Restaurant Rights Abandoned; Big Changes Ahead For Old Mill Beach

The on-again, off-again, on-again saga of a restaurant near Old Mill Beach is off again.

This time, forever.

When Positano — the latest in a string of restaurants on Hillspoint Road — closed almost exactly 2 years ago, there was speculation the new owners wanted to tear it down, and build a big house right there on the sand.

There was also talk that some neighbors — fearing the loss of their shoreline view, and enjoying the funkiness of a restaurant in the midst of a residential area — were doing what they could to make sure a new restaurant took Positano’s place.

The "Positano property," at Old Mill Beach diagonally across from Elvira's.

The “Positano property,” at Old Mill Beach diagonally across from Elvira’s.

That was somewhat ironic. When Positano applied for patio dining in 2012, neighborhood opposition scuttled the plan. Lack of outdoor seating was one factor leading to Positano’s closing, and its subsequent move to a new location next to the Westport Country Playhouse.

Though a number of residents worked for months to get another restaurant on the site, one neighbor continued to object. She sued.

Now comes news that the owner of the property — an LLC with an office in Nashville, Tennessee — has filed an affidavit with Westport’s Planning and Zoning Department. The owner acknowledges and affirms that “any and all commercial uses of the premises at 233 Hillspoint Road have been irrevocably abandoned and discontinued.”

In other words, any chances for a new restaurant — grandfathered in as a pre-existing condition — has been killed. Now, and in perpetuity.

Before it was Positano, 233 Hillspoint Road was several other restaurants (including, most notably, Cafe de la Plage). But before THAT it was a grocery store. Among its names: Beach Food Mart, and Joe's.

Before it was Positano, 233 Hillspoint Road was several other restaurants (including, most notably, Cafe de la Plage). But before THAT it was a grocery store. Among its names: Beach Food Mart (above), and Joe’s.

So what happens next?

The property is back on the market. It’s listed as “A Generational Waterfront Opportunity.”

Potential buyers have a chance to “build and live directly on Compo Cove Beach’s [sic] most unique [sic] lot with spectacular Long Island Sound views.” The land “is now available for a luxury private home to be built.”

Buyers can enjoy “the most beautiful expansive water views, spectacular sunrises and sunsets” (those sunsets might be tough, since the listing notes it is an “east facing property”, and Compo Hill is a substantial obstruction to the west).

This photo from the real estate listing shows the current footprint of the former restaurant (center). The yellow line shows the property boundaries.

This photo from the real estate listing shows the current footprint of the former restaurant (center). The yellow line shows the property boundaries. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

The listing continues:

Enjoy the ever-changing tides and light, the shore birds, and the tranquility that exists with living right on the beach. With no neighbor to your right,  it’s like having your own front row seat to the best Long Island Sound offers — sunbathing, swimming, fishing boating…

Seize this opportunity to create your own magnificent custom home for the first time ever on this site.

The cost?

A mere $4,500,000.

But wait! There’s more!

Elvira’s — diagonally across Hillspoint from #233 — continues to be on the market too. There’s been no sale yet, but word on the soon-to-drastically-change street is that it may not remain a grocery store/ community center.

All of which is food for thought.

A good place to think about it is at the Sherwood Mill Pond Preserve.

You know — where for nearly a century, Allen’s Clam House used to be.

28 responses to “Restaurant Rights Abandoned; Big Changes Ahead For Old Mill Beach

  1. Be careful what you wish for…the neighbor who sued may find him/herself with a 40 foot high McMansion sitting there. Nice view for those folks living lower down on burnham hill and nearby.

    • That would not appear possible, the lot is B Zone which carries a 2 story / 26′ max height limitation (plus up to 5′ depending on av grade and bfe). Also note that corner of the existing structure is hard against the lot line; either they make use of that current structure for residential purposes OR they will need to build new within height, coverage and setback requirements (front 20′, rear 25′, side 7.5′; 15% bldg. coverage) – UNLESS the ZBA gives them relief from these zoning requirements via variances. That would be the activity to watch for, and the hearing to attend if interested.

      • David J. Loffredo

        Can’t someone just leave one wall and build within the existing footprint? Pretty sure that’s what everyone does on Fairfield Beach Road to avoid the new restrictions.

        Not sure about FEMA compliance, so any new structure will most likely be raised off the ground which I’m sure gives them relief on the 26′ max height restriction.

        • nope, such “99% remodels” that benefit from non-conforming building footprints have not been possible under Westport’s regs for quite some time now.

  2. It won’t be long before the Pisitano building will look like the picture in your article. It’s all ready showing signs. Now the woman who sued against another restaurant can enjoy that blight

  3. Jean Whitehead

    Maybe they can have the sunsets moved….
    Thanks for this article, Dan. I love the old “Beach Food Mart” photo.

  4. Don L. Bergmann

    Jack Whittle is a very recent former member of the P&Z Commission. He knows of what he states. Also, the objections to outdoor eating focused upon dinner after dark, not lunch into the early evening. Some may view that as a distinction without a difference. I did not. Outdoor dining required a ZBA variance and the application was turned down by the ZBA. Ultimately and as usual, this is mostly about money, i.e. return on investment on beach property. It is sad.
    Don Bergmann

  5. Robert Mitchell

    Most unique (sic) situation, indeed.

  6. One other point – that real estate listing photo showing the lot boundaries is incorrect and quite capable of being considered deceptive – the lot boundary for 233 Hillspoint (the Postitano property) on the beach side does NOT simply carry on from the adjacent lot – it jogs in hard against the building and the corner of the building actually intrudes into the Town’s property (Old Mill Beach) there. I have sent Dan a screen shot of the lot lines and structures on 233 Hillspoint from the Town’s GIS program, which is available to everyone.

