Online Petition Plea: No Wilton Road Apartments

An online petition opposing the proposed 4-story, 48-unit apartment complex at the corner of Wilton Road and Kings Highway North is picking up steam.

In its first 2 days, nearly 200 Westporters asked the Planning and Zoning Commission to deny an application to build on the environmentally sensitive, heavily trafficked site.

Petition organizer Adrian Little — a 19-year Westport resident — lives a mile away. He says, “People in Green’s Farms and Coleytown should be just as concerned about this as those who live nearby. We have only one town.”

Little notes that most residents signing the petition also leave comments. They cite 3 overwhelming concerns: traffic, the environment and aesthetics.

The fact that some of the units will be deemed “affordable housing” is not an issue, Little notes.

“No one is troubled by the notion of affordable housing,” he says. “The problem is the location, bulk, and sheer lack of concern for our environment.”

(To see the petition, click here.  For more background on the proposed apartment complex, click here.)

The Taylortown Salt Marsh abuts the proposed apartment complex at 122 Wilton Road.

The Taylortown Salt Marsh abuts the proposed apartment complex at 122 Wilton Road.

42 responses to “Online Petition Plea: No Wilton Road Apartments

  1. Let me add a practical note. Does Westport have a fire truck with a ladder long enough to reach the roof of the proposed building, or will taxpayers need to subsidize the builder to assure residents of the building are safe?

    • Michael Calise

      Roy,
      Chief Kingsbury testified at the hearing that the building would “overtax” our manpower and equipment and that assistance would be required from other departments in Fairfield and Westchester Counties. Basically he said that it was a disaster waiting to happen. This is just another case of the ongoing proof that it is urgent that we clean out the Hartford establishment.

      • The fire department already receives assistance from neighboring towns for such things as a garage fire or a detached shed fire. Apparently those type of calls “overtax” the department.

    • As currently presented, the proposed structure reminds me of flimsy East German housing – without the charm. More importantly, the building would be a complete and utter death trap. Recent public testimony revealed that, among other things, the spot where our ladder truck is supposed to park is so tight that the rig’s starboard doors won’t even be able to open and its hydraulic stabilizers will not be able to be deployed. Oh, and one other minor thing: the truck will block the building’s emergency exit. It’s plain that this is nothing but a phoned-in Mcapplication by someone who just wants to go to court to cram a Yugo down our throats.

  2. Ann Marie Flynn

    There are enough traffic jams at that intersection on a daily basis. Guess we should start carrying a “brown bag” of goodies to survive if the building is approved. Don’t forget the water!

  3. Mary Schmerker, Staples 1958

    Let me say up front that although I am a native of Westport I no longer live in Connecticut. Consequently I hesitate to comment. However I feel compelled to on this issue. I know the area well. I also understand the environmental impact that can be caused by overbuilding. Once a wetland or tidal marsh is destroyed it is gone forever. Wetlands and tidal marshes house complex eco systems that are vital to the well being of many plants and wildlife.The health and well being of the top of the food chain depends on the well being of the bottom of the food chain. As Humankind we tend to forget that we are at the top of that chain but what happens at the bottom in important to our well being.

  4. Where do I sign? mmm

  5. Matthew Mandell

    I think petitions are great and applaud the effort, but it probably does not matter in this case. The entire Town could sign on the dotted line, the P&Z could say see the entire Town says this is a bad location and still it could matter little. The court could ignore it. Why?

    8-30g law is quite clear, unless there is a public safety issue or an environmental harm the court could over rule the P&Z. That’s it. Traffic, unless it can be shown to create a safety issue is not a reason. Just waiting for a light doesn’t cut it, but if an ambulance can’t get through then it might. 8-30g does not care if we have to build more schools, hire more cops or it raises our taxes, those are not reasons to deny according to the law. Furthermore the burden of proof shifts from the applicant to the P&Z. The applicant doesn’t have to prove they won’t cause harm, P&Z has to prove they will.

    Now to the bigger point – There are safety and environmental issues to this location and project. The Fire department believes they can’t access the site properly and have offered their and a consultant’s arguments. To answer Roy Fuchs, no our truck can’t work this location, nor do we have ladders tall enough.

