Beach Bathroom Debate Takes A Detour

When opponents of the new Compo Beach bathroom failed to gather enough signatures to force a town referendum, construction near the pickleball courts seemed assured.

But last night’s Planning & Zoning Commission meeting took an unexpected twist.

Commissioner Chip Stephens began by noting that earlier in the day he was at South Beach. Construction has started on a walkway near the boat storage area — in the shortcut by the road that loops near the kayak launch.

Last spring the P&Z approved the walkway, on the south side of the shortcut. But the contractors are working on the north side. They were given plans showing the walkway should go on the north.

Walkway construction at South Beach. (Photo/Matt Murray)

Stephens called it a “trivial” mistake. Things like that happen, he said. And often, the P&Z says (in effect) no big deal. Let’s move on.

Stephens’ point was that the petitioners’ push to move the bathroom away from the pickleball courts is also “trivial.” He asked for a sense of the meeting saying (in effect) that if the Parks & Recreation Department decides now to move the bathroom, the P&Z will be flexible. There would be no need for months of deliberation, Stephens said.

His recommendation was not an official agenda item. No action was taken.

But one thing is certain: This post will get another 50 comments, as if it’s the most important issue facing the town.

32 responses to “Beach Bathroom Debate Takes A Detour

  1. Though the bathroom building is, Dan, not the most important issue facing the town, I think it’s the spectacular fiscal irresponsibility of spending $1,367 a sq. ft for two crappers and a shower, that has caused the uproar. ANYONE knows that this is an immoral rip off posed by Mr. Edwards , Mr. Marpe and the out of town contractor as a construction cost necessitated by threat of rising tide/flood water inundation; when, in fact, the building could be built to code for a fraction of that amount.

    • I agree wholeheartedly. The concern, for me and many others, is that our town is not only moving forward on this unnecessarily costly bathroom structure, but we are doing so in the middle of a crisis with our school facilities that has a yet to be determined price tag. People do not move to westport for high-end beach bathrooms; they move here for the schools. We need to get our priorities in order.

  2. Michael Calise

    The extension of the sidewalk into an area beyond the approved plans is not a “trivial mistake”. It is a direct violation of the zoning approval and yet again indicative of the reckless manner in which the Parks and Recs Department headed by Jen Fava operates. Any other property owner would face an immediate cease and desist order and would have to reappear before the P and Z to resolve the issue. Once again the public is ignored and uniformed of a significant change at Compo. It is now time to reconsider the leadership of the Parks and Rec Department and the commission.

  3. A shortcut was needed, really?

    Just curious….. who’s little mistake was this and any idea the cost to fix this little mistake ?

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      The “shortcut” refers to the little road that cuts through the dirt lot parking area, right before the kayak storage area.

  4. As some one with a construction background for over 30 years…value engineer the 60K and if the town negotiates or reduces the cost it is win win! Chips point is accurate and makes sense. Nobody wins but we all come out ahead.

  5. It may not be the most pressing issue in town but originally a request was to just move the “bathrooms” 35 – 50 feet but because “for whatever “”real”” reason” – P & R got sooooo defensive and wouldn’t work with the townfolk and made it into a way bigger deal than it was. Now more people are into this because of the cost. While not enough signatures were gotten to get a referendum, in only three days a lot were gotten and many, many, many people didn’t even know the issue at hand. So, given more than the three days, it is almost certain enough signatures would be gotten. I personally don’t think the RTM represented their constituencies.

  6. Let’s get some facts straight.
    The baths and sidewalk had to conform to Town regs just like a homeowner we where told by P&R and Steve Edward. FEMA etc
    Now we have a change without proper approvals.
    So which is it?
    Think we need a response from P&R and Steve Edward.
    Process is what we where told on why we couldn’t shift the baths 35 YARDS,but now deviations are ok?
    Think we need a STOP work order and gets this sorted just like a homeowner

    And RTM members on the P&R committee. How about you stepping up and speak on how you view this.

