a driveway on the southern part of the property — directly on South Morningside. Directly opposite Green’s Farms Elementary School.

The Green’s Farms PTA swung into action. They quickly got 700 signatures — from all over town — on a petition that claimed the driveway would be hazardous to children. (The PTA was not against the shopping center itself.)

Their protests led to a new traffic plan. For 4 decades, traffic from (then) Waldbaum’s and the Post Cinema, and (now) Barnes & Noble and Pompanoosuc Mills, has exited only onto the Post Road and Church Street.

The main entrance and exit for Post Plaza Shopping Center.

The main entrance and exit for Post Plaza Shopping Center.

But everything old is new again. This Tuesday (July 23, 7:30 p.m., Town Hall) the Zoning Board of Appeals will consider a zoning variance. It’s a request — you knew this was coming — for a new commercial driveway to be built in the rear of the Post Plaza Shopping Center, onto South Morningside. Directly across from the Green’s Farms School bus exit.

Owners estimate that 20% of shopping center traffic — cars, commercial vehicles, and delivery and garbage trucks — would use the new driveway.

RTM members John Suggs, Dewey Loselle and Matt Mandell are not pleased. They’re concerned about safety — particularly at school pickup and drop-off times, when vehicles parked on both sides of Morningside make sight lines difficult.

A truck navigates through cars parked on both sides of South Morningside Drive...

A truck navigates through cars parked on both sides of South Morningside Drive…

Morningside is also clogged for events like plays, Back to School Nights and softball games.

Opponents point out too that Westport prohibits the construction of a driveway within 400 feet of a school driveway. That ordinance was waived in January by the Board of Selectmen. No RTM member or  Green’s Farms Association member attended the meeting. The selectmen have been asked to rehear the matter for several reasons, one of which was that the public notice was “deficient.”

The State Traffic Administration — which in 1971 forbid construction of the driveway, thanks in part to the PTA petition — has been asked whether it is legal for the town to now permit the driveway, without seeking state approval.

...and a bus squeezes through, while a student crosses the street.

…and a bus squeezes through, while a student crosses the street.

Back in 1971, Green’s Farms PTA president Penny Heatley said, “We want to be certain that there will be no access to South Morningside Drive across from the school, even if the present owners were to sell out to somebody else in a year or two.”

Or even if the current owners, 40 years later, decided to try the same thing.

22 responses to “40 Years Later, Green’s Farms Renews Shopping Center Battle

  1. John McCarthy

    This is one of many actions slid through the process by this Board of Selectman with little or no input from the public. Board of Selectman meetings are held at 5 PM for the express purpose of limiting public participation, IMHO. Which suits the current 1st Selectman’s leadership style. So of course this matter should be re-opened and discussed by an informed and aware public.

    Jim and Helen, can you respond here with your thoughts on how you would change the way the BOS communicates with the public, and let us know if you would change the start time of BOS meetings to a time when more people could attend? This blog is a great forum for really letting people know what you are thinking. Take advantage of it.

    Thanks

    • Oliver Mading

      As I browse the sites relating to my old home, I find it interesting how, no offense intended, people can miss the point of how to address legitimate community concerns. I humbly submit that the meeting times of the BOS are not the critical element in preventing the creation of a safety hazard in the form of a dangerously situated driveway.

      It strikes me more as being like bringing a knife to a gun fight. The resource for dealing with the grievance is professionalism, not grousing about how the BOS is conducting its affairs. As large a group as appears to be on the right side of this affair, it seems a simple matter to pass the hat and put someone like Gloria Gouveia (used to do business as Land Use Consultants when I lived in Westport) on the case. At the very least, someone like Gloria can give a you clear picture of the prospects and means to achieve the just outcome in a matter like this.

      Just an observation from a former resident who would like to see the community that gave him some of the best years of his life the chance to stem the tide against the moneyed interests and retain the kind of commmunity feeling I enjoyed so much.

