Y I Was Wrong

For years  — during the decade-long rumble over the Westport Weston Family YMCA‘s proposed move — I stood firmly in the stay-home camp.

I was convinced the Y belonged where it had been for 8 decades: downtown. Losing such a vital organization, I thought, would be as mortal a blow to Main Street as the closing of the Fine Arts movie theaters had been a few years earlier.

I dreaded the traffic jams I “knew” would clog Wilton Road. I freaked out about cars backed up all the way to Kings Highway, all hours of the day.

I thought the Mahackeno property — wooded, beautiful, on the banks of the Saugatuck River — would be cut, leveled, ruined forever.

I was convinced the Y should stay downtown -- its home since 1923.

I was convinced the Y should stay downtown — its home since 1923.

The new Y has been open for a year and a half. And guess what?

I love it.

The building is as beautiful as a Y can be. It complements the woods. Inside, it’s bright, airy and welcoming. The views from the fitness center are stunning. The halls are wide. Even the locker rooms — the major design mistake — have been improved.

Traffic is no problem. In fact, the new location — snuggled up against Merritt Parkway exit 41 — has goosed membership nicely. Plenty of new users don’t live in Westport or Weston. They’re commuters, popping in and out on their way to or from work. It’s great to have them (and their membership dollars).

As for downtown: Bedford Square will add more to downtown than the Y did (at least, in its later years). The retail/residential complex promises to bring new folks, new life — even new traffic patterns and perspectives — to a somewhat tired, but still vital, part of Westport.

The view from the Y's fitness center is pretty spectacular.

The view from the Y’s fitness center is pretty spectacular.

No, the Y did not put me up to this. They have no idea I’m writing it.

I just thought about how wrong I’d been the other day, when I finished my workout, walked past the new cafe and kids’ club, outside by the blooming trees and bushes, into the spacious parking lot. The old Y had none of that.

So yeah, I was totally, completely wrong. My bad.

Now how about you?

If there’s a Westport issue or controversy that today — in retrospect — you’ve changed your tune about, click “Comments” to share.

I can’t be the only guy in town who ever made a mistake.

39 responses to “Y I Was Wrong

  1. Sheila Flinn

    Wow…even a blind squirrel finds an acorn sometimes….

  2. Raymond Marra

    Dan, it’s interesting to hear you admit to your mistake in jumping to false conclusions. Unfortunately hundreds of people just like you also felt the same way. And in doing so caused tremendous confusion and cost and delay with lawsuits for the Y to contend with. The opposition to the move was so strong that you almost derailed the plans of a private organization denying them from utilizing their own property in a legal and proper manner. You created scare mongering lacking any evidence of your claims. At this point to come clean on your wrong assumptions may clear your conscience but does nothing to erasing the damage caused to the YMCA. I am not a member of the Y however did write the editor to the Westport News of the resistance to their move.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Raymond–many people were worried about the traffic and other issues with the Y moving from town. I live in the area and understood their worries and felt everyone has the right to voice their objections. And if they feel strongly have the right to use ‘the right of law’ if they so deem. That is what makes our country great.

      I can only wish more people step up and admit they have changed their opinion. It is, without a doubt, a breath of fresh air to learn that someone can relook at a situation and change their thinking. Imagine if our government officials were willing to do what Dan just did–how refreshing would that be.

      I hope others applaud Dan. Your post attacking him is horrible and clearly over the top.

      Just my opinion–of course.

    • Joyce Barnhart

      Raymond, your post is very mean-spirited. Do you carry many grudges in your life?

  3. Jack Whittle

    I doubt anyone who uses the Y is unhappy with their new facility, it is new, nice, large, clean and modern, and I wholeheartedly agree that the new facility is beautiful. Of course, as one who has a Planning responsibility for this Town, I certainly miss the Y’s “anchor tenant” presence downtown most of all, and the draw of a varied mix of Townspeople the Y brought to that area.

    I also doubt any of these “hey things didn’t turn out so bad after all” observers actually live in the area of the new Y facility, or on Lees Pond itself – which seems to have gone into a state of eutrophic failure since the new Y and its nitrogen output arrived. What’s happened to Lees Pond (which I am lucky enough to live on) is more than just a shame for me and my pond-neighbors – this is the largest pond or lake in Town, and the people of Westport have access to it via the Saugatuck River along Ford Road, or across the Mahakeno property itself (that public access to Lees Pond was a condition of the P&Z’s approval of the Y’s Special Permit to build the new facility). Those who live along Lees Pond can’t even pursue a clean-up of the Pond on our own, since we don’t own the land underneath the Pond, the Y does. And they are a bit of a negligent owner.

