[OPINION] Developer: In Wake Of Hiawatha Court Decision, We Plan 187 Units

In the wake of a Superior Court judge’s ruling that Westport grant conditional approval for a sewer line extension — the first step toward construction of a large housing complex on Hiawatha Lane, off Saugatuck Avenue next to I-95 Exit 17 — the developer in the lawsuit has issued a press release.

Summit Development says:

A 14-year effor to create a moderate-income housing community in the Town of Westport took a major step forward after a State Superior Court judge ordered the town to grant a conditional approval for a sewer line extension to serve proposed new development on Hiawatha Lane in the Saugatuck neighborhood.

In a ruling issued May 7, Judge Kenneth Shluger ordered the town to extend an existing municipal sewer line 1600 feet to serve the proposed development. The judge said the town’s Water Pollution Control Authority has abused its discretion by delaying the extension. The town’s 3-member governing Board of Selectmen serves as the commissioners of the Authority.

The town has maintained that it could not consider extending the sewer because a failing sewer line and related pumping station that would serve the site are inadequate to handle the additional sewage effluent the new housing would generate, and further said that an existing town policy precluded it from issuing conditional approvals.

The developer, Summit Saugatuck LLC of Southport has maintained since early 2016, when it negotiated a joint venture agreement with the Westport Housing Authority to build 155 units, that the town was not only authorized but obligated to issue a sewer extension approval conditioned upon the completion of the sewer and pump station upgrades.

In 2016, the Public Works Department set the schedule for the upgrades, which are now nearing completion. Summit’s property met all the criteria for receiving sewer service, including being within the Sewer District, and that the town’s sewage treatment plant having ample capacity.

Summit’s attorney, Timothy Hollister, said the judge’s decision supports Summit’s position that the town’s interests are fully protected by granting the extension conditioned on the upgrade being completed, and that the town produced no evidence that it has a long-standing policy against issuing conditional approvals. “There is no such policy,” he said.

Felix Charney, president of Summit Development, said: “The judge found that the town has been using the sewer system upgrade as a way of delaying creation of the moderate-income housing that is so desperately needed in Westport. In 2016, the town encouraged us to partner with the Westport Housing Authority and we came up with a great plan for 155 units including 70 moderate-income units. But when we presented the very plan the town had encouraged, the Town Board dropped its support and hid behind the sewer line issue as the way of blocking the development. Now, with the Housing Authority having lost its financing opportunity, we are proceeding on our own.”

Summit’s new proposal: 187 units.

Summit’s revised plan will feature 187 studio, 1- and 2-bedroom apartments with 30 percent for moderate income households having maximum rent and household income restrictions for 40 years. The 8-acre site is centrally located with access to local stores, restaurants and services.  The community will be a transit oriented development (TOD), as it is within easy walking distance of the Saugatuck train station.

Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe has been quoted saying that the court decision will have “very little practical impact on the proposed project’s timetable.”

Charney responds: “For years we have offered compromises, all of which have been rebuffed by the town. We have a great location near the train station, are in a neighborhood where there are other multi-family apartments and are using a classic New England-style architecture that fits beautifully within the community. The real question boils down to whether Westport wants to be an inclusive or an exclusive community?”

He said Summit had offered the town a series of smaller proposals including the one in partnership with the Westport Housing Authority, but the town chose to not commit.“They left us no alternative but to turn to the courts.”

Carol Martin, executive director of the Westport Housing Authority, said the authority supports the private sector developing housing in the town. “We have reached the point where we are no longer accepting additional applicants signing up with us. With approximately 1,000 names already on the list, there’s no point. We applaud private sector developers like Summit who are willing to step in and help to address the huge need we have in Westport.”

38 responses to “[OPINION] Developer: In Wake Of Hiawatha Court Decision, We Plan 187 Units

  1. Ma Neilson

    So are these units for rent or purchase? What is moderate income?

  2. Nancy Hunter

    A huge win for both the environment and moderate income earners, such as your Police and Teachers.

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

      Sorry Nancy if you are serious. You are wrong about the environment. This is not a win for any one currently living in the area or who may live in the new proposed housing. I now live in an area that understands the connection between flooding , dense residential construction and concrete. The developer might take a look at the legal ramifications Developers are facing for over building in flood prone areas in Houston, Texas. I do know the area well and will be in town later this week just to check my memory…..my prayer is that this could somehow be stopped.
      I’m going to go one further here. Lower cost housing in the greater Houston area tends to be in the areas that are prone to flooding. Our Son lives in Missoula, Montana. They are experiencing flooding in some areas right now. Unfortunately, in some of the lower income areas. I have nothing against moderately priced housing. One of our sons is a teacher and yes, he finds that to live closer to the high school where he teaches is out of his price range. Housing in delicate ecological areas is NOT the answer.

