[OPINION] Carolanne Curry: Public Must Keep Questioning Saugatuck Development

Carolanne Curry is a 20-year resident of Saugatuck. She’s concerned about possible changes to the neighborhood — and about the process. She writes:

It was painful to hear the response given to Helen Garten at the last Transit Oriented District meeting.

Speaking as a public member attending the 8 a.m. session, Helen questioned the gap of understanding between the TOD committee members appointed by the 1st Selectman, and the frustrated “Don’t ruin our community” members of the public, who have religiously attended this dance marathon of TOD meetings for over a year.

Helen said that public input is not acknowledged to any degree in the TOD report that is shaping up to account for the $450,000 in state money spent by Westport to create a design plan to improve transportation at our transportation center.

One of the plans from the Transit Oriented Design proposal.

The response from those conducting that TOD session was that Helen perhaps had not attended a sufficient number of meetings, or else she wouldn’t be asking that question.

A comment about attendance was nowhere near appropriate. The right response would have been:

The TOD committee members understand that 1) development, 2) intensity of development, and 3) the inevitable “overdevelopment” of Saugatuck Center is the pursuit of this TOD committee. Even if it results in the loss of identity, community and history.

This appears to be one more battle between the forces of artificially forced development, and those who encourage relevant and organic growth of a community.

Hats off to Helen for warning that community input was not being acknowledged.

One of the final 2 TOD meetings is again at 8 a.m. — tomorrow (Tuesday, January 30, Town Hall). The public must keep asking questions about increased traffic and development in Saugatuck center.

An aerial view of Saugatuck, from the consultants’ draft report.

29 responses to “[OPINION] Carolanne Curry: Public Must Keep Questioning Saugatuck Development

  1. Michael Calise

    This study is nothing more than a Trojan Horse for overdevelopment of a relatively small area with a limited and currently overburdened road network.
    Consultants, Studies and Committees have become the new “Devils” in our society.

  2. It is inevitable that some people will take offense at a process that takes into account everyone’s views and not just theirs. Ms. Curry obviously thinks that her position is the one and only one that counts and should be adopted. Good luck with that view of democracy.

    • So, you admit that some people may be offended by the process, yet you are offended by the fact that she is offended….correct?

    • Mr. Nayor, will all due respect, Ms. Curry’s point is that the public’s views have not materially been taken into account. As someone who has attended nearly every TOD meeting, I can attest to the accuracy of her observation.

  3. There has also been a bit of NIMBY opposition to senior affordable housing off Hiawatha Lane, near i-95. The bottom line is that we need smart and well-thought out development plans for the future. Otherwise, a “Wild West” (or “organic” as stated in the opinion above) approach could ensue once the sewer line is replaced under the Saugatuck River this summer. I do of course agree that constructuve community input must be incorporated.

    • I would politely suggest that characterizing the various development proposals for Hiawatha Lane simply as “senior affordable housing” misses the fact that they have been pitched under the guise of 8-30g – because they are quite inconsistent with the residential zoning that currently applies to this old neighborhood – which makes the opposition from nearby and displaced residents, including Ms. Curry, quite understandable (I suppose NIMBY applies, but residents near an 8-30g proposal are the ones directly impacted by these things).

    • Michael Calise

      The area you speak of is a “B” Zone which provides for 6,000 Sq. Ft. lots which under current zoning (B Zone) ensures affordable housing in a market rate non-government assistance scenario. I believe this is what in part Carolanne may have been referring to. Since when are sensible local zoning standards a “Wild West” scenario?

    • NIMBY…..wait until it comes to your neighborhood.

    • Jack and Michael – I agree we need a sensible approach. However, the “Wild West” I’m referring to may arise after the sewer line is replaced under the river this summer. That’t why we need good planning now instead of later.

      • Cathy Walsh, P&Z Commission

        Avi, your comment above shows me that you have not read the current draft plan. Read it. It has nothing to do with Hiawatha.

        • Thanks Cathy. My thoughts still stand regarding everything west of the Saugatuck River, not just Hiawatha. Without planning, you will end up with a Wild West rush of who gets there first once the sewer line is in place this summer. A cohesive plan will result in a better outcome for all Westporters.

          • Cathy Walsh, P&Z

            I agree with your statement regarding planning. Specifically, what I’m concerned about is the recommendation of the consultants to build liner buildings and parking decks on Lot 1. The study has looked at a very small 250 ft radius of our town, while not considering the effects on other areas town. It’s all related. P&Z is very much aware of other projects in the pipeline outside of the study area, which will also lead to increased density and traffic. Additionally within the study area, there are a min of 2 private projects coming in the near future. To clarify, I’m not buying the argument that we need to consider a private public partnership to create more density via mixed use liner buildings on Lot one. The study did not consider the parking demand these buildings would generate. We’re already at a deficit and this part of the project would result in an ever greater loss of parking for our commuters. It would also increase traffic which would lengthen commuter time.