    This fact actually featured prominently in the P&Z’s denial of the restaurant’s request for an outdoor patio – the patio they sought to build was going to be located on the Town’s land, not the restaurant’s – on Old Mil Beach property.

  7. Michael Calise

    This will become a real thorn in the side for the ZBA as it appears the lot is non-conforming. Under existing zoning maximum allowable footprint is approximately 849 sq. ft. The existing building is more than twice that size.
    At the very least a new owner could try for a variance to retain the existing structure and relocate it on the lot in a more conforming location.

  8. Interesting. For many generations, beach properties like this one (and Elvira’s and Allens Clam House) were places where hard-working middle class people made a living, providing services and enjoyment for other hard-working middle class people.

    Today, they’re being converted from active to passive use, as the ultra-wealthy – who themselves are likely removed from the world of active labor – bid up the price for beachfront and water-view property far beyond what any small business can afford. This is the way of the world, and nothing to be done about it, but still sad.

  9. Due to the number of years a restaurant has been at this location I am concerned that the historical society has not been involved when the purchaser of the land unilaterally decides to make it a residence??? For that matter where is Save Westport Now?? We will lose all sense of community here.

    • Westport Historical Society is not in a position to make decisions regarding land and building usage, although we always support the protection of historic landmarks. Those decisions are up to the Historic Commission and Planning and Zoning.

  10. Interesting, useful and sad article. I’ve lived in this town for 30 years, and there’s way too much history and character being destroyed.

  11. Sad that the personality of the community is changing because of one person suing and the town not looking to long term consequences of their decisions. We are getting sanforized down here.

    • I wouldn’t come down too hard on the neighborhood “sue-er” or any individual party in this case. Once a little waterfront plot is worth $4.5 million (or at least someone believes it can fetch that price), any traditional use of the land is no longer within the realm of possibility.

  12. If I had $4.5 million to spend on a beach (view) house I don’t think I would buy one where the my backyard is a public beach. From the looks of the property lines the house owns almost no beach.

    • Michael Calise

      The beach is public owned by the Town of Westport

      • Do you know if the few houses across the street and diagonal toward Compo own down to the mean high-water mark? I know they own the property on both sides of the street but I don’t know if they own past their seawalls. They are sort of bracketed by public land. I know the town owns Old Mill Beach and I’m assuming they own the public right of away before the house on the point (though it may be the State).

        • Michael Calise

          The Town of Westport owns the strip of grass after Positano to #248 at which point private ownership owns to the high water mark around to a parcel just after Blacks Point which is owned by the Bluewater Hills association at which point the Town has ownership continuing around Compo to Owenoke

  13. If I were a wealthy man (especially a neighbor) I would knock the building down, rip up the asphalt, plant grass and let everybody enjoy it. Just saying…

    • Just noticed that the property transfer report from 2014 shows the property sold for $2 million. Can anyone explain why its value could have doubled in two years, or is $4.5 just “spin” from Realtor La La Land?

  14. As the listing agent for this property I can try to explain the data behind the asking price. I sold 268 Hillspoint Rd this summer for $5M (representing both the seller and the buyer). It was a teardown just up the street (the house had been flooded) on just under half an acre. It also has direct water views but has Hillspoint Rd in front of the house. 233 HPR, while smaller, is directly on the sand with no immediate neighbor on the right. Another recent comp is 6 Bluewater Hill South which is also a teardown directly behind 268 Hillspoint and sold privately for $4.1M in February. This 1 acre lot has “peeking” water views that will be greatly altered when the new house is built in front of it at 268. What a past owner paid for a piece of property is somewhat irrelevant. A house or property is only “worth” what someone is willing to pay for it now and the owner and I believe that based on recent sales this is a fair price. Also important to remember is that the purchaser in 2014 has had to deal with litigation and uncertainly about the land’s use. That risk potentially may have kept others buyers away at the time and impacted the price. In retrospect, I think it was purchased advantageously. Another consideration is what would a finished home on this site fetch? We have done that due diligence and feel the land component is accounted for properly.

    • Andrew, I appreciate your explanation and candor. But, the interesting thing is that the current town fair market assessment of this property–for tax purposes–is just under $2 million (or less than half of what you have appraised it at).

      So, do you think the town’s assessor is having difficulty in assessing high-end properties such as this? Alternatively, if the property does sell in the $4 million range, do you think there should be some mechanism for the town to claw back what could be viewed as a serious underpayment of taxes for a period of time? Thanks.

      • No. The owner pays the the taxes that were assessed.
        Maybe a state assessor rather than a town assessor?

      • Fred, Please remember that “appraised” value and “assessed” value are different. The Town assessment is meant to represent 70% of the current market value and that is the amount (when multiplied by the annual mil rate) that establishes the amount of your property taxes. I actually think the Town of Westport does a better job than some other towns at accurately assessing properties. The high-end is more difficult due to the relative few numbers of comparable sales on which to base judgment. For instance – the property I sold in July for $5M at 268 Hillspoint was “only” assessed at the time at $3,449,600. Also – real estate brokers do not “appraise” properties – we help our clients offer them for sale and the market ultimately determines the “value”. If that value is shown to be higher the next time a property sells- you can be sure that the town assessment and taxes will rise. There is no mechanism for the town to claw back. I would also ask your question in reverse – would you think it fair or applicable for a home seller who has lived in a house for many years to go back to the town and try to “claw back” taxes they felt aggrieved because they end up selling for below what the town had established as the appraised value?