Downtown Salt Marsh Threatened By Development

Last Sunday’s photo challenge showed a sign for “Taylortown Salt Marsh.” Though the 3.2- acre preserve sits in the heart of Westport — the Saugatuck River, off Wilton Road and Kings Highway North, opposite the “Fort Apache” medical complex — it’s unknown to many Westporters.

That will change soon.

Tomorrow night (Thursday, January 21, 7 p.m., Town Hall), the Planning and Zoning Commission discusses a proposal for a 45,796-square foot, 5-story, 48-unit apartment building planned for 122 Wilton Road.

122 Wilton Road -- site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building -- sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

122 Wilton Road — site of the proposed 6-story, 48-unit apartment building — sits at the corner of Kings Highway North. The property abuts the Taylortown Salt Marsh.

The developer — Garden Homes Management — is using Connecticut’s Affordable Housing Statute. Known as “8-30G,” it allows developers to add “affordable units” that override local zoning regulations, in towns where less than 10 percent of the housing stock is considered affordable.

In this case, 30 percent of the units — numbering 15 — would be “affordable,” as defined by state housing law.

Th3 8-30G regulation was part of a 2014 plan to build 200 apartments on the site of the Westport Inn. First Selectman Jim Marpe and P&Z chair Chip Stephens instead found a local buyer who understood the importance of maintaining the lower-impact inn on that small-footprint, already-crowded stretch of the Post Road.

The Aspetuck Land Trust — which owns the Taylortown tract, and spent the last 3 years saving the marsh from invasive weeds — is not pleased.

An email from the organization warns of negative environmental impacts to the marsh and river, as well as destruction of views of the estuary.

Garden Homes believes that development of the site will not impact the wetlands.

One view of the Taylortown Salt Marsh...

One view of the Taylortown Salt Marsh…

Interestingly, the Aspetuck Land Trust itself is a direct result of a struggle to save the salt marsh from being filled and developed in the 1960s.

Back then, there was no legal protection of tidal marshes. Inland wetlands were thought of as boggy areas to be filled for level building lots, the Trust says.

When Barlow  Cutler-Wotton learned of plans to build a geriatric hospital on the Wilton Road/Kings Highway North corner, she contacted attorney Leonard Schine. He based his case on traffic congestion. The P&Z denied the application.

...and another.

…and another.

Cutler-Wotton went on to form the Aspetuck Land Trust, for Westport and Weston. The Trust buys, or receives as gifts, property that it then preserves in natural states as open space. The organization acquired Taylortown Salt Marsh in 1987.

The Trust will have to work hard now to keep it. 830G is a powerful state statute. It overrides most local rules and regulations — except those related to the environment or safety.

Let Westport’s newest battle begin.

(Tomorrow’s Planning and Zoning Commission evening meeting is open to the public. So is a P&Z field trip tomorrow morning to examine the property. It begins at 8:15 a.m., at 122 Wilton Road.)

17 responses to “Downtown Salt Marsh Threatened By Development

  1. Jill Turner Odice

    Wow, 5 stories! I grew up on Edgehill Ln and would have hated seeing something like that in my neighborhood. It was a nice walk to go into town the back way across that bridge and past the Wild Duck Haven…

  2. Let’s not forget what happened to Gorham Island just across the river! If this goes through, what an awful eyesore it will be and a black eye on our town from an environmental perceptive.

  3. Bobbie Herman

    I don’t understand how they can build on wetlands. I thought they were protected. Can someone please enlighten me?

  4. Jerry MacDaid

    Rather than fight these battles piecemeal, perhaps more energy should be spent on either 1) coming up with a plan for where in Westport to put affordable housing to meet the state requirements so developers cannot use 8-30G to develop wherever they want or 2) figure out a way to repeal or overturn the affordable housing law.

    It seems unlikely that option 2 will happen any time soon given voting dynamics of the Connecticut and, I would imagine though don’t really know, court challenges have already failed.

    That leaves option 1. Which probably means higher density housing somewhere.