      • Nancy Hunter

        Extending and upgrading any sewer system is a win for the environment.
        As far as yearly flooding, soil content (such as clay in Houston) is the main reason. Today’s flooding in places like Montana and British Columbia has to do with this year’s mountain snow pack mixed with warm Spring temperatures. Is Westport built on clay or in a valley of mountain ranges?

        • Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

          Nancy, Were you in Westport during Hurricane Carol in 1955? Do you know that Owneoke flooded during Sandy because Gray’s Creek is shallower now and more large homes have been built on the Creek side? I have the pictures and newspaper articles. Dan, I really am coming in this week. Would you like me to bring any of these articles with me? Soil content and topography have something to do with it but large amounts of water are large whether or not they include snow melt.

    • Michael Calise

      Sorry Nancy,
      But you are way off base. The large volume of sewerage from a project this size means nothing less than millions of gallons out or our aquifers and in to Long Island Sound containing oxygen depleting effluent. That’s not good for the environment. As to housing for “police and teachers” most of whom have families, they have and prefer much better choices in the open market. This entire project is a scam against Westport residents who will suffer the consequences should it come to fruition.

  3. Peter Blau

    What about…the traffic? The town is adding high density housing to the very spots with the worst congestion: Post Road E. where a large, Norwalk-style apartment complex is near completion, the planned Daybreak cluster housing adjacent to the Exit 42 traffic mess, and now imagine 300 extra cars every morning and evening rush hour to compound the already massive station traffic. Never is there a single improvement made to increase road capacity with these new developments.

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

      I was going to mention traffic but decided I had riled Nancy enough.

  4. Stephanie Bass

    …Nancy’s back

  5. Nancy Hunter

    Having followed this story for ages now, it honestly seems as though people are actually trying to come up with reasons to be prejudiced.
    That is all I have to say.

    • Nancy, please shut up. If you have been following the story “for ages,” you would know that there are incredible traffic issues here. You would know that Hiawatha is already home to some of the least expensive/”most affordable” housing in town, and is a tight-knit community in danger of being disrupted. You would know that because of the way 8-30 g works, we are not given credit for any housing built before 1990, which skews this debate. You would know that there are many other development issues on the table involving all of Saugatuck, which mean that Hiawatha cannot be considered as a stand-alone project. You would know that there are many different elements to this story. It cannot be reduced to the black and white/right and wrong drivel you are so fond of. And thank you for promising not to say any more. That’s the one bright spot in your comment.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Nancy-please disappear.

  6. Stephanie Bass

    …and a plaque for:


  7. Daniel Katz

    As to Ms Neilson’s query about “moderate” income, it’s rather complicated. “Moderate” is a % of the median income in one’s SMSA..Standard Metropolitan Statistical Area. That % is 30% of 80% of the median income…”low” income housing is based on rents at 30% of 50% of the median income in ones SMSA..OR, the same percentages of the state’s average income, which ever is the lower…got it??? No? Neither does anyone else.

  8. Mary Ruggiero

    In cold, hard numbers, what are those moderate rental figures? I can only guess what all these developments will do to the tax base and school budgets.

  9. Bart Shuldman

    Do policemen or fireman make under the limit to be able to rent an apartment or will they have to pay top dollar?

    This is all a shame. This guy Charney will make lots of money for decades as he rents these apartments. And Westport will deal with the traffic and congestion during that same time.

    Well-at lease Westport is doing what our own State Rep Steinberg told us to do-build more.

    People will complain about the character changes in Westport regarding the loss of mom
    and pop stores, however, these projects will insure the destruction of our home town feel.

  10. Elizabeth Thibault

    Since the formula is total number of units in town vs affordable units, this is increasing the overall units by more and won’t do us much good, if any, towards the goal to reach the moratorium. It’s always going to be a moving target, and no developer is ever going to put in more affordable units, when they can stack market rate units in. This is just going to increase our costs, compound the horrible morning and afternoon traffic, and not help us out any. Even worse, it’s going to blow up the character of the neighborhood. This is disappointing, that the developer is basically sticking his thumb in the town’s eye.