    As to the environment, the P&Z has a State obligation under section 22a to review this as a Coastal Area Management site, since it is along the river. This gives the P&Z environmental protection powers it normally does not have. They become the Conservation Commission in this case. I believe and stated it on the record to the P&Z that Section 22a of the state is equal to section 8-30g and if there are harms the P&Z sees they can act upon them. I also believe the burden as stated before does not shift here because of this equal state obligation. Prior 8-30g decisions say the P&Z does not have to prove there is an environmental harm, just show there is a likelihood.

    This is a tough one and I have no idea how it will turn out, but just having more people know about the issues and being involved is important. The petition does that.

  6. I’d sign the petition but it skirts the fundamental issue. The commentary states: “We are not against affordable housing – we agree there is a need for more in town that has to be met – just not here.” Not to beat a dead horse, but that phrase is used in opposisition of almost every meaningful proposal for affordable housing that comes along. Yeah, we should have some but not “here”.

    It would be helpful if the petioners, Westport leadership, or anyone in Westport, would suggest alternative locations for affordable housing. As best I can tell, the only widely accepted suggestion would be “Norwalk or Fairfield” coupled with irrelevant excuses that there really is more affordable housing in Westport if they would just change the rules.

    Dan – perhaps you could run a poll asking your readers to decide where “here” should be. Maybe first ask for suggested locations to come up with a list of possible locations and then do poll from there. Personally, I think the results and commentary might be both informative and amusing.

    • It should be clear by now; we don’t want affordable housing. The 8-30g statute is the sort of social engineering progressives applaud; unless of course it imposes a burden on them.

    • Interesting proposal. My wife spoke at a public hearing quite a while back (and on my behalf as well) asking why a portion of Winslow Park couldn’t be dedicated to affordable housing. And we both feel the same way about Baron’s South. Both properties are right by mass transit and are also within walking distance of so many retail outlets/work possibilities. My wife and I fail to see why they need to be kept exclusively as open space.

      There were also talks at one point about increasing parking to address the shortage of spaces at the train station. Why not consider some public/private partnership to build a large garage/housing complex at the lot across from the multi-story Charles Street office building (and next to the Luciano Playground) ? This would be another location adjacent to mass transit as well as within walking distance of a number of retail outlets/employment possibilities.

      • Why would you want to give public property to a private profit making entity?

        • I’m not looking at it as purely a giveaway. But it might well take a public/private partnership to have the funds to build the large type of complex I envision by the train station.

        • Jerry MacDaid

          I would imagine the town could sell half of Winslow Park to a developer at a market price if the consensus was that’s where the town wants affordable housing. Certainly the developer of the proposed development paid a market price for the lot in question.

    • Jerry-there are many issues to this so called affordable project before we could debate it’s next location:

      1) why does affordable housing give the developer the right to break our local P&Z laws? We spend a lot of public energy restricting what can be built-yet by naming a project affordable-the P&Z rules get thrown out
      2) Lets remember this project is about building 48 apartments-and ONLY 12 are affordable. Why does this give the developer the right to break P&Z laws when the majority of the project will make the devloper a lot of money.
      3) why does the state only look at affordable housing built in Westport after a certain date. I believe (and Matt Mandel can comment) that Westport has over the state percentage of we get to use affordable housing built before a ‘pull it out of the air’ date was set by the state.
      4) this came from someone else and I give them credit for this-since this project is building a total of 48 units and only 12 are affordable, this project will not get us close tongue percentage required unreasonably by the state. The total housing number will increase by 48 and only add 12 to affordability.

      If we want to stop this nonsense we need to change Hartford. Westport has developed affordable housing but we are punished because we did it before the start date by CT. We should applaud the good work that was done.

      Sadly the state comes in and makes decisions that will harm Westport. Our fire department cannot remains effectively, we lose our towns beauty and control. Amazing how a good idea becomes a horrible one.