    The problem is that it appears there is no place in Westport that folks think affordable housing or density belongs. Along the Post Road with access to whatever limited public transportation we have would seem to make the most sense but the Westport Inn reaction seems to make that a consensus “No”. There is, of course, Baron’s South but that’s not happening either. Then there is the dog toilet – nope, not there either. And so on. So then we move to random lower priced parcels where it might be economically feasible scattered in residential areas. OMG, not in my backyard.

    As best I understand, the reason for the 8-30G provision is that notwithstanding the law that requires affordable housing, no one thinks it should be built anywhere near them so 8-30G becomes the necessary forcing function. Hmmm, where have we needed forcing functions before?

    Based on other blog posts and comments, Westport seems to be a bastion of open mindedness, embracing the civil rights, champions of the oppressed, etc. Why don’t we take some of that talk and embrace the affordable housing cause and champion construction of affordable housing in Westport. Somewhere. Maybe revisit the Westport Inn alternative. Or push for more height, density and affordable housing at Save the Children. Ask the Y to develop affordable housing on the Red Barn property. The old Westport Arts Center if it moves. The Imperial Avenue parking lot. It doesn’t matter where, but somewhere.

    Alternatively, since a viable political solution does not seem to exist, I suppose we can embrace our collective hypocrisy and continue down the path we are on: whine about the law and fight 8-30G proposals with righteous indignation on a case by case basis and fail to develop an affordable housing solution in Westport.

    • Great points, Jerry. I believe one of the points brought up in earlier 8-30g discussions is that Westport has more affordable housing than similar suburban Fairfield County communities — but that the regulations only counts those built since 1990. So on paper we seem to have less than we actually do.

      Also, if anyone knows what “affordable housing” actually means, in terms of purchase price and/or income eligibility, that would be interesting to add to the discussion.

      • Thanks Dan. The issue of “hidden” affordable housing in Westport may be true but if you read through the law review analysis linked below by Mr. Petrino (first link) it notes a couple of things: 1) the 10% affordable housing requirement was set that low (i.e. lower than what the level of affordable housing “should be”) in recognition that there would be hidden affordable housing such as claimed in Westport; 2) unless there are long term deed restrictions, there is no assurance that something that started as affordable, remains affordable over time. Apparently, the 10% was recognized as a blunt instrument, but it was intended to take into account the concerns raised in previous discussions. I pass no judgement on whether the basic analysis is correct, only that the objections were taken into account in setting the number.

        As someone pointed out in the comments on the Westport Inn post, no one in Westport wants to tack on deed restrictions on their properties to have it count as affordable as it would diminish the value (i.e. people want the ability to sell their property for max value even if that means it is no longer affordable). That is not unexpected nor irrational. Indeed, given the teardown folks decry, clearly people are doing just that, seeking to maximize value. And why should’t they?

        If Westport wants to take credit for the “hidden” affordable housing to avoid the 8-30G requirement, perhaps the town could pay people to put deed restrictions on their properties. Clearly would be an unintended loophole given how the 10% was derived, but it seems to be there. Maybe hold a Dutch auction to find the right market clearing price necessary to get the necessary number of folks to add the deed restrictions. Although taxes would have to go up to pay for all that, Westporters would get what they seemingly want – no new affordable housing development.

        Change the law (which is unlikely given how Harford works) or get over it. The law is what it is, as much as we might want to complain or try to rationalize why it shouldn’t apply to us. At some level, this is just another manifestation/extension of the entitled parking syndrome.

    • I was going to post, but Jerry nailed it in a far more informed and eloquent musing than I could come up with! (Except I wouldn’t even type out option one, too much evil there). We have to have affordable housing somewhere, but this seems like the worst spot proposed so far. As a community we need to pick a spot, accept that not everyone will agree, and get it built to avoid more terrible ideas. Someday the town will lose and a structure will go up that causes real problems.

