Downtown “Golden Triangle”: Final Piece Of Puzzle May Be Solved

Like any developer, David Waldman has enjoyed watching his latest project take shape. Bedford Square will redefine downtown, tying together Church Lane, Elm Street and Main Street, while offering an exciting new mix of retail, office and residential space.

Yet for a long time Waldman felt frustrated. One small but key piece of property did not fit.

36 Elm Street — the site of Villa del Sol restaurant — interrupts the new streetscape Waldman is creating. It intrudes into the sidewalk. And the adjacent parking lot — near the back entrance to the old Y and the former Klein’s — is a poorly configured, hard-to-navigate, chaotic mess.

The owner of 36 Elm Street did not want to sell. The town of Westport owns the parking lot. It looked like Waldman would have to build, as best he could, around those existing properties.

36 Elm Street. Right now, it's home to Villa del Sol restaurant. The entrance intrudes onto the sidewalk.

36 Elm Street. Right now, it’s home to Villa del Sol restaurant.

But a solution may be at hand. If town officials agree to a land swap, everyone could benefit: Villa del Sol. Drivers. Pedestrians admiring the streetscape. Merchants. Apartment dwellers. And, of course, Waldman.

He is currently negotiating to buy 36 Elm Street. (Ironically, he once owned it. He and his father bought what was then Brasserie Saint Germain in 1993. Waldman sold it several years later.)

His plan is to swap the property for a section of the town-owned Baldwin parking lot, across the street. Waldman would then build a 9,750-square-foot building behind Lux Bond & Green.

Villa del Sol would reopen there, alongside 3 small retail stores. Above them would be 4 apartments — 1 of them rented under state “affordable” guidelines.

The town would demolish the Villa del Sol building, creating additional parking. Waldman says that despite taking Baldwin spots for the new building, the town would net a gain of 2 parking spaces in the new lot.

This left side of this aerial view shows the current configuration of Elm Street. David Waldman's proposal is on the right.

This left side of this aerial view shows the current configuration of Elm Street. David Waldman’s proposal is on the right. (Click on or hover over to enlarge.)

If approved, Waldman says his plan will “really and truly complete the ‘Golden Triangle’ downtown.

“I really feel this is the last piece of the puzzle in downtown Westport. The proposed building will solidify the importance of Elm Street, and its connectivity to Main Street and Church Lane. It also improves pedestrian safety.”

In addition, Waldman says, “it provides beautiful sight lines for the Bedford project, and the new design for the back of 44 Main Street” (the Banana Republic building).

Frederick William Hoag — the architect collaborating with Waldman — is also working with the owners of 44 Main Street, and the Bobby Q’s building. Those projects will benefit from the new parking lot too, Waldman says.

Finally, he notes, the Elm Street land swap is in keeping with feedback about downtown development. One popular idea was for storefronts on the Baldwin property, adding retail while blocking the view of an ugly parking lot.

Town officials seem receptive to the plan, in its early stages. Now Waldman must finalize the contract for 36 Elm Street, and begin the land swap process with regulatory bodies.

28 responses to “Downtown “Golden Triangle”: Final Piece Of Puzzle May Be Solved

  1. Jamie Walsh

    This is a win win scenario all around and shows just how proactive David and His team have become to make things work for the better all the way around! This is a well executed plan and proposal that benefits all parties involved!

  2. Sounds nice, but will the old restaurant building remain standing until the new one is finished? Otherwise how could a small place like Villa del Sol possibly stay afloat for the time it takes to demolish and rebuild?

    In any case, the current construction interrupts normal traffic past the restaurant, and last I was there, business was suffering badly. The least the town and developers could do is place some temporary signage on Main Street and Church Street indicating Villa Del Sol is open and pointing to its location.

    If I were the developers, I’d contribute advertising money to the restaurant as well to help keep them afloat while the construction is ongoing.

  3. Michael Calise

    and the town would demolish the building? and the town would build the parking lot?? and and…………

    • Michelle Benner

      It seems like while on one side of the street there will be a new building to hide the old ugly view of the Baldwin parking lot, the other side of the street will have an older building with character torn down only to be replaced by a highly visible parking lot. Why isn’t the blocking of the view of this proposed new parking lot being addressed?

      • David A. Waldman

        We are not trying to block this view Michelle, we are trying to open it up. This will allow that elevation of Bedford Square to be more prominent, which his how it was designed. It is that elevation that allows pedestrians to enter the center piazza of Bedford Square. Additionally, the old Klein’s space (upper level) is being re-developed as is the Bobby Q’s building, both of which will have prominent facades and entrances adjacent to Bedford’s entrance.

