Vacant Restaurant Vexes Residents

Over a year ago — on December 31, 2014 — Positano’s restaurant closed its location on Old Mill Beach. The property had been sold.

It reopened next to the Westport Country Playhouse, to the delight of many. But neighbors of the now-vacant building on Hillspoint Road have a beef.

The other day, 10 of them e-mailed “06880”:

The building formerly occupied by Positano’s at Old Mill Beach has been empty for over a year now. It is reaching blight proportions, with its faded yellow stucco, wide-open back window (into and out of which skunks and other creatures happily go) and bleak disrepair.

The back of the old Positano's restaurant, with a wide-open back window.

The back of the old Positano’s restaurant, with a wide-open back window.

In response to a letter Dalma Heyn wrote to the Westport News a few months ago, lamenting the loss of the restaurant ‘s vitality to our community and asking what was going on, the building’s owner kindly contacted her and revealed as much as he felt he could divulge at the time.

But months roll on, and still we have no answers. What or who is blocking progress, and why? How can we help move it forward? Show up for meetings? Sign a petition?

If it’s a lawsuit that’s stopping progress, does that squelch information — and do we have legal recourse, based on impact on property value? Why aren’t our emails requesting information answered? Rumors fly.

A view of the vacant Positano's, from Hillspoint Road.

A view of the vacant Positano’s, from Hillspoint Road.

In the meantime, where is Westport’s blight-prevention ordinance — which states that the town will intervene if a building is dilapidated?

The building is not just an eyesore. Once illuminated by the restaurant, and filled with visitors, Old Mill Beach and this stretch of Hillspoint Road are now pitch black at night, when so many people are out walking. Too, anyone with thoughts of renting or selling a home here must confront prospective buyers’ justifiable alarm — and his own infuriating ignorance.

We are an engaged, active community, and this is an historic district that must be protected and nurtured. We — and residents from all over Westport — see each other at breakfast or lunch at Elvira’s. We sit on the benches with our kids and grandkids. We walk our dogs together.

The menu is gone from its former spot, next to the front door of the restaurant.

The menu is gone from its former spot, next to the front door of the restaurant. (Photos/Dalma Heyn)

All Westporters treasure this charming beach community, which has long been a destination for all residents who want to hang out at the sound. We’re tired of the bizarre vacuum in which we find ourselves. We are once again politely asking the town for both a status report and for information about the process that will move this forward — and what part we can play, if any, in helping it do so.

It’s time our elected officials spoke to us.


Dalma Heyn, Richard Marek, Peter de Caprio, Karen Silverstein, Wanda and Craig Steinke, Eileen Winnick, Wendy Giffords, Mary and Peter Green


18 responses to “Vacant Restaurant Vexes Residents

  1. Yes the building owner should be required to keep the property presentable and eliminate obvious hazards such as open windows inviting vagrants and animals. But the neighbors are not within their rights to expect a building owner to give them a public amenity: an upscale restaurant befitting the tastes of the local wealthy, and lighting for the beach and sidewalk. These are not the responsibilities of a private property owner.

  2. Michelle Benner

    For what it’s worth, a few weeks ago I saw a van with workers there for several days in a row. I forget the company name on the van, but it appeared they were working to dehumidify the interior. It also looked like they were removing old building material from inside.

  3. Matthew Mandell

    I do not have all the answers, but do have some info.

    First the building does not meet the blight ordinance conditions, but left longer could off course. Enacting the blight ordinance could just play into it being ripped down and a new house go up in its place. Maybe not the best solution.

    There are people actively looking to find a restaurateur to take it over. There have been many conversations. The owner who bought it was going to make it a private home, but has been willing to hang in and see if this can be pulled off. There are constraints, such as no outdoor dining allowed, which make it less attractive and of course parking issues.

    That’s what I know at this point. I’ll ask around and if I get more on it, I’ll post more.

    • Michelle Benner

      Is there a way to change the outdoor dining restrictions to make it more attractive? 🙂

      • Elizabeth Thibault

        I believe that there was neighborhood opposition to the outdoor dining, rather than something by the town, that prevented the option. I’m not sure how much a different restaurateur would impact that constraint.

        • Michelle Benner

          That’s too bad. Maybe it was one of the reasons Positano moved out and the building remains empty? And that they left that pile of paver bricks out back? (What’s the use of a patio if you can’t use it?) It would be so nice to have another restaurant, cafe or even a clam shack in that lovely spot. I wish the neighborhood would reconsider outdoor dining. Perhaps in a compromised / limited sense, such as setting a curfew and making it byob?

      • The neighbors have fought that for years!!!!!

  4. don l bergmann

    Once again the words of RTM District One Representative Matt are accurate. Several of us in the neighborhood have sought to have the issue resolved, basically a restaurant or a home but, to date, that has not occurred. The open window should of course be fixed. I do not wish to speak for the owner and cannot. I will say that the owner is a good person who is sensitive to the interests of the neighborhood.
    Don Bergmann

  5. Robert Wheeler

    When Positano wanted to offer its back porch for dining on the beach, they were opposed by the “we do not want anything new in Westport” crowd. If they had gotten approval and support from P&Z and neighbors, maybe we would have a jewel of a beach front restaurant today.

    • Michelle Benner

      I agree. I feel that limitation was and continues to be an unwelcoming gesture. Also, talking about beach blight, how about that house two doors down, on the other side of the pink house?? It looks far more blighted and abandoned than the vacant Positano. If I were a neighbor I would be more concerned about the status of this truly dilapidated house than the somewhat charming Positano building.

      • Betsy Phillips Kahn the Higgins Group

        That very blighted little beach house has been sold to the adjoining neighbor and plans are for it to be torn down; the structure was not salvageable. I think you can expect a magnificent home there, in keeping with the neighborhood! I expect great things on that corner….

        Positanos…?? Everyone would love a neighborhood restaurant. (Well, Mostly everyone!) but, Positanos structure needs to be raised to meet FEMA regs… Maybe they could do parking under at ground level, w restaurant on the second floor..?.(to help w parking issue)

        The views~~~~

        • Ha….I’m sure the neighbors who screamed about outdoor dining would not be amused by a 10 foot higher restaurant structure with, presumably, outdoor dining on a deck (since patio would be precluded).

          • Whatever is built there (should)
            be raised … House or restaurant , they would want to make the structure safe. That’s in VE flood zone= flood w waves

            Betsy Kahn

        • Laurie Goldberg

          Sorry, but I have to remark, a magnificent home in keeping with the neighborhood, on the water side of the street, sounds like another giant house which will likely impact views of that part of the beach even more than the current structures have done. I don’t see that as a positive for anyone except the person who might live there.

  6. Neighbors know there’s a window open on the back of the building? Why has no one taken the initiative to close it?