Daybreak Development Dawns

When Daybreak was thriving, up to 800 vehicles a day pulled into and out of the small parking lot. The business included a nursery, florist shop and landscaping operation.

Daybreak closed in 2014. The buildings were demolished last spring.

The Daybreak property, after the nursery and landscaping business closed.

New owners hope to build 12 housing units — age-restricted, generating minimal traffic — on the 2 1/4-acre site. They’ve spoken with town officials, and adapted their plans several times to meet traffic and other concerns.

Still — on the eve of Thursday’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting — opposition remains.

The owner is Able Construction. During the past 25 years, the firm has built over 80 houses in town. Some are new; others are historical renovations, like 268 Wilton Road. They’re also redoing the old Three Bears restaurant — now Chabad — on Newtown Turnpike.

Able Construction owner Peter Greenberg (right) and partner Johnny Schwartz.

Able bought the Daybreak property at a foreclosure auction. At the time, owner Peter Greenberg admits, he had no clear plan for the land.

He could have built 4 gigantic homes on the 1/2-acre-zoning land. Or he could have put a grandfathered business — like a nursery or landscaping company — there.

“There” is important. The property fronts Main Street, near the heavily trafficked, highly visible and bizarrely complicated intersection with Weston and Easton Roads.

The area — including the now-vacant Daybreak site — is an important gateway to Westport. It’s a first impression for anyone arriving from the Merritt Parkway, and an early look for drivers from Weston and Easton.

Originally, Greenberg and Able partner Johnny Schwartz talked with town officials about putting a coffee shop or service station there. They also considered mixed-use — perhaps retail, with apartments or multi-family housing on a 2nd floor or behind.

The last of Daybreak Nursery was carted away in March.

The property is not served by a sewer. Greenberg asked if Able could pay to extend outside the blue line. The town said no.

Planning and Zoning members were interested in the possibility of smaller homes. But no town regulations encouraged developers to build such cluster-type housing.

Able proposed creating an overlay zone. Current zoning permitted 4 houses. Typically, Greenberg says, they’d be 5,000 square feet each, with 6 bedrooms.

Instead, his firm designed 8 2-bedroom homes, of 3,000 square feet. The total number of bedrooms was the same — 24 — but, Greenberg says, 2-bedroom homes would not typically sell to couples with children.

No kids means fewer in-and-out vehicle trips. No stop-and-start bus stops. And no additional children entering the school system, at a cost of nearly $20,000 a year.

The P&Z balked. 3,000 square feet was not small enough. The national average is 1,600 square feet. (Of course as Greenberg notes, “Westport is not average.”)

Able went back to the commission. Architect Bill McGuiness — who designed the Kensett community in Darien — envisioned 12 2-bedroom homes, averaging 2,000 square feet. None would be more than 2,400.

Designed for an older population, the homes included elevator shafts. Most of the living would be on the 1st floor, with sloped roofs and virtually no attics. Five duplexes would share a common wall. Two would be single-family units.

Front and rear views of an attached duplex.

P&Z liked the idea. But they asked Able to include an affordable or age-restricted component

Able proposed that 7 of the 12 units be limited to buyers 55 and older. (Greenberg says he’s willing to make it 100% age-restricted, if needed.)

The “smaller home development” text amendment was accepted. Public hearings were held, and a traffic engineer hired.

Able spent the past 8 months finalizing plans, and getting permits.

Views of one of the detached homes.

But at a hearing 3 weeks ago, neighbors voiced strong opposition. Major concerns were raised about traffic at that very dizzying intersection.

Greenberg notes that when Daybreak had up to 800 trips a day — including customers, employees and landscaping trucks — there were 5 driveways in and out of the property. He sited the new driveway — 1-way in, 1-way out — as far from the intersection as possible. (It’s the same direction as 1-way Daybreak Lane, to avoid cut-throughs by drivers seeking to avoid the 4-way stop.)

Able looked at ways to improve the intersection. They learned that a decade or so ago, the state Department of Transportation wanted 3 roundabouts — one there, and 2 others at the Exit 42 ramps. But Wassell Lane was a stumbling block. According to roundabout standards then in place, it was too close to other roads to feed into the mix.

Now, however, standards have changed. Wassell Lane could work. Greenberg says that town officials have contacted the state DOT about reopening discussions. They have not yet heard back.