        So, where the new building blocks an ugly parking lot and rear portion of the back of Lux Bond Green, the removal of the old building, which encroaches on the towns right of way and is in terrible disrepair, opens up a celebrated main entrance to Bedford Square and the adjacent developments, provides the pedestrians a safer connection thru the lot to the various points and can do so in a manner which includes new green space, trees and other pedestrian amenities. .

    • David A. Waldman

      Michael, my proposal stated that I would take down the building and remove the foundation at my cost and provide the town with a level lot. I had asked at the first pre-app that the town accept the land and execute, at its expense, the newly designed and combined parking lots. One of the commissioners suggested splitting the cost of the parking lot construction with the town, and it is my intention to incorporate that into the next iteration of my design. My goal is to re-present to the P&Z a pre-app on April 7th so I can answer some of their prior comments and confirm that the parking numbers work and the town can end up with a increase in on site parking. I am in the process of finalizing some elevations so everyone can understand how the new building will interact with the street scape of Elm Street and its neighboring buildings as well as how the parking lot can be laid out to maximize parking while adding desired soft scape, green scape and lighting.

      My reasoning for asking for the town’s financial participation, much the same way I did on the Save the Children application, is because I think it is the towns responsibility to keep on top of its infrastructure and continue to improve it to accommodate the future. I feel that the recurring tax revenue generated by projects I have been involved in within the last 5 years, like 54 Wilton Road (Save the Children), 2 Wilton Road (National Hall), 59 Wilton Road, 54 Post Road East (Bedford Square), 125 Main Street (Gap), 101-107 Post Road East (Urban Outfitters), 87 Post Road East (Patagonia, Pink Sumo), 28 Church Lane (Spotted Horse), 44 Church Lane (Sono Bakery) and 35 Elm Street (Kemper-Gunn/Serena & Lily) are providing and will continue to provide the town with stronger commercial grand list. This in turn lowers the residential tax burden and generates over $2MM+ in annual tax dollars (once stabilized).

      In fact, all you need to do is look at the towns new sidewalks and street lamps to see how municipal dollars can improve and help maintain value. Additionally, the town has just agreed and allocated funds to continue the sidewalk program which looks great on Main Street up Elm Street. They understand the importance of a vibrant and successful downtown and our Planning & Zoning Board, based on the first pre-app, seems to be on board as well. If I am allowed to proceed, the town will be left with a contiguous (they own the two adjacent lots) property which has a far greater value then the existing conditions today and provides them with far more options for its future use, if something other then parking would be desired. The proposed portion of the Elm Street lot I am suggesting to swap and build on will seamlessly continue the street scape down Elm from Main, blocking the ugly parking lot along the way and connecting it to the Kemper-Gunn house and Bedford Square/Church Lane.

      • David, What would be the timing of the demo of the old building and the completion of the new one across the street?

        • David Waldman

          The parking lot would be completed before the new building would be built.

          • David Waldman

            Ideally, new parking completed early 2017 and new building early 2018.

            • Ok David, to repeat initial question: how could that restaurant remain afloat during the time period between demolition of the old space and completion of the new? Just checking, because Dan’s description of your project specifically said: “…Villa del Sol would reopen there [in the new construction] alongside 3 small retail stores.”

              • David Waldman

                Specifics are being worked out between my lawyer and villa’s lawyer. Clearly there would be some down time but I am hopeful an economic solution is possible to bridge that gap.

    • Apparently there are no lengths to which the town will not go to make Mr. Waldman’s dreams some true.

  4. Michelle Benner

    Thanks for your responses David. I suppose I should revisit the plans to see how it all will work together. In my mind, though, having a parking lot in front of an entrance feels somewhat mall-like. But I guess the parking has to be designated somewhere. At least it’s on a side street. Looking forward to seeing it evolve into a much more usable and inviting space!

  5. Town shouldn’t be in the business of giving away town land to a private person. Mr. Waldman bought the Villa Del Sol building and land which he can develop subject to zoning laws, however he should not be allowed to swap his land for town owned land. In 181 years the town of Westport has never given away town owned land until last year when Mr. Waldman moved his house onto town land. He now will make a $100/sqft while paying the town $3/sqft making him 2-3 million dollars which means every taxpayer in Westport gave Mr. Waldman a $300-$400 gift. Giving away or trading town land is a terrible precedent to set. If you believe this is a good idea he will sell you the Brooklyn bridge to go across out beautiful Saugatuck river for his next development.

