Coalition For Westport: Study Saugatuck Carefully!

Recently, 1st Selectman Jim Marpe appointed a Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development Steering Committee. The group is charged with developing a master plan for that ever-changing retail/restaurant/residential area.

The Coalition for Westport — a non-partisan group originally formed to seek election to the Planning & Zoning Commission — commended Marpe for establishing the committee, then sent this note to co-chair Mary Young:

The time is right for the Saugatuck area to be carefully studied. It is attractive to residents, visitors and developers for a variety of reasons: It is the historical root of Westport; it provides attractive access to the river; it is a destination for foodies and perhaps most importantly, it is a primary transit hub.

What is more, many of the buildings in the area defined as Saugatuck in the Town Plan of Conservation and Development retain features of their original design and construction, despite having been repurposed.

In the 1920s, Esposito's gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it's Tarry Lodge.

In the 1920s, Esposito’s gas station stood on Charles Street. Today it’s Tarry Lodge.

The challenge for land use agencies and planners is a classic balancing act: What shall be saved and what replaced? Do we envision the area as a 2nd downtown? Or, as seems lost likely and most prudent, do we encourage/require a mix of controlled residential (including multi-family and affordable housing within walking distance to the train station) and commercial development which respects the scale and character of the neighborhood?

The Coalition believes that Saugatuck should retain its historical heritage and small town character. Therefore we support an expanded and enhanced neighborhood concept rather than the idea of a 2nd downtown. We come down squarely in favor of a mixed-use plan favoring residential expansion and enhanced essential services — local businesses, to cater to the requirements of the residential population that will need a pharmacy, hardware store, market and other essential services not now present in the area, which can be provided in a “mom and pop” form without competing with Main Street retail. We also foresee new retail and dining services that would attract additional visitors.

One area that can and should be developed for those types of commercial uses is Railroad Place. This can be done without sacrificing the architectural features or facades at the easterly end of the street which are deemed worth preserving. A drop-off lane could also be created for the station.

The Coalition recommends that the remainder of the square block (with the possible exception of the office building) be devoted to a mix of housing types — 1-, 2- and 3-bedroom apartments and townhouses, both rental and condos — with adequate parking and passive open space. An appropriate percentage should be truly affordable.

Land Tech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario's is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

LandTech has already developed plans for a mixed-use development at a new Railroad Place. Mario’s is, of course, now Harvest restaurant.

To address the ever-present need for additional railroad parking, we urge adoption of a “Transit District” zoning regulation that provides an incentive to private developers to create parking to be administered by the town, in exchange for increased (but controlled) development density calculated in accordance with a regulatory formula.

Saugatuck residents will need relief from additional vehicular traffic. Therefore both additional visitor and commuter parking should be created — most efficiently at, above or below grade in the ordinary course of construction.

The Coalition would also support traffic flow rerouting plans that would alleviate congestion without any major construction or disruption for residents.

We encourage the new Saugatuck Steering Committee and P&Z to adopt a plan that implements these thoughts, and to coordinate efforts to arrive at a consensus to be formalized in the 2017 Town Plan of Conservation and Development.

28 responses to “Coalition For Westport: Study Saugatuck Carefully!

  1. Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

    If you want Saugatuck to be Saugatuck I suggest the town of Westport makes sure that the Saugatuck Bridge remains in place (William Cribari)
    Gerald F. Romano, Jr.

  2. I love the preliminary rendering. I hope the plan includes demolition of that ugly concrete office building. I also think we should be open minded about the bridge. This might be the time for a beautifully designed, modern span that will be the focal point of Saugatuck for decades to come. At least let’s see what architects can come up with

  3. So the same group that also wanted heaps of density in Downtown and the Kemper Gunn House in the landfill are now preservationists?


    By the way, while you were shilling for the Railroad Place Deathstar and cramming all those other density rich design tropes in your shopping cart, you somehow forgot to mention at checkout the most endangered historic resource of them all: the Saugatuck Swing Bridge. Freud wrote a whole book on why we forget but I think the explanation in this case would only take one word. Possibly two.

