[OPINION] Coalition For Westport Praises Saugatuck Committee Leaders

Alert “06880” reader — and co-chair of Coalition for Westport — Ken Bernhard writes:

As a member of the local political party Coalition For Westport, which focuses on planning and zoning issues, I attended today’s (the last) meeting of the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Design Master Plan Steering Committee.

The Committee was established 14 months ago by First Selectman Jim Marpe to submit a report to the state regarding proposals for the future of the 68 acres called Saugatuck. Having followed the progress of the Committee, I expected there to be some heated exchanges as the final summary was proposed for review and comment.

In earlier meetings, strong personalities had articulated remarkably divergent opinions. Many observers feared that an agreement was unlikely.

For over a year, a committee has discussed the redevelopment of Saugatuck.

To the rescue — after what appeared to be a rocky beginning from one member who wanted to raise anew conflict issues — came the committee’s leadership. Thereafter, with the always steady guidance and direction of the co-chairs (Planning and Zoning director Mary Young and volunteer Craig Schiavone), the meeting continued with the difficult chore of building consensus for the wording of a general summary of goals, discussions, recommendations and findings.

At the end, the committee was successful, and authorized the co-chairs to proceed.

It is important to note that the one consistent variable throughout these past months has been the professionalism of Mary Young and Craig Schiavone.

On more occasions than can be counted, they were patient when being challenged by emotional outbursts from both committee participants and members of the public. They were fair and objective while overseeing the discussions of the stakeholders including neighborhood residents, commercial property owners, commuters, retailers, and a multitude of opinionated citizens promoting different visions for the area’s future.

From the air, Saugatuck looks quiet.

In the end, they brought the proverbial “herd of cats” to a successful outcome, with most everyone pleased with the collaborative effort. It was a remarkable achievement, and both Mary and Craig deserve great credit for a job well done.

The Coalition For Westport congratulates the Saugatuck Committee on completing its work in a timely fashion. Further, the Coalition hopes that the Planning and Zoning Commission will now begin the task of changing its regulations to accommodate efforts to improve parking, traffic control, sidewalks, streetscapes and more.

Change is inevitable.  The question is whether the community will participate in, and lead, those changes.

10 responses to “[OPINION] Coalition For Westport Praises Saugatuck Committee Leaders

  1. For some of us who attended this morning’s meeting, it was a little troubling to learn of the previously undisclosed apparent connection between the consultant Westport paid to produce this study and a certain high profile local developer with Saugatuck interests.

  2. Mike Stuttman

    “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask how many parking garages you can build”

    — The Coalition for Westport

  3. Congratulations to this committee – all members of this committee must have donated hundreds of hours of time, so I say thank you. Progress has to happen to keep our towns relevant, yet responsible. Thank you all for your diligence.


    It looks like the political season has begun already. This Opinion piece by the Coalition is so mis-leading. Kudo’s to both Mary and Craig for taking on this enormous task. However—there is a lot more to the story than is indicated above.

    The committee members out right REJECTED the proposal by Barton partners to put a parking structure and liner buildings on Lot’s 1 & 2.

    The emotional outbursts referred to above were justified because our consultant refused to take these rejected concepts out of the report. However, we finally succeeded after many months in having them move the items we REJECTED for our town into a different section. The consultant renamed this section “Vision for the Future” That vision is only the vision of the consultant. NONE of the committee members agreed to it.

    Mary and Craig wrote a preface to the report in an attempt to make the document more conforming to the wishes of the committee . Ian Warburg and I along with several other members of the committee felt that it did not accurately reflect the opinion of the committee. Ian and I rewrote the preface..

    Yesterday, Mary and Craig graciously stepped aside and allowed me to work thru the the rewrite of the preface with the committee. The committee went thru both documents in true P&Z fashion , line item by line item and voted on each item . I was thrilled that the voices of all members of the committee were heard and major contributions made by everyone in the rewrite of the preface.