A roundabout proposal that includes Wassell Lane. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

According to Greeenberg, a traffic study shows that at peak times, 3,000 cars an hour pass through the intersection. He says that Able’s new development will add less than .05% to the mix.

“Right now, taxes on Daybreak are about $30,000 a year,” Greenberg says. “If these 12 units are built, we figure Westport would get $180,000 a year.” He proposes that the town earmark some of those increased taxes for Westport’s contribution to intersection improvements.

“There’s no land left in Westport,” he adds. “We buy houses. We knock them down, and build new ones. That’s our business.

“But we hear from people all over town that after their kids are grown, they don’t want a big house. They want to stay in Westport, in a smaller one. These houses would help.”

Able Construction’s Daybreak site plan. Click on or hover over to enlarge.

He says his company has done everything to address concerns. A Phase II environmental study found no herbicides or pesticides left over from the nursery. There were, however, petroleum products in the soil. Greenberg promises to stockpile the soil during construction, and dispose of it if needed.

“We’re part of this town,” he says. “We want to do the right thing.”

The P&Z hearing this Thursday (Town Hall auditorium, 7 p.m.), is one of the last stops on the road to a permit for the Daybreak development.

“This property has been unsightly for years,” Greenberg says. “It’s at a very impressionable intersection. We want to put this property to work. We’ll build smaller houses, so people can age in place. It’s something the town wants, and needs.

“The P&Z told us they want more diversity in housing in Westport. This gets us closer to that.”

30 responses to “Daybreak Development Dawns

  1. Sarah Blumberg

    So many things left out of this opinion piece. I live in this area and have been concerned about the project. Where is overflow parking (when these 12 homes) have visitors or parties going to go? Neighboring streets? Where are the sidewalks connecting Weston Road’s sidewalks to Main Street’s? This development is completely out of character with the neighborhood (and it’s not zoned for it), it’s not a convenient or accessible location for senior hoisting, and frankly the plan simply gives the builder the biggest bang for his buck. They aren’t considering the neighborhoods or the community in this plan, as evidenced by many factors, though this article may paint it as such. I’m not opposed to clustered housing in the right place, but this is an opportunistic grab by the developer.

    • Peter Greenberg

      Sarah, Each of our proposed units has a two car garage as well as two parking spaces between the garage and the street. On top of that we have provided 6 visitor parking spots in the center of the development.

      We have offered sidewalks if DPW allows. (They aren’t in favor as they would be “sidewalks to nowhere”. Their concern is with pedestrians crossing the road to get to the sidewalks on the other side of Main St. They requested and we have committed to leave space for future sidewalks when the intersection is improved and safe crossings can be designed.)

      • Sarah Blumberg

        If you look on Post Road there are sidewalks that start and stop all over the place. Along with everywhere else in this town. Westport is horrifically pedestrian unfriendly, and yet we have a huge population of young parents who value accessibility, kids who should be able to walk to downtown and the parks and to friends houses, and other residents and workers who may also need the option to walk safely. We need to put in sidewalks at every opportunity so as to build the connectivity. Don’t you think the seniors that the builders expect to move into these units would eventually like the option to walk safely to coffee an’ or to the hardware store? I’m stunned if the town and state would honestly turn down an offer for a builder to put in sidewalks around their property at their own expense.

  2. 3000 square feet for a 2 bedroom? They are either huge bedrooms or the den, studio, playroom, fam room are the other 4 bedrooms I’m thinking

  3. A somewhat dissenting opinion from a former resident of that area: this development of 2,000 sq ft homes with a substantial set aside for young seniors and over is something sorely needed in Wesrport. Sure there are some things to be worked out, but the homes along that stretch of Weston road are small capes…a lot like the proposed size and style of those planned.

  4. Even though I have articulated my unique expertise on this project in person; at several P&Z meetings, and in print… it bears repeating. Living first next door and now behind this property for my entire life, and in my profession as a local real estate agent for almost my entire adult life, entitles me to a perspective that holds some serious weight. I have only dared dream about a scenario like the one Able has proposed. Honestly, it makes me (nervously) laugh with disbelief that people could possibly be against this. I am so puzzled by it, It makes me question their motives and/or agendas because it’s so difficult to understand that they would not seize the opportunity to create a beautiful residential spot rather than what we had, or worse. In fact, my fondest wish would be that the Able would include the property that was my parents former nursery property at 492 Main Street so that the entire area would finally be residential, rather than the commercial use it has been since the 1930s. Able is a Godsend! And, to top it off, their aesthetic and their quality is fantastic!