    • Correct, Elizabeth, we’ll keep running and never get to the goal with this process.

      That is why, 27 years ago, the law was designed so that the town leaders would pro-actively do something. Other towns have, but Westport’s never did, and still won’t, leaving us hostage to math like this. Every other town figured out the basic math years ago, and realized that affordable housing as a good idea for their community. Now, 27 years later, Westport is still lacking the vision to address the problem. You can look around at the development that has gone on and see that if there has been ample opportunity to develop affordable-only parcels that would have protected the community from this problem.

      People can scream about the unfairness of law as much as they want. But it won’t change the fact that every other town around us has recognized their responsibility and dealt with it. Westport hasn’t and is in the minority in terms of leading itself into this mess. – Chris Woods

      • William Strittmatter

        It seems to me that Westport has a problem but is in complete denial. As Chris points out, the affordable housing rules have been around for a long time but Westport has not acted to get ahead of them.

        I’ve seen the argument about the arbitrary cut off date and that if pre-1990 (or whatever the date is) housing were included, Westport would meet the affordable housing requirement. For better or worse, that cut-off exists. The CT legislature, in its democratic (small d) wisdom, put that cut off date in place arbitrarily or for a reason (anyone know why?) and doesn’t seem to be interested in changing it.

        So, it is what it is and Westport, along with every other town in CT, needs to deal with it. Westport does not appear to have been singled out for punishment. Or at least not singled out any more than any other town with restrictive zoning intended to “maintain the character” of the town. That, of course, historically often had classist and racist overtones (though clearly not in Westport) by zoning to keep the “undesirables” out which, by the way, is why 8-30g exists. Thank god we have evolved well beyond that and solely have historical preservation in mind when that phrase is used now.

        In any event, absent Westport taking the proverbial bull by the horns and developing additional affordable housing on its own, the town is going to continue to be faced with 8-30g related lawsuits. Some the town may win (like Kings Highway and Rt 33), many more the town will lose (like Hiawatha). All will cost money and ultimately the town will need to deal with the issue absent generating enough of a groundswell across the state to change the law. Good luck with that – I doubt folks in Bridgeport, Stamford or Hartford (or most towns in CT) care about the horrendous burden placed on Westport’s character, school system or property tax rates. As Bart has pointed out numerous times, even Westport’s own elected representatives have little sympathy.

        Moving on, many Westporter’s appear to support affordable (or senior) housing in theory, but not in practice. As best I can tell, there is NO location in Westport that works. Every location is “out of character” for the location and/or will create “traffic issues” primarily due to the higher density of development. Unfortunately, with land prices the way they are, high density is the only economically feasible solution absent the town choosing to subsidize construction of a whole bunch of small houses on 1-2 acre properties. That would keep density and the burden on the schools down, but probably would be terribly expensive for Westport taxpayers. But, hey, if you want to maintain the character of the town, maybe it is worth the price.

        Alternatively, the town could put up 100% affordable high density housing of its own on town owned land (e.g. Winslow Park) and make a big dent in the target thus limiting the number of 8-30g developments around town. But seemingly Westporter’s would rather have a place for dogs to poop rather than fellow humans having an affordable place to live because that is more “in character” for the town.

        And so it goes.

        • If anyone really wants to know the history and spirit of the law, here’s a write up by one the authors on it’s 10th anniversary. http://digitalcommons.law.wne.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1161&context=lawreview

        • Bart Shuldman

          So you would suggest giving away our dog park for affordable housing? Really?

          No developer will build just affordable homes because they cannot make enough money. All this talk about doing the ‘right thing’ is just BS by the developer and this developer. It’s all about making money. So 30 or 40 or 50 affordable apartments will be built along with another set of non affordable apartments. We will be trying to ‘catch our tail’ and never get there. But in the meantime we will lose our town character, but worse, add more to our schools that the taxes will not cover. So property taxes will rise, seniors will be forced to leave and the death spiral begins.

          This nonsense needs to stop. Land is too expensive in Westport for a project just for affordable homes. I hope you tho k about it and the consequences for Westport.

          That is why we need to count in homes before 1990. If not, more and more massive structures will be built, costs to run the town and education will explode and we will become STAMFORD or New Haven. Home prices will go down and who wins-developers.

          This is a very serious issue that our own State Rep does not comprehend. As he said-build more and quickly.

          • Ahh, yes. the “character of the town” argument… you obviously didn’t grow up around here, otherwise you wouldn’t be moaning about preserving something that is nouveau. Where were you in 1990, or 1970? Did you throw your body in front of the Remarkable Bookshop moving vans?

