Baron’s South To Remain Open Space

In a vote that will resound for decades to come, the RTM affirmed the Planning & Zoning Commission’s designation of the Baron’s South property as open space.

The 22-acre, wooded and hilly property — bordered by South Compo Road, the Post Road and Imperial Avenue — is already home to the Senior Center, on its western edge. But further development — for instance, of a hotly debated senior housing complex — will not take place.

A majority of RTM members — 20 — actually voted to overturn last month’s P&Z decision (4-1, with 1 abstention) designating the entire area as open space.

But 14 members sided with the P&Z. Overruling the P&Z required 24 votes — 2/3 of all members.

A path in Baron's South. (Photo/Judy James)

A path in Baron’s South. (Photo/Judy James)

The roll was called after midnight. Debate was intense but civil throughout the long evening. Many issues were raised, ranging from the importance of open space and the inevitability of more development once construction began, to the speed and propriety of one commission deciding such a major issue for the town.

Some speakers declared that the vote should be about the “open space” decision alone — not the merits of one particular senior housing proposal. The need for senior housing, however, was noted by other speakers.

The baron’s property will now remain undeveloped — an “urban forest” just steps from downtown. Was today’s early morning vote comparable to previous decisions (for example, to purchase Longshore when a developer proposed building 180 houses there — or to allow construction of the Wright Street and Gorham Island office complexes), or a missed opportunity to build on town-owned land?

Check back in a decade or two.

There are already buildings on Baron's South. The baron's Golden Shadows house is shown in the distance.   A debate will begin soon on their fate.

There are some existing buildings on Baron’s South. The baron’s Golden Shadows house is shown in the distance. A debate will begin soon on their fate.

42 responses to “Baron’s South To Remain Open Space

  1. Michael Calise

    This is a step forward for Westport and the opening of a new era of sensible use of our open lands.by our elected officials.

  2. Bart Shuldman

    Congratulations WESTPORT!!!!

  3. Kathryn Sirico

    Great decision!

  4. Before the decision was made, I asked First Selectman Jim Marpe why there was no sign denoting access to this park-like property and he said it was up to Parks and Rec and that he would speak to them. Perhaps more people should request signage and improvement of walking trails and that the town beginning to clean up of Baron’s South to make it more accessible. It’s a good time to start restoring the beauty of the center of Westport now that more people are aware that it exists.

    • Michael Calise

      The entrance sign for the senior center has a line indicating that a portion of the senior center parking is for Baron’s South

  5. Will there (hopefully) be a comprehensive tree survey and maintenance plan done in the near future–similar to what was done at Longshore–now that the property will be made more accessible to the public?

  6. Bart Shuldman

    Let me make a suggestion-Barons South could be a great place for walks, etc. It needs some care and love to turn it into a fabulous place. Should we assemble a group of town residents and begin a campaign for donations to do what is necessary to turn Barons South into the potential it has. I would be willing to join the committee and work with P&Z and other town officials to do what we can to make it beautiful.

    We should be able to raise the money through donations and not burden the town and turn Barons South into the wonderful place it should be.

    Just a suggestion.

    • A great suggestion, Bart. If anyone else is up for this, click “Reply” to add your thoughts. If there is enough interest, perhaps Jim Marpe could appoint (dare I say it) a committee to start soliciting funds.

      • Bart Shuldman

        I am willing to not only join the ‘committee’ but if needed, lead the committee. No doubt I will do this with the intent only to turn this property into one all westporters will enjoy.

        Just let me know if Marpe decides he wants to move this forward. The town has spoken.

        Bart

        • Bart, perhaps it might be worth exploring some kind of partnership with the Aspetuck Land Trust, since the preservation of local open space is something they have considerable experience with and expertise in (not to mention their experience in trying to raise funds for this purpose). According to their website, they have over 1000 area donors/members, so maybe there could be potential synergy here.

          • Bart Shuldman

            Fred. Great idea. I know we can do this and get many ideas and help make Baron’s South a park we will all be proud to have in Westport.