    • Sorry–hit reply too early:
      Jerry-there are many issues to this so called ‘affordable housing project ‘ before we should debate it’s next location:

      1) why does affordable housing give the developer the right to break our local P&Z laws? We spend a lot of public time and energy restricting what can be built-yet by naming a project affordable-the P&Z rules get thrown out
      2) We need to remember this project is about building 48 apartments-and ONLY 12 are affordable. Why does this give the developer the right to break P&Z laws when the majority of the project is not affordable and will make the developer a lot of money at the town’s expense?
      3) why does the state only look at affordable housing built in Westport after a certain date? I believe (and Matt Mandel can comment) that Westport has over the stated percentage required by the state if we get to use the affordable housing built before the ‘pull it out of the air’ date that was set by the state.
      4) this came from someone else and I give them credit for this-This project is about building a total of 48 units and only 12 are affordable. Therefore the project will not get us close to the required percentage that was unreasonably set by the state. The total housing number in westport will increase by 48 and only add 12 to affordability.

      If we want to stop this nonsense we need to change Hartford. Westport has developed affordable housing but we are punished because we did it before an arbitrary start date by CT. We should applaud the good work that has been accomplished in Westport.

      Sadly the state makes decisions that come back to harm Westport. Our fire department cannot respond effectively if soemthing should happen, the traffic could become a nightmare, and we lose our towns beauty and control.

      Sad how a potentially good idea becomes a horrible one.

      If affordable housing is needed, should we allow just an affordable housing complex to be built, within our P&Z rules, without adding more regular housing to our base housing numbers?

      • Bart – The answers to your questions are pretty simple:

        1) “Why does affordable housing give the developer the right to break our local P&Z laws?” Very simply, because that is what the law says. The reason for the law is that it seems some people created zoning rules to, essentially, keep lower income people, often minorities, out of their towns. Never the stated reason for the zoning rules of course and I’m sure not Westport but…

        2) “Why does this give the developer the right to break P&Z laws when the majority of the project will make the devloper a lot of money.” Again, very simply, because that is what the law allows. I would imagine they wanted to provide incentives to the private sector to develop affordable housing since the state did not want to fund it. This was the carrot.

        3) “Why does the state only look at affordable housing built in Westport after a certain date?” I don’t believe there is anything in the law specifically ignoring things before a certain date, but only that properties need to have long term deed restrictions that keep the properties affordable. As commented elsewhere, there is little incentive for anyone to slap on a deed restriction on their property as it would keep them from selling to a developer as a teardown thus diminishing their property’s value. Also, as noted by one of the authors of the 8-30g rule, the 10% affordable housing requirement was set below where it “should be” partially in recognition that there was hidden affordable housing (i.e. without deed restrictions) in every town/city impacted but the rule.

        4) “This project will not get us close to the percentage required unreasonably by the state.” Reasonable or not, I rrelevant as long as Westport is below the 10% level required by the law.

        Basically, the answer to all of the above is “BECAUSE THAT IS THE LAW”. You might disagree with the law, but it is what it is. If you want to change the law, write your legislator but I doubt Westport will get a whole lot of sympathy from most of the rest of the state except, perhaps, from the handful of other privileged enclaves similarly impacted. Even if you could convince them, reasonable chance the courts (where this all started) would enforce something.

        Finally, “If affordable housing is needed, should we allow just an affordable housing complex to be built, within our P&Z rules, without adding more regular housing to our base housing numbers?” Sure. But it’s not going to happen because it is uneconomic unless Westport is willing to subsidize private property owners to do so. No one is going to teardown a house and replace it with a single deed restricted affordable house because a) the numbers don’t work and b) they can make more money doing something else.

        Westport can whine about this but until we do something, we are going to have things like this project jammed down our throats, like it or not.

    • Bobbie Herman

      It would probably be too expensive to buy — I don’t even know if it’s on the market — but I think the former Arrow/Jasmine/Blu Parrot site would be ideal. It’s near public transportation, doesn’t adversely impact the environment, is large enough for a building and parking, and isn’t in anyone’s backyard. It’s now been vacant for a couple of years, and there doesn’t seem to be a rush to occupy it.

  7. Julie Fatherley

    I agree with everyone but Matthew Mandel is always so eloquent and I as well as my husband totally support his commentary. This is one of the most
    egregious ideas so far that would affect our environment and community on
    so many levels….Julie Fatherley

  8. Sara LeTourneau

    Shouldn’t the petition refer to Wilton Rd?