    Daybreak’s establishment was head and shoulders above my parent’s nursery, that was located immediately next door, and it had many times the traffic and many times the business. We paid attention. They also had a lawn mower shop on the side of the building where all of the area landscapers would drop their machines off for repair… with trucks. There was a steady in and out of truck and car traffic and deafening, heavy equipment noise throughout the years and throughout my life. Again, despite what others have said to the contrary, they simply do not have the history or the context that could compare to my eye witness perspective. There will be a drastic reduction in traffic for these residential units than there would be for any other possible (scary) use in this important spot in Westport.

    It’s well known in the real estate community that down-sizers are being pushed out of our community. We not only need Able for a beautiful entry into town, we need this to satisfy the needs of buyers for this particular type of housing that Able is proposing. I hope others who can understand the gift of Able, would also welcome it with open arms.

  5. Dick Lowenstein

    I’d like to hear comments from Daybreak Lane residents on how well this mentioned featured has worked:
    (It’s the same direction as 1-way Daybreak Lane, to avoid cut-throughs by drivers seeking to avoid the 4-way stop.)

    Pluses and minuses.

    • I have lived at 7 Daybreak for almost 35 years, at 484 Main Street for 5 years next to Palmieri’s, and at Palmieri’s the since birth, which is located right next to Daybreak.

    • Mary Ann Neilson

      I am a Daybreak Lane resident. No feature of this intense construction special permit is favored by any Daybreak Lane resident except Mary.

      • Is that really true Mary Ann? No one on Daybreak wants Residential housing there except me? I think you need to ask your other neighbors before trying to single me out! I will always, however, be 100 percent in favor of residential housing, rather than commercial, which is what we have now behind Daybreak Lane. It has been a problem for my entire life and getting rid of it forever is the best thing for our property values. And it’s the best thing for Westport!. I cannot believe people on Daybreak Lane don’t care about their property values!

      • I am also a Daybreak resident and do not favor the development. Beyond traffic concerns, the proposed development is too dense.

  6. As pointed out above, several items left out or inaccurate. As anyone who passes by there daily knows, the Daybreak Nursery did NOT have 800 visits per day for decades. It wouldn’t gone out of business if it had that many visitors daily! Mr Greenberg has no true commercial option here than a grandfathered (failing) nursery. There is a reason why cluster housing is not popular with Westporters and yes, it took this developer 3 years and several versions of a text amendment to our zoning regulations until he reached his goal. Even so, Westporters are still not fans of cluster housing on such small lots and they would have voiced their opinions earlier had the text amendment hearing been publicized beyond a little printed note in the local newspaper. The hearing this Thursday is not the last step, it is actually the first in thinking about what is right for this gateway into town. The public just didn’t know about it until now!

  7. Thanks, Mary P-G for your perspective. My comment is above and I agree completely.

  8. Pamela A Troy-Kopack

    As a Daybreak Lane neighbor who is very close to this property, my objections include density and environmental concerns, as well as traffic. The traffic study noted here was done in the summer, a few years back. A traffic study not during the school year is undoubtedly flawed. 800 trucks in and out of Daybreak Nursery is also inaccurate – they would still be in business if that was true! I have lived on this street 25 years and nursery traffic has not been an issue in all that time. What is an issue is the amount of traffic directed into that intersection that is increased by re-routing GPS systems such as Waze. Rush hour lasts from 7 a.m. – 10 a.m. many days.

    In addition, this nursery ran a machine shop and I am concerned about what’s really in that dirt and can it be safely cleaned up. Finally, rumor has it that these duplex units are being priced at $1.2M each. How many Westport seniors downsizing will buy a unit for this price? Certainly fewer units could be constructed and the builder still make a profit.

    We don’t want to prohibit the builder from putting something there; it is a horrible looking piece of property. However, we do not want a development of this density that will increase traffic and have potential environmental issues on our adjoining properties.