    The committee voted on the accepting the rewrite and the chairs agreed with the new wording.

    I will state one more time that the Committee
    REJECTED the “Vision for the Future” section and the concepts presented in that chapter for many reasons.

    There are many concepts presented in the heart of the study that will probably further explored . These projects will run thru the normal process which includes but are not limited to traffic studies and public hearings. Public domain projects will be contingent on financial resources available.

    Thank you to the committee and commend them for their ability to continue working through this “rigorous” process.

    Cathy Walsh
    Member of the Committee

    • Bart Shuldman

      Cathy-thank you. Once again Ken Bernard gets involved and makes opinionated statements without any details. His post has no details about what is in ththe final report. He just writes his opinion about a process that appears to have an ending his coalition supports.

      Cathy-thank you for being ther for us!! Saugatuck is an important piece of Westport and no coalition or developer relationship should take control and be too influential.

  5. Werner Liepolt

    Reading the Coalition for Westport’s praise of the “sausage making” behind the Saugatuck TOD process I was confused.
    Hadn’t Barton been found to be not only doing this project but also taken on a developer who is pushing a controversial high density housing project in the area as a client?
    Hadn’t Barton’s reports contained flagrant inaccuracies and misrepresentations? (The current version still contains varying names for streets in Saugatuck.)
    Then I read the corrective comment from Cathy Walsh. Westport should be grateful for the TOD committee members who took control of this errant missle (not dissmive as in Bernhard’s labling them as cats that needed herding).
    The latest document is at http://www.gatewayforwestport.com
    It seems not to be readable on mobile devices, and it takes a long time to download on a computer.
    The document contains wacky notions like roundabouts… Do we really want to drive like Massachusetts drivers?
    Double decker parking garages… will ConnDOT build these? Haven’t they taken MORE THAN 10 YEARS to NOT build one in Stamford?
    Remove the Luciano ball field.
    Declare traffic cops abnormal… don’t we have a bridge named in honor of a traffic cop?

  6. Jennifer Johnson

    As someone who has closely followed the Saugatuck Transit Oriented Development (TOD) planning grant from the onset of the grant application through nearly a dozen public meetings, I too would like to offer my sincere thanks to the Committee members and to Mary Young and Craig Schiavone. I especially would like to thank the Committee members who respectfully listened, offered their opinions and maintained respect and patience despite the strong efforts of a few members who too often tried to dominate the meeting proceedings. I have read every draft of the report, and while I’m not sure I agree with every idea, overall many of the ideas are exciting to consider. Given the crushing traffic problems facing our town, the current predominance of concrete and automobiles in Saugatuck, and the overall lack of safe places to walk, bike or take transit, I hope the Town quickly moves forward with many of the good ideas that came out of this effort. Thanks again.

  7. As someone who served on the Saugatuck TOD Committee, I echo the expressions of gratitude that have been made to the Committee members and its co-chairs.

    I have enormous respect and appreciation for each of my fellow Committee members and am humbled to have served with such an impressive, distinguished, and passionate group of individuals who care deeply about Westport and the village of Saugatuck. I applaud Mr. Marpe for assembling such and extraordinary group of people, and each of them for volunteering to serve.

    Co-chairs Craig Schiavone and Mary Young did a yeoman’s job in ensuring that the opinions of every member were heard. And they were. While it’s true that some members were more outspoken and passionate in expressing themselves than others, they were always respectful. And Craig and Mary’s careful polling of the quieter members guaranteed that their voices and opinions were brought into the mix. In the end, the Committee members were united in their views on the consultant’s proposals, approving those concepts that were seen as interesting and desirable, and rejecting those that were not.

    Our final act as a Committee involved the collaborative crafting of a letter that serves as the Preface to the final Master Plan. This process, led by Cathy Walsh with the support of our co-chairs, was an elegant demonstration of our Committee’s strength and unity as a working body.


    Ian E. Warburg