      • John McCarthy

        Oliver,
        Before consultants can be hired and matters discussed openly, people must be aware of what is exactly being discussed before town bodies. I believe that the BOS is the only town body that regularly discusses and decides on major matters during the course of a single meeting. Publicly noticed, legally held, Very efficient, gets the 1st Selectman and department heads home in time for dinner. But certainly not a process which encourages input or even awareness by town citizens that may be impacted by the matters being addressed. And that is what my “grousing” is aimed at. The next 1st selectman has a chance to fix this.

        John

        • Oliver Mading

          John,

          Really seemed to me like the issues are clear from reading the above. Professionals know exactly how to keep the elected officials from playing footsie. Complaining to the BOS will get you process, not progress.

          Oliver

  2. John,
    I agree that the current start time of Board of Selectmen meetings (usually 3PM) makes it difficult for most members of the public and other Town boards and commissions to attend, or even watch on our public access channels. I believe that the start time was established to limit the number of times that our Town department heads and employees need to stay into the evening for what are typically routine business matters. Nevertheless, we need to treat all the citizens of Westport as our “customers” and offer them as much convenience of access to Town services and public meetings as practical. As First Selectman, I would revisit the start time of Board of Selectmen meetings to provide more opportunities for public attendance and, of course, continue to televise and stream the meetings. I will work with our department heads to be sure our Town Hall and other facility “office hours” are as convenient and practical for those citizens who need or want physical access to our records and services. I will also plan to hold periodic Board of Selectmen information and feedback sessions in other locations such as the Library, Senior Center, Earthplace and the schools to make it easier for all Westporters to dialogue with their elected officials.

  3. Michele Carey-Moody

    Thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention. I love your blog.

    Michele Carey-Moody

  4. joe signorile

    is there an issue matt mandell isn’t against?

    • Matthew Mandell

      WOW Joe, how about the Slice of Saugatuck, the preservation of the Gunn House, the preservation of the Terrain House, and here my backing of the residents, my constituents, who want to make sure their children get to and from school safely. There are always two sides to the issue.

  5. mary hoffman

    I met Matt Mandell the other night at the beach, he is a nice person and a very concerned citizen. I also met John McCarthy, equally nice and concerned. I learned a lot about Westport at the 06880 gathering.

  6. Catherine Davis

    I believe there was an entrance/exit on Morningside in the mid 90s when that great toy store was on that Morningside/Post Road corner. It vanished when the toy store did. Wonder how they slipped that in..

  7. Joyce Barnhart

    If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Adding an exit ont Morningside Drive South is a terrible idea. Geens Farms School has many, many more cars parking on the street at pick-up time and much more traffic now than in the 70’s. Any driver who wants to travel down Morningside Drive South can exit onto the Post Road easily and turn at the corner. I did that for the 37 years we lived on Hillandale Road. It isn’t difficult. I don’t understand why the change is even being considered.

  8. I agree Joyce. This makes no sense. Why is the added driveway suddenly necessary, and why now? I believe they have to prove there is a hardship issue –and for years the church lane entrance/exit has worked just fine. Unless of course the “innocent request for a driveway” is a smoke screen for something else! besides, does it not violate the law of being within a certain number of feet from a school. Thanks Dan and the RTM for alerting parents of GFS to the potential safety risk to children and visitors of GFS.

  9. The under-the-table, over-the-top reign of Joseloff can’t end soon enough. I look forward to voting for the candidate who can distance himself or herself from the photo-op that currently masquerades as local government and from the current back-room antics that are ultimately so expensive, time-consuming, and useless.

  10. Helen Garten responds:

    Dear John,

    Board of Selectmen meetings on important issues of concern to the community should definitely be scheduled in the evening (7:30 is a good time) so that more people can attend. Five o’clock is a particularly difficult time for most people to get to meetings.

    But I am also concerned that there is not enough publicity about the details of many items on the BoS agenda. Sometimes I can’t tell from the brief agenda description what the item is about. If a matter affects a particular neighborhood or is of general public interest, the Selectman’s office should provide the press and blogs a brief summary in advance so that all interested Westporters get the chance to weigh in. I think public input should be actively encouraged because it helps us make better decisions.