  5. The actual building is not going to be on the wetlands preserve, but on a small 1.1 acre parcel adjacent to and just above the preserve. That, however, does not mitigate the environmental impact. Stop and think, 48 units with likely parking for up to 100 cars on 1.1 acres! They have to be joking.

    This is an intersection with frequent accidents and which causes morning traffic to be backed up to Main Street by Coffe ‘An and evening traffic to be backed up to Old Hill. Besides being an environmental risk, the same traffic risk that caused the geriatric home to be nixed by the P&Z way back when are only exacerbated today.

    The parcel is also next to a private residence that is one of Westport’s architectural treasures which will be totally dwarfed by the proposed structure. That home was winner of “Best Small House of Year” by one of the national home and house décor magazines back in the 80s when it was built.

  6. We don’t want 8-30g housing here. We don’t want 8-30g housing there. We don’t want 8-30g housing anywhere; NIMBY.

    For those who might need help decoding the terms of the debate. This article might help.
    http://digitalcommons.law.wne.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1161&context=lawreview

    To understand one of the motivating factors for the legislation, this article might help.
    http://fairsharehousing.org/mount-laurel-doctrine/

    When we discuss affordable housing, high density housing, sewers, and we become sanctimonious when discussing preserving the “character” of Westport, we are really not discussing any of those issues are we?

    We dislike greedy and rapacious developers, unless of course they are politically connected and then we offer them taxpayer funding to make their dreams come true.

  7. Here is something that a lot of people just tuning likely don’t know: this “application” calls for TWO CURB CUTS. One on Wilton Road and one on Kings Highway. Think about that for a moment. Practically speaking, these are in the middle of what is already a broken intersection. For all you people living on Kings Highway, Old Hill, Edgewater, Rices Lane, River Lane and beyond, that sucking sound you hear is not your imagination. It seems to be coming from somewhere in your house. It’s just a guess, but I’d check that new property assessment notice sitting on your desk.

  8. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    The Town of Westport has a great gift: the Saugatuck River! Through time, the downtown part of it has served several purposes, including being a port. Its natural beauty enhances the town, and it now offers a space for non invasive boating activities such as rowing. There is a treasure trove of bird life in the salt marshes, and salt marshes are important to their preservation and that of the surrounding land. I say watch out for development in the form of big buildings and garages and sewage issues and the accompanying traffic density. What happened to the dream of a pedestrian bridge and bike or walking paths? Do we want to go ahead and cave to big buildings blocking out what now appear to be smaller, less important things? What do we want the future to be like around our river?

  9. don l bergmann

    Lots of good comments, several questions and some answers. All with views should convey them to our Bd. of Sel. and our P&Z Dept. and/or attend the Public Hearings and speak. I expect the Bd. of Sel. and the P&Z Commission will be doing their best under the law to prevent any multiple family housing development at this particular site. I hope an effort is made to organize a fund to purchase this property and donate it to a land preservation body such as The Aspetuck Land Trust. I would certainly make a donation..
    Don Bergmann

  10. And our First Selectman must be doing an Obama, and just ignoring this issue and not commenting on it. Maybe he’s playing golf. Oh well, can’t wait for the next town elections.

    • don l bergmann

      I am confident our First Selectman, Jim Marpe, is engaged on this issue. As most should know and as has been pointed out, Jim, along with P&Z Chair Stephens were actively engaged in addressing the proposed 8-30g conversion of The Westport Inn. Don Bergmann

      • Bart Shuldman

        Don. You are 100% correct. Jim Marpe was very involved in protecting the town against the Westport Inn proposed development. He deserves the credit and thanks from all of Westport.

  11. Bart Shuldman

    Affordable housing=breaking local P&Z laws. Amazing how a good idea becomes horrible. Is that not the big issue? Why does CT still allow this? Why ruin the character of the town? 6 stories on 1.1 acre.

    Also-I believe if Westport was able to count in the affordable housing built before 1990 we would have more than the 10% required. Why such an arbitrary date? I am sure some can reply with the details.

    Sad.

  12. Hope someone got a picture of the proposed site in this high tide/storm yesterday or today