            As I have written, I am willing to lead or join the effort if wanted. I have no ties to any influence only want the best for our town. My help would be to work with P&Z and our leadership and do what would be acceptable.

            I will wait to hear more and see if my efforts can help.

    • I’ll throw my hat in…as long as I can have it back.

  7. I celebrate this decision along with the recent Earthplace land designation!

  8. I hope when the next P&Z election comes around, that Westporters will remember how incompetent this commission has been.

    • Michael Calise

      Please explain how saving parkland for future generations denotes incompetence?

      • Chip Stephens

        Mary Mike and everybody let’s all take a deep breath and think about last night and talk about this tomorrow . As for right now I’m sitting on the hill overlooking Baron South trying to heal and reflect on last night

    • Jack Whittle

      Ms. Weisman – Thank you for your kind words; I’ve grown to expect such exquisite and erudite discourse from those who don’t agree with our decision to rezone Baron’s South – heard that and more last night. On the topic of elections, I expect to proudly point to our decision to rezone Baron’s South as an excellent example of how I work for hard for what’s in the best interests of the entire Town, young and old alike, even in the face of virulent and vituperative opposition mounted by those who have attached themselves to projects that benefit but a few.

    • Sorry to say Ms. Weisman but that sounds like sour grapes. The P&Z had the guts and the wherewithal to make a tough but correct decision. I on the other hand, I commend the hard work, dedication and time put it by the Baron’s South Committee and hope they will reconstitute their efforts in a more appropriate location. The committee was comprised with top notch Westporters who care dearly about our town. Unfortunately, this senior housing proposal was like shoehorning a “round peg into a square hole.” This property will serve the greater Westport Community for years to come!

    • The P&Z and its members are not incompetent by any form of judgement; nor did they subvert democracy, as some have said. The process worked quite well. As an elected commission by the people of the town, the members worked endlessly and used their judgement and the authority that the residents of Westport entrusted them with to preserve Baron’s South and declare it open space. As a supporter of open space, I am pleased by their decision. As someone who also believes that four people should not have complete authority to rule out a proposal unilaterally, I signed a petition to refer the decision to the RTM Committee. This was an excellent process: Let everyone in the town be heard.

      The P&Z understood and stated quite clearly that their decision could be appealed and the RTM could overturn it. After what was quite a lengthy debate at the P&Z, The RTM Committee, and the RTM, many people’s voices were heard. Again, the democratic process worked quite well.

      Chairman of the P&Z Chip Stevens said many, many times that an applicant may come before the P&Z with a new pre-app any time and over and over again. The decision by the P&Z, therefore, was not a rash decision, but one that came after months of proposals by a national developer that knew it could not live up to the classification of senior housing for “Westport” residents, but they smelled the fear of 8-30g that lingers over the town.

      The Rose proposal was about language, presentation, and perception: Use language that has key, emotional words to appeal to the senior residents of Westport to give them hope. Design a presentation that creates a dream, but does not give specifics about the reality of care for the elderly and needy, but which could have been done upfront and within the allotted time. Just a choice of how you use your words. The proposal also avoids any mention of the “guarantee” of a unit for Westporters. Intstead, it leaves the perception that Westport seniors will have a place to live out the rest of their lives.

      The town’s democratic process, however, was quite fair and suits the town’s tradition of discussion and debate, in spite of how certain people wanted to single out Ken Bernhard, and now the P&Z, as villains for doing what they thought was in the best interests of the town from opposing points of view. Until the vote last night after 2 AM, all who came were allowed to present their understanding of the proposal and express their opinions in addition to members of the RTM. The checks and balances worked superbly.

      As a result, I will be coming to the P&Z to present my pre-app to buy up all the property on Sound View Ave. across from the beach and submit a proposal to build a condo/rental apartment complex with “affordable” housing for Westport seniors with no guarantee that they will have a unit because, let’s face it, it’s against all kinds of state and federal regulations. This is a fact that I will not mention and respond to only if asked. I will come with beautiful art work to demonstrate this luxurious life style. My proposal will also be quite appealing to all out of town cars lined up to buy beach passes at $50 a sticker, because as a resident of my new Harbor Side Commons they can walk across the street to the beach. I will present my pre-app over and over again until I beat down the P&Z or wait until a new one is elected. Or should the town declare that the property across from the beach can only be used for private residential use through the P&Z, but allow it to be appealed? Thank you very much.