  9. Sylvia Robinson Corrigan

    In Westport Planning and Zoning, is there any law which restricts the height or number of stories a building may have? Clearly a five story building on the riverbanks of the Saugatuck on Wilton Road presents many real problems with the environment and traffic, which have been well articulated. One problem which bothers me in addition is blocking views: the proposed apartment building would block views of the river and town. If we start throwing up tall buildings, how does that impact the character of our town?

  10. Michael Calise

    Right! and anyone who needs to stay in Westport for business or personal reasons should stay in Norwalk……….

  11. Bart Shuldman

    Anyone thinking that affordbale housing means…’I dont like my big house and want a cheaper place to live’…is kidding themeslves. Without a doubt, few if any Westporters will meet the stringent requirements to get one of the so called affordable homes/housing. There are serious asset tests, income tests, etc.,that will be used to determine anyones opportunity to qualify.

    If we give away town land, you are giving away an asset we all own and very few, if any Westporters will get the benefit. Including most seniors.

    If and when affordable housing increases in town, and more students are added to the school population, Westport will experience the increase in school costs (about $20K per student) without the correspdonding taxes to help pay. We will all watch as town real estate taxes increase so we can add the necessary revenue for the increase in student population. Don’t kid yourself, it will be inevitable. And how much would Westport taxes increase for new fire trucks, etc?

    Just ask a senior citizen in Westport how they will feel if we give away town land, only to watch as their taxes go up. It is not a zero sum gain.

    Affordable housing is an issue that should be clealry vetted with the appropiate analysis.

    We already face the issue of seniors leaving. For every house where a senior leaves Westport, and a family moves in, we lose a tax paying house with limited cost to Westport (no students), and add another that costs the town more than their taxes pay. A family with 2 children costs the town approximately $40K, and the avergae real estate tax is less.

    If taxes went up a lot, how many more seniors would be forced to leave? And Baron’s South did nothing to solve the senior problem. Senior housing also has stringent income/asset requirements.

    Affordbale housing is a very serious issue, and that does not take into the P&Z issues.

    If Connecticuts goal is 10%, and Westport has achieved that already using all the affordable homes constructed in the calucation, then why penalize the residents more? Why hurt the seniors more?

  12. Patty & Jim Lamb

    Too much traffic already, real safety issue for ambulance and fire trucks as well as lots of kids walking into town from the Old Hill area since this is the only way to get there with sidewalks from Kings Highway!

  13. Michael Lonsdale

    The developers are actually asking to put up a 6 STORY building. They have offered to settle on a 4 story building as a compromise if the town doesn’t want a 6 STORY. If the town does not want to compromise then they will take it to the Supreme Court and ask for the 6 STORY. It is not a viable location for such a development. The traffic problems (one of the worst intersections in all of CT for accidents) and fire safety as well as impact on the marshlands disqualify this location for use as a low income housing development. The plans call for a stick constructed building. i.e. wood construction. A year ago a similar building (Avalon) in New Jersey caught fire and could not be extinguished by the fire department because of the construction. We do have to think of the safety for the inhabitants as well as out firefighters. I do support low income housing in Westport but this is the worst location for such a building. Perhaps many of the vacant commercial buildings around town could be modified to accommodate this housing.

  14. Excuse my Insufficient knowledge of the process, but under what circumstances can a natural waterway – such as this salt marsh- be developed or altered? Agree the 33/post rd intersection is the worst – the red light runners are rampant.

  15. According to the Westport Police Dept (online records) there have been 7 accidents at that intersection in the past 4 years and zero traffic infringements in the past 7 months (sorry can’t go back further). A further 42 accidents have occurred on either KHN or WR but with no precise location, the combined length of those roads is 3.4 miles so probably fair to say there could be more at the lights there but that need better accident reporting.

  16. Let’s be a little more blunt: One town’s legitimate argument for safety or traffic or zoning or resources/taxes is another town’s deliberate tool of discrimination against minorities and lower income people considered undesirable. The law is there to make sure towns cannot use these reasons to keep minorities and low income people out, and it is intentionally blind to intent because intent is hard to prove. Even if there’s not a single discriminatory soul in Westport, there are plenty elsewhere who caused the need for the law, and we have no choice but to follow the law. Regardless of our reasoning for fighting affordable housing proposals, the outcome is the same – lower income people are kept out.

