Lois Schine has done many things in her long life.
A mechanical engineer at a time when nearly all her peers were men, she helped found the Society of Women Engineers.
She served 18 years on Westport’s Representative Town Meeting (RTM). She chaired our Human Services Commission, and was a member of 1st Selectman Diane Farrell’s Land Use Committee.
Today she’s an active member of the Westport Downtown Master Plan Committee, and a Friend of the Senior Center.
But of all she’s done, Schine says her “crowning accomplishment” is helping the town keep Winslow Park as open space.
Following its days as the Westport Sanitarium — and after B. Altman abandoned its plans to build a department store there — the 32-acre site of woods and meadows just north of downtown was owned by perfume executive Walter Langer von Langendorff (aka “the baron”).
First selectman Jacqueline Heneage asked the baron if the town could buy the land. Schine’s husband Leonard — a noted attorney and judge — negotiated with the owner.
The baron backed away, offended by the town’s “low” offer of $2.38 million. Schine planned to return to the issue in a while. But he died — and so did the baron.
The baron left several wills. It appeared his land would be tied up in court — then sold, to satisfy his various estate obligations.
In 1987 the RTM voted 26-8 to condemn the land. Citizens opposed to the deal brought a referendum. Lois Schine, Joanne Leaman and Ellie Solovay helped spur a “yes” vote. By 54-46%, Westporters chose to move ahead with eminent domain.
The purchase price was $9.42 million. But no one in town knew what to do with the property.
Schine worried it would be used for buildings, or some other intense activity. She asked town attorney Ken Bernhard how to designate the land as “open space.”
He said there was no such zoning regulation in town. He suggested she run for the RTM, so the body could pass a resolution asking the Planning & Zoning Commission to create that designation.
She did. She won. And — with Ellie Lowenstein at the P&Z helm — officials created an “open space” zone for passive recreation.
“Longshore, Compo, all the pocket parks — none of them had open space designations,” Schine recalls.
Today they do. So does the baron’s other property — the 22 acres across the Post Road, between Compo Road South and Imperial Avenue.
“Some people say Winslow is ‘only a dog park,'” Schine notes.
“But it’s a park in the middle of town.”
And — had it not been for Lois Schine, and many others — that middle of town might look very different today.