  9. Where is all the Westport support for senior housing? Does it just sound good during elections but when it comes time to allow the necessary housing, Westport turns their back?

    I can remember all the negative talk of traffic regarding the new Y and it never developed. Always the use of threat of more traffic.

    Come on Westport-do you want a gas station or another nursery or much needed housing for our seniors? Housing for seniors!!

  10. Lets get real Bart! Housing for seniors at over one million dollars! Really?

    • I am surprised to read that you would believe housing could cost less. If a senior in Westport has an existing home and looking to downsize, they would be selling a home for much more. In addition, if they have owned that Home for
      Many years, their equity value is probably a lot since they have experienced solid appreciation.

      With current Land prices in Fairfield County new housing will have a cost to it. The market will decide if someone over the age of 55 wants to spend the money for the Home being offered. If designed to their needs you just might be shocked to see them sell.

      A comparison would be Harvest Common on the Post Road which have sold around $800,000 and were built over (I believe) 30 years ago.

      Westport needs more senior housing!! This project is slated for people 55 and over which is desperately needed to keep our seniors in Westport.

  11. Two minutes of Googling leads to finding out the following: with reference to the Kensett community in Darien.. a majority of the units which were also billed as “senior housing” or downsizer housing to P&Z were actually sold to families with children, adding to and straining the school system.

    • Peter Greenberg

      Seth, The Kensett development in Darien has no age restriction. Ours will have a deeded 100% age restriction which will surely limit the number of children.

  12. Interesting finding. I read the article and noted that the units are substantially larger than those planned in the Daybreak proposal as it stands now. 2 bedroom units of 2,000 sq ft are hardly large enough for more than 2-3 people and with a stipulation for 55 years and older, I would say this is apples and oranges. Perhaps Darien’s proposal agreement was not s tightly written

  13. I’m not sure how I would feel were I a neighbor–that’s for the neighbors themselves to say–but, theoretically speaking, I like the idea of having more Westport housing options of 2500 square feet or less with first-floor masters. As my wonderful realtor/friend Joan Wright will attest, my husband and I have been looking around Westport for a number of months now, trying to find a condo or house to downsize into now that our children are grown. The vast majority of condos in town have neither first-floor masters nor elevators; and so far all the small, renovated ramblers I have liked that have not been grabbed up by developers are location-challenged–i.e., in flood zones, places with minimal parking for guests, etc.

    While I’m here, let me give a hopefully not-too-controversial tip of my hat to Greenberg and Schwartz for working with the town on this. It’s impossible to please everyone, but I give them credit for trying to come up with a plan that addresses the concerns of the interested parties.

  14. 12 houses on a little more than 2 acres? Sounds like “jammed in housing” not “cluster” housing.

  15. Christine Schatz

    Could the proposed housing development coexist with a good solution to the intersection? Peter Greenberg it seems like that is what you are saying but I wanted to clarify.

    • Peter Greenberg

      Christine – All of the preliminary plans for the intersection improvements that we’ve seen can co-exist with our application.

      • Christine Schatz

        Two more questions, if you happen to know the answer: What is the estimate on the amount of traffic that the 12 smaller homes with seniors would generate? And how does this number compare to the traffic that is already there? Alex Kuhner suggested in the comments to the opinion post after this one that the amount would be de minimus.

  16. You couldn’t find a more responsible team of developers than the Able folks, as evidenced by the way Peter has thoughtfully responded to the issues raised below… and having recently been scanning the market for this sort of real estate for my aging parents, can attest to the lack of supply this would address. I look forward to the successful of this project.

  17. My husband and I moved from a 4000 SF Colonial in Westport to a 2500 SF ranch house in Fairfield in 2001 because we couldn’t find a smaller house in Westport in which to downsize. If these Able houses had been available then, we wouldn’t have bought them. $1.2 million for a 2000 SF house on a tiny piece of land? That’s insane!

  18. Thanks for this article Dan, I’m Peter’s brother-in-law and as I’m sure you can tell from talking with Peter and Jonny for this piece, you’re dealing with two standup people who will always try to do the right thing. Able Construction has been building quality homes in Westport for decades so this is a local builder who has nothing to gain by doing wrong by the town. Opposition to construction projects comes with the territory I suppose, but let’s hope for an outcome where everyone benefits.