200-Unit Apartment Proposal Galvanizes Westporters

Just 24 hours after it went online, a petition opposing the proposed 200-unit apartment complex on the site of the Westport Inn gained over 300 signatures.

Residents in the Long Lots area have formed a group: Westport United for Responsible Development.

Their petition — available at Change.org and addressed to 1st Selectman Jim Marpe — reads:

Ranger Properties, the current owner/developer of the Westport Inn at 1595 Post Road East, proposes to demolish the Inn and to replace it with a 200 unit multi-family apartment complex. The developer is using the Connecticut Affordable Housing Statute to bypass Westport’s zoning laws and build an apartment complex that would never be permitted under the existing local zoning laws.

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex, as seen on Change.org.

The proposed complex would contain 363,328 square feet, 5 stories (with balconies and roof amenities), and 370 parking spaces on less than 3 acres of land. This unprecedented development would rise in excess of 80 feet above an already elevated grade and tower over adjacent residential neighborhoods. The proposed project violates numerous Westport zoning laws concerning height, density, wetlands and use.

It would irreversibly alter the small town character of Westport, and would place undue burdens on schools, traffic and emergency response; resulting in significant public health and safety concerns.

The project is in the early stages of development.

And — clearly — so is opposition to it.

(To view the petition, click on change.org.) 

30 responses to “200-Unit Apartment Proposal Galvanizes Westporters

  1. Good luck! Whoever is investing in this thing is in for an incredible ride (probably downward) and may want to question the commonsense of the management!

  2. I mean: if you want to get a green light to build Westport’s first real “apartment building” (as opposed to a few apartments here and there) why present such a massive, unimaginative and, frankly, ugly proposal? This thing will probably prompt the town to pass an ordinance against apartment buildings with more than 10 units.

  3. Wow, I have built lots of multi family, but 66+ units per acre is not suburban development, but dense urban development.

    While as a former Westporter, Staples class of 65, and a property owner in Weston, I still feel ‎very attached to our Town. I believe Westport needs more housing types to offer its citizens. That said, 8-12, or at most 16 units per acre, would be appropriate.

    Perhaps now is the time to get ahead of the issue by passing the necessary legislation so the town doesn’t get forced into an ultra-high density corner by State Regs and a developer who may have over-paid.

    Joey Kaempfer

  4. Does moderate income housing really allow one to ignore wetland regulations?

  5. Well, the future finally showed up. And it’s a legally sanctioned in-your-face middle finger. Oh, by the way, those who continue to advocate for “more downtown housing opportunities” – you guys still down with that?

  6. Who are the people at Ranger Properties ? Are they local ?

  7. Unfortunately I can find NOTHING in the current petition that offers any of the legal arguments our courts will accept as a reason for the denial of this plan.

    Yes, that’s right, not a single valid reason according to Connecticut State Statute which enable and takes precedent over local zoning regulation.

    In fact, I have yet to hear anyone, whether zoning professional or zoning hobbyist (not a typo) who has any grasp on how different a zoning challenge of this nature is as compared to any other we have known.
    .
    If we have any hope of waging a winning war against the barbarians at our gates, it is essential for us to focus our collective energies on facts, not rumor and conjecture, and to abandon our tendencies to perpetuate opinions not rooted in clear and unequivocal fact.

    Be advised — we are about to be engaged in the proverbial battle of our lives and we will be entering a field fraught with carefully placed pitfalls to assist in our demise.

    To our benefit, history affirms that we have never been a community to fall quietly to controversy, and we have always been able to rely upon an unequaled bounty of private resources and our own inexhaustible resourcefulness to carry us through.

    But there is no doubt about it — if all of our substantial wit and skill is not enough to thwart this threat and the others organizing across Town, then they”ll be nothing left for us to do but stick a fork in Westport and declare it done.

  8. Nobody in their right mind would allow such a massive development to impact the Town, but the really scary thought is that hidden in the weeds is a similar project being developed for Hiawatha Lane that has yet to be proposed. Town residents need to be vigilant and we need to protest such outlandish proposals or suffer the consequences. As soon as any meetings are scheduled with the various town commissions, people need to come out and make sure the Administration understands that residents will not put up with the density, infrastructure and cost issues that would ensue from such folly.

  9. While this location might make the most sense, based on the requirements needed for an 8-30g application….the scale of this project is all wrong and would work well in Stamford, Norwalk…not Westport! This is further urbanization of a suburban environment. This is another clear example of a developer not addressing the sensitivities of the community. We can thank Hartford for 8-30g. The only way to stop zone busting projects like this is to change the State Statute and our elected officials, both Democratics and Republicans, have no juice in Hartford to make change. I know Jonathan Steinberg made a concerted effort to bring change in his freshman term in office but hit the preverbal Hartford “upstate” brick wall. Hartford like our money….just not our opinions.