            And you do know that the Winslow dog park is at least half out-of-towners and professional walkers (abusing your tax dollars), right? Check the cars in the parking lot next time you are there picking up the blue plastic bags that they throw in the bushes.

          • Nancy Hunter

            Cruel to insult your own neighbors.
            It’s not all about YOU!

            • Bart Shuldman

              Nancy-have you ever thought of getting professional help? I am serious. You live thousands of miles away from Westport yet you are obsessed about 06880. And instead of maintaining and building friendships you do the opposite.

              Look yourself in the mirror and ask why. Then think about getting some help.

              • Nancy Hunter

                You need to relax, Bart.
                Many Westporters have friends or family in Stamford and New Haven (as I do), and are living quite happily. Why you feel the need to insult these places is a problem, a superiority complex really, that you need to confront. Enjoy the day.

          • David J. Loffredo

            Why do we need a “dog park”? That might be the most bougie thing about this place. It’s Connecticut, the country, not the Bronx.

            Stop whining about 1990, it’s not going to change. P&Z allowed affordable housing to be built, literally across from my former Westport home, after running out of reasons to deny it and worrying about 8-30g.

            It’s over. Here they come. Enjoy your new neighbors.

          • William Strittmatter

            Bart – Indeed, no private developer will build just affordable housing in Westport as land prices are too expensive to make it feasible and, yes, dozens of 8-30g developments would put a lot of pressure on the town and its resources. But changing the “1990” requirement is nothing more than a dream. Wishing will not make it so and hope is not a strategy.

            Which is why I suggested Westport might want to consider developing a medium/high density 100% affordable housing development of its own at, say, Winslow Park. Central location, access to mass transit, walk to town. Might even help reinvigorate downtown. Heck, maybe even let the Westport Cinema Initiative have some space. If you don’t like that, maybe there is some other town owned property that would work. If there are more dog lovers than golfers in town, maybe turn Longshore into a nine-hole and use the rest for housing?

            While of course that would add traffic and probably more kids to the school system, it would probably obviate the need for a couple dozen 8-30g developments that would create even more houses, traffic and pressure on the schools while not really solving the problem. We Even with the effective subsidy from the town, probably cheaper and less disruptive than the alternative in the long run.

            • Bart Shuldman

              Just my opinion but Westport as a town should never be involved in building anything like a residential apartment or housing complex. It is not what they are set up to do and town governments never do it right and to cost.

              The issue is easy to see and the regulation changed. I will not give up speaking in hartford about the issue and getting more moderate legislators to understand the problem. This will destroy the town we all so love.

              Unfortunately our own State Rep is helping. He had his opportunity but his progressive politics and the control the leaders of Haryfird have over home did not allow him to represent our interests.

              There is no benefit to building more of these structures in a westport. The town is not set up for it, the schools are not, our fire and police and ambulances are not. The only ones to make money are the developers and some how Steinberg does not get it.

              I also am concerned with how many ‘families’ want to live in a studio or 1 bedroom or 2 bedroom apartment? Who are we attracting an why? Why are they apartments and not condos to help those build equity.

              It is all wrong

  11. Stephanie Bass

    Is it inconceivable to change the ” pre-1990 housing doesn’t count” law so we get credit for affordable housing that does exist in Westport?

  12. Nancy Hunter

    Thank you to Elizabeth and Chris for your straight forward information.

  13. Before you give other towns all this credit, let me chime in here from Wilton and share that we too are grappling with this problem of undersupply of affordable housing–our current moratorium expires at the end of 2019–and yet we have no plan or vision articulated by town leaders to address this. We are nearly a year into our 18-month long update of our Town’s POCD (Plan of Conservation & Development) and it continues to be mentioned by residents, and queried about since we recently dodged plans for a high-density housing project affecting a single family 2-acre zoned historic area of Ridgefield Rd (Rte 33)….that ‘dodging’ is temporary and everyone who has been paying attention to this issue in Wilton understands that lacking a plan and a modification of 8-30g if not a complete repeal, Wilton will continue to be low hanging fruit for such developers. Residents would like to see responsible development that is compliant with our regulations, POCD, and yes, sensitive to the character of our historic town and its rural beauty. It is part of our brand after all and why people choose to live here. That politicians don’t generally seem to honor that is not really a huge surprise, but should motivate residents to hold them accountable when we are being ignored.