            I do think that basically some of the traffic considerations and street redesign have merit. I’m all for the safety improvements.

            However the addition of the liner buildings, parking garages and the formation of a public private partnership to supposedly underwrite street improvements without regard for the increase in density and traffic such a project would bring, is not in the best interest of the entire town. So you see, I do agree with for the need to plan but my concern is going overboard especially on this one issue in the TOD. The committee discussed it , and I think it needs to be taken out completely. The big picture needs to be considered.

      • Michael Calise

        you speak as if we do not have good sensible regulations in place which is the mantra of the consultants. Remember they characterized our zoning as “restrictive”; how much more blatant can they be! From a zone busting deal with the housing authority to large liner buildings its a follow the money talkathon.

  4. Full disclosure–I am a member of the Saugatuck TOD committee. I agree that community input is important and that there has been limited time for such input at the Saugatuck TOD committee meetings (even from members of the committee itself.) I would point out, though, that while the residents of Saugatuck are, clearly, the most affected by any changes that may occur there, the “community” that uses Saugatuck and is concerned about what happens there is broader than just the area’s residents. That community includes, among others, commuters who use the train station, people who work there, people who shop there and enjoy the restaurants there, town residents whose property taxes are dependent (at least to some extent) on what happens or doesn’t happen there, town residents who don’t currently live or work there but who might like to do so were the opportunity possible, and residents who merely transit the area on their way elsewhere. The interests and needs of all these different groups must be considered and balanced–the plan can not just reflect what the current residents of Saugatuck may or may not find desirable.

    • Cathy Walsh, P&Z

      I am a member of the TOD committee and current P&Z commissioner, and am beyond dismayed at what has been happening on this committee. Both the input of the the commission members and the public is being ignored. We ‘re getting a TOD ‘recommendation” for how our town should by the numbers which does not take into account the peculiarities of our town-street design, pass through traffic flow from Saugatuck Island area to the Coleytown Schools, traffic study, or even the most basic of zoning regs. regarding parking. We’re getting recommendations for how P&Z should re do our regs. to accommodate over building because the numbers justify it. The numbers used in this study were contrary to every other projection that the town does on an annual basis. The basic assumptions for demand are wrong. The assumptions are based on a 15 mile radius of our town, not on what we want our town to be.

      Everything that has been presented has been based on statistics which have nothing to do with what the residents of Westport want our town to be. At every step of the way ,from the first visioning session, to every subcommittee meeting , our residents have been vocal in opposing certain aspects of this study and still the consultants are charging through on their vision of urbanizing Saugatuck.

      There are “recommendations” in this study that are not in the best interests of our town. The persistence of the consultants to make “recommendations ” to add density in the public domain is totally unnecessary. There are private projects on the way and we don’t need a financial vehicle to supplement private projects. However, I’m sure some of the developers are pushing this concept .

      This P&Z commissioner, anticipates a minimum of 2 projects to come forward in Saugatuck in the very near future. These projects will be from private stakeholders which blows apart the thesis that nothing is possible in Saugatuck unless we follow the recommendations from the consultants.

      This study looks at only Saugatuck as a stand alone . The P&Z commission looks at the entire town. We want Saugatuck to improve and we want to enhance the commuter experience and improve pedestrian safety but we want it to be on our terms…Westport’s terms . I am officially throwing up the red flag on this study.

  5. My original comments were not a critique of the TOD committee, but an expression of public frustration. But I fear that this dilemma is of our own making. We commissioned a plan for “transit oriented development” (TOD), which by definition means greater commercial and residential density. This explanation of transit oriented development says it all:

    “A TOD isn’t just a denser suburban mixed use that is located at a transit stop. It is a different kind of place; a different development pattern governed by a different set of rules…. Sufficient development intensity must be clustered immediately adjacent to the transit stop. The vitality and success of the TOD are dependent on having enough people using it at all hours of the day.”

    So it’s not surprising that our TOD plan proposes decked parking for commuters and zoning changes to permit large scale apartment and retail development designed to attract new people to live and shop in the area. The question is whether we want or need this kind of change in Saugatuck. My concern is that the majority of the suggested improvements will be detrimental to our rail commuters and Saugatuck residents, who will face more congestion, less convenient commuter parking and the potential loss of existing businesses. More generally, I am concerned that, given the economic challenges currently facing Fairfield County, making the kinds of public infrastructure investments needed to attract and support all this development may not pay off in the long run, costing Westport taxpayers more than we can afford.