  4. Kudos to you Dan. I’m sure there are many who would love to say “I Told You So” to everyone who through various scare tactics tried to defeat the efforts of so many hard working and dedicated volunteers. After the stellar leadership of Helene Weir before me, I was hired to lead the effort to raise the money and build a new YMCA and am proud to say we did just that.

    Though I would love to, I won’t mention the names of the few loud mouths who came into my office, or took me to breakfast/lunch, soon after I arrived in 2009 trying to convince me that the Mahackeno location wouldn’t work and my legacy would be tarnished by this failure. They know who they are (and you’re not one of them Dan) and most are avid readers of 06880. As my friend and mentor Allen Raymond once said to me, seeing that beautiful new YMCA come out of the ground will be exactly what the towns of Westport and Weston need and will be the perfect answer to those who spoke against our efforts. And I think through Ruth Bedford’s generous legacy gift she was indicating she agreed with Allen!

    You did mention the time and financial resources that this effort cost the YMCA, which was basically funded by early and generous donors who believed in the vision created and shared by many very talented Y volunteers. Since the YMCA shared the financial burden with the Town of Westport, what shouldn’t be lost in all of this is the equal amount of time and resources that Westport spent (wasted) defending their decision to allow the new YMCA to be built.

    As I sit here in sunny and beautiful North Carolina enjoying retirement I am enjoying reading about the continuing success of the YMCA. I wish CEO Pat Riemersma and the many talented staff at the YMCA the best as another summer at Mahackeno draws near. And may they all never forget the sacrifice of the many who gave all they could to Make Mahackeno Happen!

  5. …Mr. Marra seems to hold you personallly responsible for the delays on the construction of the Y…had no idea you were so powerful…and image what he would say to you if he was actually a member of the Y and it had affected him directly…..did you do something else to piss him off?

  6. A. David Wunsch

    A strong man can admit that he was wrong.
    ADW Staples 1956

  7. don l bergmann

    Dan’s comments of course re-open many issues,e.g.
    1. Many of us worked for the Y to relocate to Baron’s South, acknowledging that the Downtown Site posed real problems,
    2. While the Y may work for many, it remains inconsistent with “sprawl” issues and, I assume, increases traffic on the already crowded Merritt Pkwy,,
    3.The legal “right” of the Y to relocate to its own property was dependent upon an important and controversial interpretation of Westport’ Special Permit regulations,
    I am pleased if many like the new Y. There was never an issue of the Y trying to produce anything but an appealing structure. Right now, I still have questions as to the performance of the F.A.S.T. septic system and do not know why the gift from the Bedford Estate was not used to complete Phase II of the Y project but, apparently I think, was used in part to purchase the Red Barn site. My inquiries to the Director of the Y on this last item have gone unanswered.
    Finally, acknowledging one’s mistakes is almost always a good thing. For many issues, those where good people can disagree, it is often best to make the case but accept defeat graciously. However, sometimes the process of defeat can legitimately involve a complex and lengthy process, including litigation.
    Don Bergmann.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Are you serious that you think the Y is driving more traffic on the Merritt? Wow.

      • Joyce Barnhart

        It could happen Bart. If/when I use the new Y, I add to the traffic on the Merritt because I live on the east end of town and get on the Parkway to get home.

        • Bart Shuldman

          Ok-Joyce-I think we hit a new low. Accusing the Y of adding traffic to the Merritt.

          But, if you want to go there you would also have to be honest and subtract the traffic the Red Barn (I can not believe this) caused now that they are closed. So is the net result more or less overall traffic.

          :):)

  8. It appears the sanctimonious meddlers are not prepared to admit their misjudgements, unlike Dan.

    • Jack Whittle

      I would happily accept meddler (with honor) but there is nothing sanctimonious (an air of moral superiority?) about exercising one’s rights and engaging in the land-use process in this Town. I am always happy to see nearby neighbors of a special permit application show up at the public hearing regardless of their position or point of view, as engagement of the townspeople – the people who’s interests I am charged with representing – is what’s most important. And the engagement of those who don’t share the developer’s grand vision frequently leads to a better project in the end.

  9. Dan, I was concerned a few years back when the last movie theater in town closed down (considering that so many stars lived in Westport/Weston over the many years).
    But now it’s no big deal since there are several big cinema complexes just a few minutes away in Norwalk, or there is always Netflix if you don’t even want to leave home for a movie!
    Wally Woods

  10. Dan. A remarkable piece. As someone of the same age, I am increasingly convinced I have never made a mistake! Just ask my wife.

    • I am willing to admit to one mistake in my life — the time I thought I was wrong but I was really right.