  4. leave that bridge ALONE fix it if need be but keep it and get those “mom and pops” going i have lived here all my life anf love Saugatuck

  5. Matthew Mandell

    Interesting thoughts from the CFW. Glad to hear much of what you said, but I think we need some clarification
    1. Are you saying that parking should drive density? What is that formula you speak of? And how does relief for residents from vehicular traffic come in the form of more parking? More parking means more cars, no?
    2. Are you calling for structured parking on Town Land? It’s clear you mean more parking on private land when developers build, but the elephant is town land.
    3. As to RR Place, glad to hear the preservation call, but why only call for preservation of the east end of the block, why not all of it? The Grain building is on the West and is just as worthy. Isn’t the entire streetscape the representation of Saugatuck we want moving forward?
    4. And yes, what about the Bridge?

    As to John’s comment on the bridge above, no wonderful architect can preserve the bridge with a new design, it’s then new. And what about Trucks? A new bridge means trucks, that jeopardizes Bridge st and Greens Farms road and the safety of our entire community.

  6. Matt beat me to it. There seems to be a contradiction between the expressed desire for relief from vehicular traffic and the creation of additional parking. Additional parking inevitably means more cars. Perhaps the solution is less parking and a greater reliance on public transit such as the shuttles provided by the Westport Transit District?

  7. Our family was just yesterday commenting on how nice it is by the train station, no corporate chain stores. Downtown has become a mall. I hope Saugatuck doesn’t get wrecked too.

  8. Werner Liepolt

    It would be nice of the members of this impressively named group to come to our neighborhoods and talk with the Westport residents who will live with the traffic, inconvenience of construction, effects on the river, and so forth to see how the Coalition’s pronouncements fly.

  9. David J. Loffredo

    Please no more commuter parking. The train station has become a regional hub due to its proximity to I-95. Adding more spaces just encourages more out of towners. And if you drive around on a weekday the area is already a sea of vehicular madness.

    I’d love to see more residential with the requisite underground parking for the residents. I think people want to be able to walk to the train and walk to bars and restaurants. Add in a functioning grocery store to replace the long lost Peters Bridge Market, maybe an Equinox since I know they’re expanding in Fairfield County, and perhaps the long anticipated movie theater? We already have the best restaurants in town (Whelk, Kawa Ni, Fleishers…).

    It’s a unique spot. Do something along Charles Street where Tarry Lodge seems to be the sole survivor, and encourage residential redevelopment of the “lost triangle” – in between Saugatuck Ave and Franklin St.

    So much potential, a lot of it realized, but still a ways to go…..

  10. Michael Calise

    Saugatuck has a high water table and is subject to flooding. most if not all is below the 100 yr flood level

    • Now you’ve done it, Michael. I seem to recall that the current Town Plan of Conservation and Development (POCD) may have some things say about not encouraging any more development in flood zones. We better make sure that unhelpful language disappears when the POCD gets updated in the coming months.

    • David J. Loffredo

      The same with downtown so I guess we should stop work on Bedford Square….

      • David, just so you know, although Bedford Square was already greenlighted, we largely scrapped specific draft recommendations for more residential development in the Downtown Master Plan on account of the above cited floodplain guidance – as well as the implications of the additional recommended density.

        As a sidebar – and I mean this with sincere respect – be kinda careful what you guys over in Saugatuck wish for. You should maybe check what’s happened to us over in Downtown. The congestion is, at times, astonishing. The horns, the air pollution from all those idling vehicles, the hassle of trying to fight your way home, then fight your way back out, the traffic cutting through more residential areas to bypass the mess. It’s not the end of the world, of course, and I’m not pointing fingers at anyone, really. It is what it is. But for a lot of us downtown residents it’s becoming a fairly serious quality of life issue.

        My only point is that if all the things you want get established, there’s a possibility you might end up like us. I could be totally wrong on this, but just know that over here nobody seems to know what to do now.

        • David J. Loffredo

          Morley –

          I hear ya! It’s already nearly impossible to get from the train parking lot to home and I live a mile from there – I can’t imagine having to commute any further into Westport.

          Since our house is going on the market I just made a list of “places to eat” in Saugatuck – can you believe there are 27? Since it’s already the Culinary Hub of Westport I just wonder if more residential is the next phase of the evolution – provided we could also add in Trader Joe’s type reasonably priced grocery store.