    We must pick places to put in affordable housing and get them built to meet the requirements, or let the developers and courts pick for us. If we NIMBY every proposal we are both being discriminatory and choosing to hand control to the courts.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Alex–what would help is for the leadership in Westport to let us know how many more affordable homes need to be built to make the 10% figure set by the state. Keeping the number of exisitng homes constatnt, how many more need to be added to make the 10%?

      The current project is not helpful as it adds 48 more units to the base number of units in Westport. Then only 12 get added to the affordable number, so this achieves a very small dent in what needs to be done. And it has the double impact of adding more units in Westport, which is not helpful.

      If we all agree to have a complex of just ‘affordbale homes” in Westport, where the buidling meets our P&Z rules, then we can make a real dent into the 10% affordable number. But how far are we? Marpe of Kaner should comment.

      Once we get those figures, an analysis should be made as the the finanical impact to the school budget as we add more students. Again, Marpe and Kaner should chime in as to what kind of real estate taxes can be collected if we allow an affordble only complex in Westport. Will the town collect any taxes?

      Then maybe we can put together a plan to address the affordable issue, instead of reacting to each and every developer looking to take advantage of Westport. Many of these programs/developers get stopped, as did the Westport Inn, by someone buying the property from the developer who ends up making a profit and then goes away. Kind of blackmail–which is what is going on right now.

      • Bart – Good points. Really hard to debate this without the data.

        The law allows for developers to build housing with just some affordable units as a way to get builders to pay for it, we are capitalists after all so there has to be profit in it. While we might put a bigger dent in the affordable housing % we need to hit by building something with only affordable units, who would build that? It also is not as effective at integration, effectively isolating low income families and putting all the children in the same school. Affordable units need to be spread out throughout town to really accomplish the right outcome.

        As for taxes going up as low income kids join the schools, let’s be blunt there too: That’s the whole point! We don’t get to have our richly funded schools as little socioeconomically insular islands where only those who can “pay their fair share” get to go, that’s exactly the discrimination the law is trying to undo. It has been repeatedly proven that integrating lower income students into good schools goes a long way to close the performance gap, giving them a better chance at middle class jobs, that’s what this law is trying to do. There is no zero sum game, you either keep funding the same and there’s less per head, or you raise taxes – the world doesn’t end in either case.

        Nobody will like my alternative solution: ban local funding of schools, instead fund education at the state level through progressive property taxes with mandated equal spending per student in all districts. No more 8-30g law needed. But don’t worry, nobody could ever get elected on that platform.

        Full disclosure: my property taxes are lower than the per student education budget, and I have one student in the system. Many thanks to those of you who have more expensive properties and cover that gap.

        • Bart Shuldman

          Alex. You should thank the seniors. They are the ones who really benefit the town regarding taxes and schools.

          I still would like to know what is the percentage of affordable homes built before the random”start’ date of the 1990’s. If I am right and we are already over 10%, and since some are using 2.3% for current, then by the time we achieve the 10%, then we will be at over 17%.

          That seems concerning but maybe others in the town will think that is good. The seniors will get crushed with much much higher taxes and our town will have many more affordable homes that the rest of CT. The arbitrary start date could help to bring down our schools as we know it today, or increase taxes like we have never seen. Home prices will come down a lot once people realize the Westchester style real estate taxes that are in force.

          The arbitrary start date will come back and cause real concern in Westport. Just my opinion. But we are talking about adding over 4x the housing.

          Concerning. I wonder what our state reps and senators think.

      • Jerry MacDaid

        Bart – according to the below linked article, as of a year ago, Westport had 10,399 dwelling units, 2.7% of which were classified as affordable. So that would suggest 850 or more are needed. I gather from the link that no one thinks we will get there any time soon (if ever) but there is some mechanism to get “points” along the way to show we are trying so be able to have a 4 year moratorium on developers being able to use 8-30g to override the local P&Z. With pretty much every proposal being blocked, I’m guessing we aren’t close hence the continued 8-30g threat.

        http://www.westportnow.com/index.php?/v2_5/comments/for_the_community_a_close_look_8-30g/

        • Bart Shuldman

          Jerry–and others–please read. I just tried to calculate how many more dwellings would have to be added in Westport, if 25% of those new dwellings were affordbale homes, so the town could reach the mystical 10% affordable homes required by the state.