  10. Hopefully more affordable housing will be built in Westport, but in a more reasonable fashion than this plan which, preliminarily, seems way out of scale. Somehow Darien succeeded with a moratorium on the application of 8-30g while an affordable housing plan was being put into place. Not sure if that approach could be replicated but perhaps some land-use experts could weigh in: http://www.darientimes.com/36162/darien-to-apply-for-second-moratorium/

    • Fred,
      Lacking the addition of a sufficient number of new affordable units during the current review period, Westport does not presently qualify for an extension of the 8-30g moratorium.

      That does not mean that we may qualify in future.

      Moreover, I remain convinced that there are good and legally defensible reasons for the pending application to be denied.

      The challenge to our public will be to present focused and fact-based reasons for denial as required for the Court to uphold the Commission’s decision, without obfuscating the record with non-relevant submissions like petitions addressed to the First Selectman demanding the preservation of the character of the Town.

      The fact that a term as ambiguous as “the character of Westport” is not a recognized standard for judicial review under C.G.S.8-30g, assures that such efforts will only succeed in adding more weight to the file and more time necessary for the Commission to complete the public hearing process.

      All that is required of our Planning & Zoning Commission to justify the denial of the application is a finding of one, good reason, as documented in the record, in support of the decision.

  11. I was about to type “It’ll never happen,” but then I thought about what’s happened here in NYC over the past ten years, so instead I’ll type “Anything can happen!” As always….follow the money!

  12. Does anyone know the statistical “points” for Westport as mentioned in article that Fred Cantor posted? It would be interesting to see how close we are to that statue measurement.

    Where are other affordable options for housing in town? I see that the housing across from Goodwill is being redone. Does that add to or decrease the number of affordable units? It that owned by the town or privately? Any experts can weigh-in on the subject? It sounds like a very complex issue. – Chris Woods

  13. Errata: With apologies – the second sentence of my response to Fred Cantor should read: “That doe NOT mean that we may not qualify in future.”

  14. Matthew Mandell

    Gloria is right. Normal opposition will not do here. We must fight an unconventional war to save our town from this and similar projects based on 8-30g. Our own self determination and quality of our town is at stake. 8-30g is a well intentioned law to create needed housing for those who can’t afford it, but instead has been perverted into a hammer held by the unscrupulous.

    We must work together as a team to stretch out the time line, force greater expense and confound the developers and their attorneys Shipman & Goodman.

    What this is is a big game being played, at our expense, which is intended to end in negotiation. We must destabilize their offense to give us a better bargaining position. This is supposed to be about affordable housing, but its not, it is about profit. How do I know?

    The underlying zoning of the Inn allows for about 77 units of housing with 20% affordable. When asked why not just build that as allowed and supported by the town, the answer came back, not enough density, aka not enough profit.

    We must fight. If we don’t we send a signal that we are weak and more developers will find other properties and do the same.

  15. My understanding is that Westport’s current zoning code limits building height to three stories. If the developer of this property successfully uses state law to override this limit, is the town obligated to purchase a ladder truck that will reach the roof of the building?

  16. On top of the proposed density, these 8.30g projects are NOT low income housing which could subtract from Westport’s moratorioum; only 30% of the units are required to be low income housing. It’s a lose/lose proposition for Wesport.

  17. The Greens Farms Association discussed this issue at our last board meeting and voted to oppose this project. The issue though as stated by Matthew Mandell and Gloria Gouveia is well beyond the reach of our normal tools for dialog and determination around development projects. I would like to see an informational meeting hosted by our First Selectman supported by the chair of the P&Z and town attorney. I realize there are a number of other town entities that have to weigh in such as Conservation, Pollice, Fire, etc., but I tend to think P&Z is the tip of the spear. We need to get as many people informed on the facts and then a critical mass formed around specific actions we can take. We do not have that right now. In the mean time keep circulating the petition so we can show strength in numbers.

    • P&Z will deny the application. The developer will sue the P&Z. And then the final outcome of this will be negotiated in a judges chamber in New Britain where all appeals for 8-30g applications are heard. And the upper-hand in these negotiations is always with the developer. For “our” 8-30g project we (the neighbors) worked to make sure that we were at the negotiating table in New Britain. As a result, we were able to have some (not a lot) of control over what happened in our neighborhood.

  18. The chickens have come home to roost.

  19. Matthew Mandell

    Art – Town atty Bloom spoke to the P&Z last Thursday evening explaining the 8-30g to them and the issues and constraints. A more global accounting would make sense. It could be done by the admin or through my committee on the RTM. I will inquire.

  20. Matt, for what it’s worth, I think your RTM P&Z Committee might be the most appropriate venue at this juncture. The holidays notwithstanding, I would encourage you and your fellow committee members to consider agendizing this train wreck soon.