          Imagine – 27 places to get something to eat, the river, the train station, easy highway access – who needs anything else?

    • Mary Schmerker, Staples 1958

      As I started reading my first thought was more concrete leads to less drainage and more vulnerability to flooding. That thought was followed quickly by the Bridge and preserving it. The whole area has historical significance and is an ecologically sensitive area. View sheds need to be preserved, and the property of individuals protected.

  11. Don L. Bergmann

    The Coalition for Westport has, in my view and as with most similar organizations, a mixed history respecting action items. Certainly, the above on Saugatuck has some good ideas, but the details are crucial. Having walked the area carefully, I believe there are at present an adequate number of parking spaces, public and private. RR parking is a different story, but a two deck garage seems very problematic. ANY additional parking spaces, whether or not below ground, must be shown not to increase traffic. Traffic must not be increased by publicly promoted changes to Saugatuck. The Cribari Bridge must be preserved and continue to serve to slow traffic and to restrict access by large trucks. Almost any change to the Bridge is likely to increase traffic. Change at Saugatuck Center should occur, RR Place needs to be a preserved focal point. The draft proposed project for the RR Place block shown on the Land-Tech Website looks attractive, but it is much too dense and too tall. The concepts are good, but the mass, height and volume must not be approved by either a P&Z zone change or ZBA variances.
    Don Bergmann.

  12. Cathy Walsh, Chair P&Z Commission

    Let’s keep all of this in perspective, the Planning and Zoning commission is the only body in town authorized by statue to plan for the future of town. All
    studies are only studies are are subject to approval of the Planning and Zoning Commission.

    Having said that, P&Z is in the preliminary stages of doing the 10 year Plan of Conservation and Development, and we are having a public input session this Thursday, Jan 12 at 7 pm at town hall . We invite everyone to attend and to participate in the planning process. Come early, there will be tables set up outside the auditorium , and our consultant will guide you through the process. If you have ideas or concerns about Saugatuck or any other area in town, we want to hear your voice. How do you want your town to look 10 years from now? 20 years? or beyond? This is your chance to let your elected P&Z members know what’s on your mind.

    If you are unable to attend, the meeting will be televised on Channel 79, and will be streamed online. If you wish to offer comments or suggestions, please send them to Mary Young, There will also be an online outreach in the next month or two, and multiple public hearings at a later date.

    We look forward to seeing you on Thursday , Jan 12 at 7 pm

  13. Terry Brannigan

    Who makes up this committee? :What are their qualifications and how much influence / jurisdiction do they have, lastly how are they and their studies financed?

  14. Matthew Mandell

    The Saugatuck Study is being financed through a state grant the Town won. The committee is made up of towns people, neighbors, town staff and a few business owners from the area.

    The Coalition for Westport is a political party.

  15. I find these planning “coalitions” amusing, because they wish for nice things they have no ability whatsoever to achieve — because the land is privately owned!

    Last I checked, a municipality cannot order a landlord to rent to a grocery store, or a hardware store, or to choose a local tenant over a national chain able to pay a higher rent.

    To dash anyone’s wishful thinking about Saugatuck, I ask everyone to look at downtown Westport. There is no grocery or hardware store anywhere near downtown. Not ever at Compo/Compo Acres. (FYI between those locations there used to be 2 supermarkets, 2 smaller groceries and 3 hardware stores.

    One now needs to go halfway up US 1 to the Southport border for the closest supermarket and hardware store…and with the aggressively rent-raising Equity One owning both properties, I would not expect they’ll remain there forever.

    • Peter, hasn’t New Canaan managed to keep chain stores out of their downtown?

      • I don’t know New Canaan very well, but I do know their downtown has a CVS, a J Crew, a Starbucks, so I doubt they’ve outlawed chain stores, but they sure do seem to have more mom and pops. But then again, compared with Westport, most nearby towns have more local shops.

    • You can walk to a hardware store on Main Street; ask Jimmy Izzo.

  16. I’m sorry I neglected to mention Trader Joes, which is — of course — the anchor tenant at Compo Acres.