    If the town of Westport wants to build out the parking lot we should put it out for competitive build(RFI) to all the major developers in the CT and NY area, This is the only way to guarantee the town will receive the best value for the taxpayers while improving downtown parking and keeping with the town’s character and master plan.

  6. David A. Waldman

    Philip,

    I am not asking the town to give anything away. What I am offering is for the town to be given the Villa Del Sol property in return for a parcel of slightly lesser size across the street. If they decided to do this, the town would own one contiguous lot off Elm which has a far greater value then the current configuration affords.

    As you pointed out, this is similar in some ways to the Kemper-Gunn (KG) move but VASTLY DIFFERENT in many key ways.

    1) The KG deal was a Land Lease between the town and DC Kemper Gunn, so in the end the town did not GIVE the property away, it allowed it to be used for the preservation of the house and receives income thru the Land Lease ($15,000 per year or roughly $2.50 per foot) and property taxes (estimated at $37,000 per year or about $6.00 per foot).
    2) The KG deal required the town to LOSE 22 parking spaces in the Elm Street parking lot to accommodate the Kemper Gunn House. Now that KG is almost done, we feel that we may be able to revised the KG parking lay out plan with the town thereby making the lost spaces LESS then 22. (waiting on plan to be able to create final number)
    3) The KG deal was subject to a future “historical” deed restrictions, which protect the image of the KG house forever.
    4) The KG deal required the developer to achieve a rent that was 85% of market. I can promise you Serena & Lily are not paying anything near $100 per foot. (or anything close to that)

    The current SWAP deal I am offering for 36 Elm is also different in the following ways:

    1) We are removing a 6,900 dilapidated restaurant/retail building which, as I mentioned in an earlier post, is in horrible disrepair and has major encroachment issues on Elm Street.
    2) I did not purchase 36 Elm Street. I negotiated an option with the owner so I had the time to discuss this project with the town and obtain the necessary approvals, I fully understand property owners rights under zoning but feel collaborative creativity between me and the town will create a better, safer and more user friendly Elm Street.
    3) The proposed SWAP provides MORE parking in the town owned lots and ADDS to the total inventory of parking (+2)
    4) The “paper” parking comparison in the proposed new building decreases potential future use of the towns parking lots by 50 spaces compared to the current allowable use in the current building.
    5) The combined town parcels as a whole has a far greater value than this individual parts. This is applicable NOW and even more so in the future, should the town want to do something with the site
    6) Its add small residential units downtown, one of which will be affordable
    7) The new building will provide MORE tax revenue to the town then the current building.
    8) The new plan will allow for the creation of centrally located garbage facilities which will ADD parking by removing the individual garbage collections units from neighboring properties.

    I for one do not want a NY developer coming into our town and doing anything (other then shopping and maybe living in our great town). The configuration outlined in my plan is all surface parked and provides more green space, safe and accessible pedestrian sidewalks and added visual connectivity to and from Main and Church.

    I hope that helps in understanding the differences between the Kemper-Gunn move and this proposed land swap and also provides with you some comfort that the town is not giving anything away.

  7. Michael Calise

    David,
    you need to get beyond the salesman pitch and talk about discovering the true market value of the towns lands and the true market value of the viva del sol property and the value of the additional development rights you are looking for as well as the fact that the town has a functional parking lot which they will be losing. I would like to think that the emotional process of the save the Gunn house price tag can be put behind us and that the taxpayers can be rewarded with a benefit of their holdings beyond the anticipated tax revenues which are already their claim for the inconvenience of a future traffic bottleneck and the municipal costs incurred therein.

  8. Tyler Smith

    Agree with Michael. It always ends up ‘sounding like a win-win’ and we get these diatribes of why we should care about these grandiose plans….but honestly, who REALLY benefits here? The character and charm of Westport is eroding faster and faster and in its place comes this gargantuan development completely out of character, style and proportion for a New England town. The sales pitch is getting very old at this point and we need to realize that it’s never too late to instill further preservation of our beloved home.

  9. Tyler Smith

    Also, Phillip you’re spot on.

  10. David A. Waldman

    I cant please everyone.