          Read on–quite amazing.

          If we use the information that has been provided-Westport has 10,399 dwellings and 280 are affordable (2.7%), then for Westport to add enough homes that would be added with 25% dedicated to affordable, Westport would have to grow to a total (aproximately) of 16,000 dwellings of which 1,600 would be affordable.

          Do the math–I am approximating what will be required.

          Westport would have to add 5,601 dwellings (apartments, condos, etc) and dedicate 25% of the new dwellings to affordable, to reach the 10% criteria set by the state. This seems to be the percentage of homes where a developer can make money, while also adding affordbale homes to the project.

          Where Westport could add that many dwellings I do not know. I believe Westport already has over 90% coverage of the land being used.

          What the impact to our town will be to add another 5,601 units is hard to consider right now. Westport would have to grow the dwellings by 50% so we reach the so called mandated 10%.

          Westport could see school population grow by over 2,000 students.

          Please review the numbers and let me know what you think. By removiing the affordbale homes built before the 1990’s from Westport’s affordable home calcualtion, if Westport was to strive to meet the mandate, the town we know will change forever,

          This is worse case, but it helps to show the impact.

          • Thanks Bart and Jerry, great research and number crunching!

            Bart, I’m wondering how you got the number of students the system could grow by, I’m afraid that 2,000 seems low. Westport is very attractive to parents of school aged children, so a whole lot of those 5,600 or so dwellings would likely have at least one child. For a totally rough number I’d put it closer to 1:1 ratio of new dwellings to new students, with 2 child families making up for childless residents. That is startling at 2,000 or 5,000 new students.

            It doesn’t look like we can easily meet the requirements of the moratorium or the law… but the point still stands that if we keep rejecting all the proposals we will become an even bigger target for developers because the courts will have less sympathy. We need to stop rejecting everything and make sure get some of the projects done, both to lessen the risk of the law forcing something really bad and because intent or no, we can’t have a discriminatory outcome, legally or ethically.

            • Bart Shuldman

              Alex. The 2,000 extra students would be from the additional affordable housing which will impact the town more. Westport will probably collect a lot less taxes.

              But the additional 5,000+ Dwellings could add an additional over 10,000 students. Those units the town should be able to collect taxes. But if they are rentals or condos I would predict the town collects much lower taxes than a 4 or 5,0000 square foot home. The growing impact of adding that many into our schools will be crushing.

              The amount of standard dwellings in Westport would grow 50%. But since part of the project has to be affordable we can assume the town will see an influx of condos/apartments.

              This is looking out many years if Westport had to reach to magical 10%. I find that getting into the details helps to understand the real
              Impact. Our politicians tend to like the sound bite but leave out the details. I still wonder how our state rep and senators feel about the real
              Impact to Westport. They should be ‘screaming’ in Hartford to stop this. Are they?

              And I am surprised we don’t hear more from the town leadership. What is our plan to avoid the worse case analysis? They were able to fend off the Westport Inn debacle, but the developer who bought the property had real visions. Can we relie on this happening again and again?

              So what is our plan in Westport? We just highlighted worst case. Now what?

      • Jerry MacDaid

        Apparently to qualify for the moratorium, we need to show that we’ve had a 2% increase in our affordable housing equivalent stock or a little over 200 points per 8-30g-6(h) (linked). The way you get points is per 8-30g-6(i) but basically a point per house or 1.5 points per rental unit with bonuses if income restrictions are tighter. For something else I read that I can’t find again, Westport has maybe 90 points from things that were in the works a couple years ago, some of which may not have happened so still over 100 points short. Westport Inn would have been worth a lot of points but would not itself have put us over the limit.

        http://www.ct.gov/ecd/cwp/view.asp?a=1095&Q=307632&PM=1#def