  9. Putting aside the pros/cons of senior housing vs open land, has anyone raised the issue about traffic on the Post Road, especially at the corner of Post and Compo. I recently waited 16 minutes to make a left at that intersection. With Soul Cycle now in full “gear” the amount of added traffic at that light appears to have grown exponentially (I dont know how many bikes they have but I’m guessing 40-50 additional cars coming/going from that intersection during class changeovers). Now with Chipotle opening in the same complex, it is bound to get worse.I cant imagine the effects a senior housing complex would have on the Post Road congestion in that area. Do Pl&Z and RTM consider the traffic /patterns when granting permits for all these businesses onthe Post Road?

  10. Congratulations! A great decision — and hopefully the first of many — for my hometown!

  11. Estelle T. Margolis

    WHY? Why do we need 18 acres of dog run/poop? Why do we need
    22 acres of more open space? Would Baron’s North not be enough
    for open space and dogs if it were 12 acres? Would Barons’s South be
    “too small” if it were 15 acres?
    The P&Z made good sense when it allowed the Senior Center to be
    built. NOW it needs to be expanded because we have a growing
    senior population.
    They made bad sense when they denied the Y a part of the front
    of the Baron’s North for their building. The new Y is already too small.
    Traffic? Take a survey of the people in the towns around us that
    use the Post Road instead of I 95. We have a twice daily traffic jam
    of commuters,
    I know I am bringing back old arguments but it really troubles me
    that I will be 90 years old in 2016 and may not have a choice to
    live in town in a maintenance free apartment. I live alone in
    a very large, wonderful house. It needs a lot of maintenance.
    How long can I afford to live here?

    • Bart Shuldman

      Estelle. Unfortunately you ‘drank the kook aide’. If you own a wonderful big house in Westport then the ‘affordable’ housing would not be open to you. There are asset and income tests. Again, unfortunately none of this was discussed openly by the committee. In addition, as most have said, being anWrstporter also did not guarantee a unit to you. Might have gone to someone in Fairfield. Just ask anyone that added affordable units to their development. Units went to others as they had to market in a 25 mile radius to Westport. This is no joke and you might have been, or should I say you would have been, very disappointed.

      • How much affordable housing does Westport/Fairfield provide? Sounds like there isn’t enough if people from neighbouring counties have to compete. Why is it so unclear (asset and income tests?) to seniors like Estelle?
        Shouldn’t all branches of government be doing more for the growing senior population and the respect seniors deserve?
        Sure, personal planning is crucial, but not everyone has that luxury of peace of mind.
        Are you prepared, Bart and Jamie? Prepared for the “what if” scenario? Probably so. But there are plenty of 80, 90 year olds who didn’t foresee this increasingly complicated (and greedy) world.
        Look after senior citizens.

        • p.s and enjoy the park… Is it wheelchair accessible?

        • Elizabeth Thibault

          Fairfield County is ground zero for income inequality, so I’m going to assume your questions on stock and availability are rhetorical.
          As for the lack of clarity around income and asset tests, the Rose proposals changed several times making that a moving target that wasn’t always easy to track.
          For the government guidelines around these limits, not only does it seem to take a certain expertise to locate, but also to interpret which rules would apply in the situations being discussed over the years.
          The data for our area income shows a pretty steep climb over even the next expensive location. When we take into account the growth of our senior population, it becomes clear that this concern isn’t limited to Westport, but the entire state and even country.
          http://www.211ct.org/informationlibrary/Documents/Area%20Median%20Income%20Limits.Connecticut.asp
          and
          http://portal.hud.gov/hudportal/HUD?src=/topics/information_for_senior_citizens

          • Thank you, Elizabeth, for your explanations and information on this very important subject. Some countries are ahead of the issue, some are just waking up to it.

