Coalition For Westport: P&Z Can’t “Reject Progress”

Denise Torve — chair of the Coalition for Westport — weighs in on the Planning & Zoning Commission’s 6-1 defeat of a proposal to build senior housing on the Baron’s South property. Saying the P&Z “may have nailed the coffin lid on the subject of senior housing,” she writes:

In the 2013 campaign, the Coalition spoke often of an active, not static vision for Westport that considered the needs now and in the future, of all Westporters. Instead we have a commission that seems bent on obstruction. It is comprised for the most part of individuals who, in spite of their explanations to the contrary, are dedicated to the reactionary philosophy that change is bad and Westport must be “preserved” in its original state. The rejected proposal for senior housing and recreational facilities on town-owned land would have been a plus for seniors, a positive motivation for the developer and brought significant revenues to the Town.

The public response of P&Z commissioner David Lessing, who was the sole vote in favor of the text amendment, made for interesting reading. It’s also déjà vu. Lessing’s views mirror CFW’s platform of last year’s campaign. Indeed, the Coalition was founded on the idea that Westport was in dire need of a Planning & Zoning Commission that would proactively plan for the future. The Coalition issued an urgent call for a P&Z that provides a “framework for planned and controlled growth.”

The senior housing project was first proposed 6 years ago by then-First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, and strongly supported by our current First Selectman, Jim Marpe. In order to save this project the P&Z must be willing to enter into discussion and dialogue with the Selectman’s Office, the Board of Finance and other officials. Otherwise, 6 sitting P&Z commissioners will have undermined 6 years of work and the hopes of many Westport seniors.

We support the Selectman. We echo his thoughts on the subject and call for efforts to begin immediately to craft a solution. If the best use of Baron’s South is a facility for people to use, enjoy and remain in Westport, we as a community must resolve to make it happen.  As it stands we have no new facilities for a significant segment of our population, and we have no new revenue. So much to gain and so little achieved.

An artist's rendering of the now-rejected senior housing complex on Baron's South.

An artist’s rendering of the now-rejected senior housing complex on Baron’s South.

The Coalition stands for a P&Z that is engaged, and against one that is merely reactive and dedicated to preserving Westport in a fossilized state. Yes, we live in a town with a unique character. Yes, that character should be preserved. But no, that does not mean we should reject progress, improvements and benefits that inure to various segments of our population and to the town as a whole. Our elected officials must keep an eye to the future, and plan for the needs of both our current and future residents. Westport must remain attractive for us and to generations that follow.

Coalition for WestportThe Coalition stands for open discussion, free of partisanship about projects that affect the quality of life and value to Westport. We reject intra-agency back-biting and competitiveness. We reject motivations that diverge from anything but the best interests of the Town and its residents. In the 2013 campaign CFW referred often to the consequences that would ensue from a 7-member P&Z, all of whom were endorsed by the one party that is opposed to new development. Westport missed an opportunity last year to have a P&Z comprised of a number of non-partisan members – Republicans, Democrats, Independents. Hopefully, this will be rectified in the next election.

With the downtown development project moving swiftly along, ably led by Melissa Kane of the Downtown Steering Committee, the P&Z must take a proactive role and listen to the entire community and not focus on the views of one group. The Downtown project cannot follow in the path of Baron’s South.  Westporters deserve more from our elected officials.

18 responses to “Coalition For Westport: P&Z Can’t “Reject Progress”

  1. Michael A. Laux

    Dan
    i thought this was your ‘blog’, not a platform for political propaganda.

  2. It is my blog, Mike. And it’s a platform for people to express opinions. Previously, Chip Stephens (P&Z chair) and David Lessing (P&Z dissenting vote) expressed their opinions. I thought it only fair to allow the Coalition to express theirs.

  3. Very well said and I for one will vote to replace people with those that have manners and co-operate with hard working Westporters for the betterment of our great town!

  4. This is not a political blog but a wonderful platform for Westporters to share information and opinions! Regarding the proposed senior housing at Barons…while many worked hard on the Baron’s Committee and Rose Associates may have been the right developer for the project…the notion that this was a great deal for Westport Seniors and the town…is just not so. The target “Westport Senior” could not afford living there and no one could ever answer how these units would be available exclusively to Westport Seniors which is why this senior housing was proposed for in the first place. Everyone is a great Monday morning quarterback, but P&Z made the right call. I am all for senior housing and additional amenities that the proposed facility would have provided. I just do not think this proposal would have benefitted many actual Westport Seniors as proposed.