    As a side note, it’s darkly humorous that the Westport Inn only got the green light after the property owner agreed to get rid of his scandalous hourly rental cabins. One of those little hot sheet places got dragged over to the top of Treadwell and lived a fairly respectable life until around 2006 when it was demolished to make way for a subdivision. Good times.

  21. While you are mad at Hartford you might want to read this. It’s a mess:

    State Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) released the following statement today re: fiscal accountability report submitted to the legislature by the non-partisan Office of Fiscal Accountability and the Governor’s Office of Policy and Management.

    “By all accounts Connecticut faces a deficit of approximately $100 million this FY2015 and deficits of nearly $3 billion during the next two years. This will only lead to significant long-term unfunded liabilities on top of the debt the state has already accumulated.

    “Earlier this week, Governor Malloy and the bonding commission allocated $266,970,253 in new General Obligation bonds. That pushed the state $167 million over the governor’s self-imposed soft bonding cap of $1.8 billion.

    “This irresponsible borrowing during a time of fiscal crisis should give everyone pause. You simply cannot continue to approve projects, no matter how worthy, that you have no capability of repaying.

    “Exceeding the cap by millions puts future obligations on backs of Connecticut families and businesses. This not the kind of gift one would bequeath to the future generation.

    “As of today the state has approved $6.8 billion in projects but has not funded these projects. Just three years ago the state had $3 billion worth of projects approved for bonding. The rapid pace at which these projects are flying through the process without the state having money to actually pay for them is alarming.

    “In 1992, after the state income tax was made law voters demanded a spending cap be put in place to safeguard against irresponsible financial decisions. This administration has now effectively turned its back on that cap.

    “In Connecticut, our per-taxpayer debt burden is more than $44,000 and 13% of the state budget is dedicated to paying down debt. The State Treasurer’s letter of Nov. 18 explained that the state cash position had deteriorated to the point that money was transferred from bond proceeds to cover operating expenses. I am extremely disappointed that the practice of borrowing to pay for daily operating expenses and excessive bonding is taking place.

    “Fitch credit rating agency this week issued an ‘AA’ rating on $500 million worth of Connecticut general obligation bonds and assigned a negative outlook.

    “As it has alluded to in past assessments, Connecticut’s budget vulnerability, reduced fiscal flexibility, relatively high debt, reliance on one-time budget revenues, and other metrics are a recipe for disaster! We need to stop these practices. When you borrow money you still have to pay it back.

    “We need comprehensive long term solutions. Leadership needs to work across the aisle and accomplish this goal for the good of the people. If we do not heed the warning signs now, it may be too late to save the state from fiscal calamity.”

    • Dick Lowenstein

      Can you please stay on topic.

      • On topic? I was completely lost after the sordid Westport Inn history.

      • Dick—I wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving (sorry-off topic).

        On a serious note Dick, I will continue to post about issues in Hartford just like I did with the issues in Westport. You see Dick-I care. And I worry about people who cannot afford higher taxes, or do not want to see their services cut. If you remember, I was very concerned about the financial issues we faced with crippling benefit plans that could have caused either much higher taxes in Westport, or serious cuts in our services and schools. Through the help of many good people and a few elections, some great people stepped up to join our BOF and the towns leadership team and now our financial ‘house; in Westport is on much better footing. I would hope our senior citizens feel the very small increase in taxes was a help to them.

        Now I will write about Hartford. We have a real issue in Westport with the 8-30g housing program that Hartford is causing, but that is just one of the many problems. And if I get to write about it, I will. The budget is one of them and a huge problem in CT. And I care. Maybe you can afford much higher taxes, or don’t care if hospital funding gets cut, or social services get cut, but I believe there are many in Westport who do. Just the other day, Governor Malloy cut $48 million from social services, education and other budget items. How this affects us, we will find out. But our deficit is growing by tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars and we are borrowing more. What the short and long term effect of all of this we don’t know.

        So Dick, I worry about how we leave our state to our children. How we leave Westport to our children.

        If you don’t like what I write, please don’t read it. Its ok, I understand. And if you ever want to meet for a cup of coffee please let me know. Be glad to sit down and get to know you.

        I wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving and a safe and healthy holiday.

  22. Hey, gentlemen….we seem to be getting a bit snipy in here for this situation. Many of us care about what goes on in Hartford (that’s upstate, right?) but this issue is here in our back yards and needs to be tackled. Really don’t want to see another “Gorham Island” materialize on the Post Road.

  23. Matt’s, Gloria’s and Art’s comments speak to the issue: this is not a matter over which any town entity – or combination of them – has sole control. The scenario has been looming for years now. State regulations pertain, and it is important for everyone concerned to have the best information about all the specifics as soon as is reasonable. Otherwise time and energy will be wasted arguing about tangential matters.