        • Bart Shuldman

          Unfortunately you don’t have a life wherever you moved so you bother people in Westport. Your message is so off it does not warrant a response other than I will continue to hope you leave us alone.

        • Everyone who wants housing, no matter their income level, competes when buying housing. I am a senior, and I see absolutely no reason why seniors should be seen as a special class of citizen.

          There are many competing special interests that want the government to be doing more for them. In the final analysis the sort of income redistribution sought by these special interests is a zero sum game.

    • Ms. Marigolis… I doubt that you would ever even qualify for affordable senior housing… GOD bless that you are 90! This zoning change will not preclude any reasonable expansion of the existing senior center. This site would have been inappropriate for the construction of a housing facility for a variety of reasons….topography….traffic which would dump 100’s of cars onto Imperial and clog up that intersection with the Post Road.

  12. Suzanne Braley

    Finally

  13. Congratulations Westport on yet another fine decision. Parks and open space improve our physical and psychological health, strengthen our communities, and make our towns and neighborhoods more attractive places to live and work. Numerous studies have shown the social, environmental, economic, and health benefits that parks & open space bring to a community. Now please let’s not turn this wonderful open space into a sign filled visual blight on the environment as we have the beach and other parks in town.

  14. Stephanie Bass

    Politics aside, as it currently stands, the open space Baron’s property is underutilized. Does anyone even stroll there? And is it big enough for several uses? The Rose proposal may not have been utopia, but let’s not forget that people work for profit; the deal that works is the one where both sides end up feeling good, or in the case of an entire town, good enough.

    PS — I’m a cat person so a hugh space for dog poop always seemed to me, well, poopy.

  15. YES!

  16. Ann Marie Flynn

    The idea of fund raising would work quite well. There are 26,000 residence plus in town. Every one, banding together, could pull this together. Let’s get a ball rolling to see the interest grow.

  17. sandy johnson

    I am happy that it will remain open space – I grew up on a farm in NJ 14 acres – and the whole where I grew up has been ruined with so called affordable housing I don’t go by it anymore as it is too sad to see . Even though I am a senior, i’m still for the open space. Unfortunately for me because of finances and a reverse mortgage, I am unable to remain in WP which breaks my heart – so at age 80 I have to put my property up for sale and move. I am happy, however, as already said the open space will remain for now

  18. Absolutely the right thing was done we could never replace such needed open (public) land

  19. Toni Simonetti

    I love that Baron’s South will remain open space. However, the current condition of this otherwise beautiful land, at the hands of the town, is shocking. Let’s all clean up Baron’s South … There is much beauty beneath the disrepair of the land. Also, let’s find more appropriately buildable sites for the development of senior housing.

  20. The vote to not overturn the P&Z decision was correct. The alternative was to leave open the possibility that in the short term publicly owned land would be given to a private profit making entity. In the longer run, a giveaway of this sort is still possible as long as public officials cannot resist the impulse to enrich narrow special interests at the expense of the general public.

    The larger the inventory of publicly owned assets, the greater is the temptation to giveaway part of the inventory. The town must rethink its land acquisition policy in light of this most recent attempt to exploit the land bank the town has created. Each acquisition should have a clear purpose which must be attached to the acquisition with precise language to forestall the effort to obscure the purpose at some future date.

  21. Dick Lowenstein

    “A majority of RTM members — 20 — actually voted to overturn last month’s P&Z decision (4-1, with 1 abstention) designating the entire area as open space.” And all it takes is a plurality in November.

  22. Chris Grimm

    Tremendous result. 100% agree with Michael Petrino’s comment.

    This P&Z has been a breath of fresh air, following years of a P&Z that was a rubber stamp for special interests (remember when they threatened to sue RTM?).

    In a couple of decades, residents will continue to be grateful for this open space that will beautify town and be there for everyone. Had we allowed development of the land for one special interest or another? Not so much.