  11. I am glad for the support and enjoyment of the Y. Some of us, who served on the RTM Environment Committee and who focused on the Y’s move, remain concerned about the pool water that turns over every 24 hours, as I recall. And it goes through a septic system that had some serious failures in other towns. And then it goes into the Saugatuck River (unless the plan changed). That will need continued watching.

  12. Kempton Coady

    Amen!! The new Y is a tremendous asset to the Westport/Weston Community. It improves the lives of many adults and children alike. My wife, Rosita and I cannot wait to see how it’s Community services expand as it grows…. PS I was in the camp for expansion to Mahackeno as I saw how they had really outgrown the downtown location. This Y has contributed greatly to our Family’s life over the years!!!😃

    Kemp and Rosita

  13. Maybe it’s all that you say for many Y members…but not so for seniors. The nearby/handicap parking is very limited, the temp in the family locker room is very cold, the therapeutic/heated pool is a far walk from the locker rooms, and the access into the…shared-with-children…heated pool is difficult as well as the exit from it which chills anyone getting out before they can reach a towel.

  14. Let’s get on point here…

    Why hasn’t someone yet admitted here that the Compo Playground is spectacular or that Arnie’s Place was the greatest thing that ever happened for the youth in Westport during the 1980s? Or that the Willows was a good use of the corner of Wilton Road and Kings’ Highway?

  15. I am not surprised by Dan’s comment since his sense of fairness is one reason why this blog is so compelling.

    Left Westport a couple of years ago; I used to enjoy telling people I was the only resident on Lees Pond in favor of the Y (I am not sure that is actually true but never met another one). I grew up on a street with a Y at one end of it and what a great neighbor (big boon to nearby property values as well). I deeply admired the patience and commitment of Larry Weisman, Iain Bruce and so many other Y leaders during the whole process, not least in their ability to maintain civility despite endless provocations and accusations.

    Most things I have been wrong about were also from pessimism. In 20 years in Westport I learned that it was almost always right to be optimistic about change. Smart people, good people, even if a lot of them don’t know how to park.

  16. Jerry MacDaid

    Hmmm. So much ground that can be covered here.

    First, let me say Dan, nice blog post, and nice apology. It does take a big person to admit their errors in judgement and I do appreciate your extended comments on the subject notwithstanding what follows.

    On the broader subject, however, it generally seems that the knee jerk reaction to anything new in Westport by a vocal subgroup of citizens (which Dan helpfully publicizes in his blog) is negative. Whether it was moving the Y or comments on various tear-downs of the day (e.g. see the Center Street posts) or, currently, any affordable housing proposal the negative reaction is there. I understand that change is hard but it is absolutely clear that NIMBYism, invention of bogeymen, and outright fabrications in support of fighting change is rampant in Westport. And, unlike Dan, most show no remorse.

    Even now we have the bogeyman of “questions” about the septic system and Lee’s Pond. Putting aside that all of those “questions” could have been avoided by simply allowing the Y to tie into the sewer system, given all of the studies and environmental analysis saying the septic system is fine, does anyone have any evidence to the contrary?

    To those that would say “But those are fair concerns”, I would submit if there is basis for the “concerns” they are “fair”…if idle speculation, they are not. Otherwise, my response is: I am concerned that your septic system (or connection to the sewer system) might have failed and is contaminating the aquifer and/or damaging the Saugatuck, so dig it up and prove to me it’s not. While I’m at it, I think the lights at you house are misleading aircraft heading to LaGuardia creating a flight hazard. And maybe you illegally drink and drive. And maybe you are going to break into my house and steal everything. Pollution, flight hazards, DUI and theft are all “fair concerns” but absent evidence, my speculation that you are the perpetrator is not.

    Also rampant is the sanctimony of “exercising legal rights and engaging in land use process”. Guess what, not everything needs to result in litigation; not every question needs to be dragged out; not every development needs to become a federal case. Sure, you can, but just because you can doesn’t mean you should. All of this has real costs, in this case not just to the Y (which, as a non-profit, is unhelpful) but also to the town and, as a result, each and every taxpayer in Westport. Thanks a bunch for everyone’s failed efforts to stall the Y.

    Finally, as for Mr. Marra’s reaction, my read was he felt the opposition’s (in general and not just Dan) behavior throughout the process and lack of remorse was inappropriate. Perhaps he has been on the wrong end of frivolous litigation so had a visceral reaction making it difficult to just move on (as most of us have) when Dan reopened the subject. And, as for Dan, after helping fan the fire, I may be wrong but I’m guessing the summary “my bad” was viewed as a bit flippant. Sort of in the vein of “oops, you were incarcerated for 10 years on the basis of false testimony. My bad”.