    I also plan to reinstitute Diane Farrell’s brown bag lunches because that’s a great opportunity for Westporters to learn about and have a dialogue on issues like this one. Not everybody can attend the lunches, of course, but if the press picks up on the discussion, which they used to, the word gets out to more people.

  11. Glenn Payne

    Our kids went to GFS and were 2 of the 10 (total for all grades) that walked home. Given the catchment of GFS is south of the Post Road they would all be walking south on the sidewalks so the additional driveway wouldn’t suggest an immediate issue. If the kids were there for 15 minutes each day, morning plus night their presence is 1% of the year versus the small business guys like Angelinas that are open greater than 50% of all hours.

    I have always thought the greater risk was walking from the carpark into B&N so any reduction in traffic heading around the back has to be a good thing. To get out I too have to inch out into the Post Road and turn down Morningside, so a way to reduce dealing with that traffic would likewise save much angst and accidents.

  12. Dewey Loselle

    Dan – Thank you for publicizing this issue and calling attention to the potential safety concerns that this new driveway will create.

    The parents and citizens of Westport had it right in 1971, “that this was a dangerous idea and should not be permitted” and the State Traffic Commission concurred. A few years later the RTM passed a Town Ordinance prohibiting any such driveway within 400 yards of a public school driveway for good reason.

    Unfortunately, this has all been forgotten and bypassed lately by our Town Government. Our Town Ordinance was quickly “waived” at a meeting of the Board of Selectmen (BOS) that was so poorly “noticed” that no one could understand what was being proposed and as a consequence no one attended or raised any objections. RTM representatives have asked that the matter be “re-heard” by the BOS. If any of you agree that it should be “re-heard” please contact the members at gjoseloff@westportct.gov; SKASSEN@westportct.gov; chaberstroh@westportct.gov and ask that the variance to the Driveway Ordinance be “re-heard.”

    Fortunately, there is still an immediate opportunity for the public to “weigh in” on this issue. This proposed driveway also requires a variance from the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) which will be hearing the matter on Tuesday night 7/23 at 7:30 in Town Hall. If any of you have concerns about what is being proposed it is important that you send them to the ZBA in advance of the meeting at zba@westportct.gov and if you can, come down to the meeting and speak. Thanks

    Dewey Loselle, RTM District 5

  13. Any known reason why this item does not seem to appear on the ZBA agenda for tomorrow evening?
    http://www.westportct.gov/index.aspx?page=745&recordid=5230&returnURL=%2findex.aspx%3fpage%3d152

  14. Dewey Loselle

    John – An excellent question and something that should be fixed in general! Because this item is a “continued” item from a previous meeting according to the ZBA’s operating rules it does not need to be put on the agenda. I have contaced Larry Bradley (Director of Planning and Zoning) and he has told me that the this item will be the first item on the agenda at 7:30 (even though it doesn’t appear on the public printed agenda). This policy should be changed and all new and continued items should be noticed for every meeting and explained with enough context so they can be understood by the general public. Not doing so helps obfuscate what is going on at our boards, is a disservice to the public and makes ZBA & P&Z more of an insiders game for lawyers and developers than it already is.

  15. Meredith Cohen

    In order for a variance to be granted by the ZBA, the members of the board will determine that the strip mall has a hardship without the driveway. They clearly do not. A hardship does not exist as there is adequate ingress and egress already through the other 2 driveways. The purview of the ZBA is quite small. They can not choose to grant a variance without determining a hardship.

    In response to some above comments, one reason the commercial property may want this added driveway is that they may be able to charge higher rents by calculating the number of cars that pass the entry to the lot. Seems like a silly reason to change a ruling made in the 70s which was based on safety rather than profit motive.

    Since the issue has moved beyond the scope of the selectman’s office already, why not focus on this hearing rather than the lack of disclosure up to this point.

  16. Jamie Walsh

    Silly that a continuance is not noticed…not surprised however!