    As for your comments about the ever eroding character of Westport, I can only say that I strongly disagree. While you may feel the size of Bedford Square is out of scale, I would remind you what was there prior. and how it interacted with its surrounding properties. I would also remind you that as part of Bedford Square, we saved the historic facades of the Bedford mansion and firehouse and our architects did an exceptional job in complimenting the history of those buildings with the mixed use additions being built. I would say that the preservation and adaptive re-use of properties like the Bedford Mansion and Fire house, Patagonia, Urban Outfitters, the spotted horse, Sono Bakery, and the soon to open Serena & Lily at 35 Elm Street not only preserved the character of those properties and allowed for a pedestrian friendly interaction with their surroundings but enhanced its downtown overall character. Once Church Lane is completed with Bedford Square, you will all see just how comfortable feeling the new street will be and how connective it will be to all others parts of downtown.

    I am big fan of preservation (as noted above with the projects I have been involved in) but I am also a big fan of pro-active planning and the SWAP I am proposing is just that, pro-active planning. It will provide additional parking in the town lots, safer pedestrian connections to the new developments that front them (Bedford Square, 2nd floor or 44 Main and Bobby Q’s) and centralized garbage areas . It will provide the town with a contiguous parcel of land that will have a combined value greater then its separate parts and it will completed the “golden triangle” which I refer to as Main, Elm and Church.

    Removing the building will eliminate the encroachments on the towns right of way that exist today and act as screen to the lot behind it. Additionally, it will add more housing to the downtown, one of which would be affordable. It will also have deed restricted restaurant use which creates a “paper” benefit of 50 cars which COULD be used per the current buildings zoning. In the end the process will be open and transparent and I hope the town will see the long term benefits of the proposed plan.

  11. John Daniel

    David – thank you for the transparency regarding your thought process in developing downtown. As a property owner in town for the past 5 years and currently in my mid-30’s, I am very impressed the vision you have created for our vibrant downtown. I am in full support of your SWAP proposal. While you’ll never be able to please everyone, it is appreciated and recognized that you have chosen to respond to each and every concern presented on this blog regarding the project. My family awaits the completion of your vision and sharing it with our out of town friends, especially those from NYC who frequently contemplate a move to the ‘burbs and are looking for a community such as Westport.

    • David Waldman

      Nothing would make me happier but last I spoke to them westport was not a top priority. That said, they are a great retailer and would be a great Tenant to have downtown.

  12. Susan Lloyd

    Just curious. When did the old YMCA become the “Bedford Mansion”? E.T.
    Bedford never lived there.

    • He donated the building.

      • Do we know what anchor stores will be in Westport – when will this be announced? Or is this a case of build it and they will come?

        • David Waldman

          The anchor will be one of the first 3 large format stores being opened by Anthropologie. It will include a full service restaurant from the newly acquired Vetri Group out of Philly, and new Anthro home and beauty section as well as intimates and jewelry. Lastly,i. It will have a wedding concept called BHLDN which is one for the brands of the parent company. All of those concepts and brands will be housed in the 40,000 SF Bedford Mansion and adjacent Firehouse.

          As for the remaining 30,000 SF, we are actively negotiating with some exciting retailers. When leases are executed we will announce them as well.

  13. David,
    I compliment you on your buildings in general and I am impressed by the the profit you make but it shouldn’t be at taxpayers’ expense like we absorbed with Kemper-Gunn house. If the town wants to build in front of the Elm Street parking lot, the town should do so through a competitive process that is fair and open in which the town controls to keep the design in keeping with the character of a small New England town. This wouldn’t be the case with your proposed trade of private land for public land where you maintain control and can add a modern staircase onto a traditional design of Kemper-Gunn house.

    Since this parcel you propose to swap is so valuable then build it into your existing project and make underground parking that’s connected with your new Bedford Square project to alleviate the parking problems already created.

    Again I compliment you for making lot of money on your investments but a line should be draw when its on public property or at taxpayers expense.

  14. Wendy Cusick

    I support David W. He has your best interests at heart. Trust me folks you Want him to be your developer! Not someone else! Your next door (Norwalk) neighbors have been dealing with some serious and frustrating situations. Most developers don’t care what kind of disruptions they will cause. David Waldman Really Cares. You need to listen to him and help him receive his approvals or text amendments as you call them. I have never seen a developer progress so fast and build in a retail area. Bedford Square really looks Great (along with that fantastic crane).
    I will repeat my statement you definitely WANT him as your Developer.
    Dan, please make sure David W sees this. He needs all the positive support he can get even it’s from the next town over. I wish P&Z and the public would agree more with his vision.

    • David Waldman

      Thank you Wendy. I appreciate your support and confidence in what I have been trying to create.
      Westport has always been a great place and is only getting better.