  17. Gus Fernandez

    Wow, did I dream that the Y that we have today is nowhere near what was originally proposed? I think that is why I and many others objected? So I would say I was not wrong , just glad I opposed and it is smaller and creating less traffic than what was projected . While we are discussing, anyone else upset that our local rep Steinberg stuck CT taxpayers with the bill for the reconfigured Rt 15 exit ramps and traffic lights which the Y said they would fund? And now we may lose $2 mil in local education funding based on Malloy’s new budget proposals? Maybe the Y can use what they saved and add to education fund?

    Amazing how many lose long-term memory when these political issues are discussed .

    • Jerry MacDaid

      Wow, did Steinberg actually come through with the Exit 41 money for Westport and the Y? If he did, that would be great…some of our tax dollars actually coming back to Fairfield County. Last I recall, he had whiffed on it due to, among other things, local opposition to the Westport area getting any money because it was going to the Y, folks preferring it go to Hartford to extend the bus lanes to nowhere or something like that. (For example, see comments here: https://06880danwoog.com/2015/03/18/westport-y-suddenly-40-million-richer/#comments)

      • Bart Shuldman

        Jerry-get ready for Steinberg and his leaders in Hartford to pass a new state property tax. No kidding. It could happen.

        Since Westport is targeted as a successful town with our budget, he and his leaders and considering a property tax so we can help fund those towns and cities that have budget issues.

        The state is going to cut back on funds to towns. The results will be Steinberg and his leaders raising a new tax to fund those towns that have issues.

        How will it feel?

        Can Westport vote against him and his actions and what he has caused Westport? I sure hope so.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Gus—FANTASTIC!! Finally someone willing to hold Rep Steinberg accountable. He has caused Westport and the Westport taxpayers serious harm. Here are just a few examples:

      1) voted for the last 2 budgets that caused Westport to now lose:
      a) Over $640,000 in payments for the state to Westport for PILOT payments
      b) Higher state income taxes for anyone making $50,000 or more
      c) The potential loss of state funding for our schools-while probably not the full $2,000,000 as proposed, but it will be a lot
      d) State budget deficits this coming year of over $900,000,000 and then over $2,000,000,000 the next year. Get ready for he and his party to propose higher income taxes

      I could keep going. Steinberg is supporting his own ideals against the needs of Westporters.

      I can only hope we hold him accountable and elect someone else who understands you cannot spend more than you have and you do not raise taxes in your neighbors.

  18. Linda Hudson

    I was wrong about the Compo playground, Evan Stein, and – after many, many years – also have turned around on the Gorham Island property. Sure, the old house was lovely nestled there, but the new building is handsome, and I have more than once appreciated the extra parking and the art show space that the new tenant provides.

  19. Jerry MacDaid

    I will admit that the northeast corner of Morningside and the Post Road is more attractive now than when Geiger’s was there.

    I will also admit that allowing a McDonalds in Westport was not the end of the world and that, in retrospect, a drive through would have been nice.

  20. Rich "Bigger Brother" Stein

    No offense to a majority of your commenters… But I have to agree with my highly educated brother … I’m a little more simplistic… You are all MORONS!!! Dan asked what your feelings were about what you thought were wrong and turned out to be wrong… My thought was the Wakeman Town Farm area…. What great use it has been for so many…. Try to follow instructions people and not just snipe… We are such a microcosm of our political scene… Ask a question and not get answer to the question asked… What were you wrong about people…

    • Jack Whittle

      I’d suggest your calling every commenter here a moron is a pretty good example of what is trully wrong with some people these days

      • Bart Shuldman

        Jack-thank you. Mr Stein owes everyone an apology.

        • No I don’t!! If you were in my kitchen and I asked you to do a given task, and you go off and do something else… I will deduct you are either not understanding or a moron… Giving your opinion on things nonrelevant political crap wasn’t what was asked… You both are bright well spoken gentlemen… Neither of you added a what you were wrong about thought

      • Jack what is wrong… I called the commenters here morons.. Because they can’t follow directions…. You were asked to answer a specific question… Did you… NO! You are an educated man! My deduction is that is stupid! Thus moronic

  21. KENDALL GARDINER

    Thanks, Dan.
    This is a wonderful opportunity to admit to past mistakes.
    Shortly after my beloved Gavin died, a neighbor stopped in with dinner and many kind & comforting words. She also had 2 petitions with her she asked me to sign.
    Although I was too upset to read them, and unable to focus on what she was saying about them, I signed both.
    Without reading them.
    Big mistake.
    Only later did I realize one petition was against Positano having outdoor dining.
    HUGE mistake. Outdoor dining would have been fabulous.
    I’ve still no idea what the other petition was about.
    My very bad for signing two documents I didn’t read or understand.
    🙁