    • Agreed, Jamie; there was no concrete plan that described exactly what was going to happen, other than the loss of an irreplaceable piece of property. It was crazy that it took years of everyone’s time to figure that out. As you note, much of what passes for information “…is just not so.”

      A classic example of how hard it is to get the facts is the “artist’s rendering” above, which shows a lovely building on 4+ acres of flat, open field. Anyone who has been to the steep hill that is Baron’s South knows that picture isn’t what would be built, just like how Westport’s seniors wouldn’t get what was being sold to them. – Chris Woods

  5. The CFW seems a bit confused. On the one hand it advocates for a better Westport for all, and then it defends benefits for special interest groups. It professes to want all voices to be heard and then it fronts for the various committees of political appointees who represent a very narrow set of voices. The P & Z made the right decision. The arguments in favor of the proposed project were incoherent an unsustainable. (The DSC is cut from the same cloth as was the committee that proposed the senor citizen housing project.) Why does the CFW defend a committee based process that reduces the ability of the town to adapt to change while the CFW advocates such flexibility ?

  6. Jayne Mauborgne

    Hi Dan, Is there a meeting at 6:30 tonight regarding beach? There seems to be some handwritten signs around but really no notice. If so, could you spread the word. Thanks, Jayne Mauborgne

  7. Ms. Torve did not specify what party supported the “7” P&Z members. For people not familiar with the issue or new to Westport, it was the Save Westport Now platform and they only endorsed “4” candidates. Contrary to Ms Torves statement, I believe The Save Westport Now platform is not against new development, but favors responsible development focused towards preservation, reuse of existing resources and maintaining a scale and character that reflects the unique qualities of Westport as a whole. I just wanted to provide this clarification.

  8. The peeps at CFW must have gone nuts when the key results of the DSC’s recent survey were released. I’m guessing the dart board in their bunker has the words SMALL TOWN CHARACTER pinned to it.

  9. By my clock, you’re all late to the meeting.

  10. Ann Marie Flynn

    Ms. Trove does a rather white washing in her review of the P&Z final vote on Baron’s South. Her write up seems more general than pacific. If her writing had included facts, such as Chip Steven’s did in his stating why he voted the way he did, it would have been a better read.

  11. Jamie Walsh’s clarification is in need of a correction. Every current member of the P&Z Commission was endorsed by Save Westport Now – three members in last year’s election and four members in the previous election. The Coalition For Westport supports growth and change that enhance the town and its community, and protects the special character and charm that is Westport Refusing to hear the statements expressed by CFW on numerous occasions, or misrepresenting them, does not contribute to effective dialogue.

  12. Thanks Denise. It is clear then to me that Save Westport Now spoke to the residents, which helped to educate the public about these Commisioners. These Commissioners carried out their charge in a responsible way but, at the same time made a controversially tough decision regarding the senior center. IThey did so with thought, respect and dignity…in my opinion and many others that I have spoke with directly that share this view point.

  13. Don Bergmann

    While I disagreed with the opposition of the Coalition for Westport to the relocation of the Kemper Gunn house to Elm Street, I support that relocation, and also believe the P&Z Commission was correct in not amending the Text Amendment it had previously adopted, a Text Amendment that authorized Senior Housing on Baron’s South but with a much larger percentage of affordable units, I welcome all efforts to promote thoughtful dialogue on important Town issues. I hope the Coalition and Save Westport Now express views on the many specific possibilities that will be presented shortly in the Downtown Master Plan. It is crucial not just to express general views, but also to address specifics, such as will be set forth for consideration in the Downtown Master Plan of RBA and the Downtown Steering Committee. Another important planning item as to which specifics need to be addressed is Compo Beach.
    Don Bergmann

  14. Denise Torve

    The Coalition For Westport did not oppose saving the Kemper Gunn house. We had questions if Elm Street was indeed the best location for the house and further questions about the terms of the lease between the Town and the developer – questions that other people have also raised. These questions had nothing to do with keeping the KG house as part of the town’s historic architectural legacy. The Coalition and its supporters will continue to make its views known about the various projects coming down the pike (no, we’re not advocating for a turnpike in town or at Compo) and we encourage other folks to do the same.

  15. Cheryl McKenna

    CFW now looks correct in asking for planning from our planning and zoning members.
    If we do not plan other developers are happy to do that for us. Read 06880 post oct 23 … Other developers are on the prowl in Westport and these are just the ones Dan was told about !
    Please vote in the 2016 elections for people who have the abilities and knowledge to plan for Westport not just react and say no.