  6. Bart Shuldman

    Thank you Helen!!

    Any one find this disturbing that a state cutting education funds to towns and cities in CT would rather spend $450,000 on a study that incorporates very little of the town’s input. Spend money on a useless study while cutting back spending on education.

    Something comical here.

  7. Thank you, Carolanne, for putting this so eloquently into words.

    Thank you, Helen, for speaking out about the process. And thanks to all who care about and do their best to honor public input.

    As to Hiawatha Lane, what has been proposed repeatedly over the years is entirely out of character with the location in it’s been proposed. This, is so for many reasons, such as density, height, the ability of the roads to tolerate the kind of traffic such density would generate, the bottleneck potential near I-95, Just think about living with a 150 or larger unit development — not on the Post Road or another major artery, but right in and impacting upon your residential neighborhood, and you may begin to understand the unfortunate effects such a juxtaposition can create.

    A question re the process: What is the point of representative government and subsidiary boards if it ignores the input of the people it’s supposed to represent?

    A question about the funding source: If the state’s DOT is funding this study, what can we expect them to most want to reap from it?

    One last question: If a municipality does not defend its people and the character of its neighborhoods (and while we’re at it, tangible manifestations of its history and identity) who will?

  8. William Strittmatter

    For what it is worth, there appear to be some in the state that believe development along the rail line is critical to the long term economic development of Connecticut. Locals are just being parochial and getting in the way of progress.

    I express no personal view on this topic as I haven’t really thought about it. Clearly the state is an economic mess as-is though.

    Excerpt from: http://www.newcanaannewsonline.com/business/article/Dan-Haar-Just-don-t-call-it-regionalization-12522449.php

    “And while we’re talking about smart municipal planning, many towns still have zoning laws that thwart dense housing development around train stations — especially in Fairfield and New Haven counties, along Metro-North railroad. That’s a bugaboo of Jim Redeker, the state transportation commissioner.
    Redeker told the same panel — the commission on fiscal stability and economic growth — that inflexible zoning rules are giving up a great opportunity for smart growth. The state owns “acres and acres” of parking lots at just about every train station, Redeker said, and those can be developed to include parking as well as apartments — but for zoning laws with large-lot requirements.
    “That’s the nature of the towns we live in,” Redeker said. “Often they envision themselves as who they are and not what they might be.”

    • You nailed it William.
      Another excerpt from the article:
      “There’s a reason beyond bumbling inertia why we’ve seen little progress. People like hyper-local control, they like knowing the cop on the street corner and they like jawboning with the board of education member at the supermarket. All good stuff. But at what cost, as a broke and broken state foists more costs onto towns, which raise property taxes?”

      Apparently, the people who are concerned about the feel and character of Saugatuck are holding up progress…..they just don’t know what’s good for them.

    • Compete BS. CT is in a financial death spiral due to giving away the countries most lucrative state worker benefits. The costs of these benefits are projected to grow by almost $8 BILLION. The wealthy are leaving CT quickly to avoid the eventual increase in taxes, increase in property taxes as the state forces towns and cities to absorb some of these costs and the nations highest death and estate tax.

      Law makers in charge in CT refuse to face the budget crisis for what it is. GE and others moved out because of the budget crisis and lack of funds to improve our roads and bridges. New housing at a Westport train station does not convince a business to move to CT. Almost the opposite.

    • Cathy Walsh, P&Z

      Thank you for your post. The link to this article is timely. I’m sending it to the committee who are meeting today at 8 am in Town Hall.

  9. Larry Weisman

    The 2017 POCD is perhaps a better example of a planning tool which ignores or devalues public opinion than the not-yet-final Saugatuck TOD. The larger lesson is that when those who are in positions of authority give priority to doctrine over the search for a broader base of opinion, the result is bound to be flawed.

    • I’m not sure that’s really the lesson, Larry.

      What I feel ought to be taken from this unfortunate experience is: before you seek a grant, it’s a good idea to understand what it’s actually FOR. As Helen pointed out above, this one is specifically intended to encourage the colonizing of a transit hub with astonishing density. By design, the recommended plan pushes aside those living in the suburbs.

      The truth is, without even looking, we hired someone to deliver the creepy thing that’s now ruining the rugs in the living room.

      And we’re shocked. Shocked.

  10. Sally Campbell Palmer

    Do we HAVE to incorporate these suggestions into our local planning? Can’t we shake their hands, thank the state for its rediculous use of money, and walk away? I went to that charette last summer, and as no expert on anything, could see how the proposed development would turn Saugatuck into an overcrowded knot. I just don’t see how the town’s infrastructure can stand much more overdevelopment and stay Westport. Bye bye.