  7. Moving this 35 yds northwest was ALWAYS something that could have been done in a mere P&Z work session so that the project could move forward apace. Moving it 35 yds NW was always a win/win for everyone. It’s a much better approach, that would be aesthetically superior, and would leave a recreation area free for future potential recreation facilities that we can all enjoy.
    If I were P&R, I would find a way to work with P&Z to make it happen, given how unpopular this present proposed location is and how important the aesthetics at the beach are.
    If Chip and others on the P&Z can figure out a way to move it 35 yds in a work session, I say let ’em do it. Everyone wins.
    We are all stewards of a precious legacy, a beautiful beach, so let’s not trivialize this issue! We have an obligation as a town to preserve our beach’s beauty for future generations.
    Kristan Hamlin, RTM #4

  8. I signed the petition. I don’t dispute the building of a bathroom facility closer to South Beach. But the cost is excessive, and the location is not ideal. Were competitive bids obtained? If so, are the building specifications and the bids available for public review? I’d like to see them. The town has a tendency to over spend (Note the $325,000 year round marine rescue craft purchased a few years ago when we already had a perfectly good rescue boat, which is still in service I believe.

  9. The town needs to spend millions unexpectedly to fix cololytown middle.
    One of the largest banks just identified Fairfield county as a “distressed housing market” requiring potential home buyers to come up with another 5% to get a loan. Trump cut our state & local tax deductions. UTC is selling off its businesses.

    How about we have the people who think this bathroom is a good idea pay for it. After all the town made the boaters pay for dredging.
    Once the open space is gone, you’ll never get it back.

    What’s the over & under that the town will see fit to put 12 signs on this pillbox looking building before its ever used?

    Eric Bosch ’73

    • Oh, I see. What you’re saying is that we should single out Westport’s handicapped and elderly population and impose a special usage tax on them. This is what you’re advocating?

      • Jessica, in your reply to Eric you state that the people who want THIS bathroom are the handicapped and elderly population. Well, overwhelmingly this is not the structure that our elderly citizens imagined nor the location that they desired – they wanted it prudent in scope, less obtrusive, less expensive, and more equitably located westwards. And many of our physically challenged neighbors are embarrassed that they are being used as the basis to compel a decision the majority of residents do not want. This is not about anyone’s “civil rights” as some wish us to believe; it is about the imposition of will under that guise. A South Beach restroom should be located and designed to accommodate the needs of ALL Westport residents in a cost efficient, sensitive, effective, responsible and harmonious manner. We are one community of intelligent, talented and caring neighbors, who can and WILL unite to remedy this once given the opportunity to do so by the PRC and Town leadership. Relocating this restroom further westward, as has been repeatedly requested, would not only save money and preserve recreational open space, but would also go a long way towards a congenial resolution. However that requires a desire by those officials for unity rather than contention.

        • Karen Saidel Schur

          Thank you Jay- your relentless efforts have enlightened our community about town politics. While others have tried to discredit you- your investigative efforts has disclosed many town flaws.You have also clarified about the disabled/seniors involvement on this project. We applaud you for trying to “change” the way in which our town communicate with the public. (Dan, thank you for allowing ALL this stuff to come out in a public forum that Jessica could not block.)
          Karen and Alan Schur

    • Catherine Calise

      I’m with you. Once that open space is gone that’s it – its gone for good – not to mention the priceless Compo views which will be blocked forever. As an RTM member I fought for the residents of Westports on the dredging issue and lost. I again fought to preserve the character of Westport on many levels – price , location & safety of this monstrous South Beach bathroom structure which is closer to all of the current bathrooms in place at Compo than to those that actually actively use South Beach. In addition, whatever bathroom will be built WILL be ADA compliant AND it can be built in a more convenient location for everyone, a safer design & at a much more reasonable cost.

      The question I have for today is … after 5 years of contentious debate , P & R finally got the approval for the South Beach sidewalk. How is it possible the wrong plan was mistakenly given to the contractors to do the work?? Why was not our P&R Director & town PW consultant on site before they broke ground? That would be standard on any construction site in any private entity. Can anyone answer me?

  10. I agree with mike there has to be a change at parks and rec and the chair I call on jim Marpe and Jen tooker and melissa Kane ans the rtm please I was at the beach yesterday why do thinks with out approval i am shocked I call on the parks and Rec off the rtm to hold a hearing right away and bring Jen. Fava and Charlie and jim marpe

  11. Christine Meiers Schatz

    I’m sorry if I’m being obtuse this morning, but what was the sense of the meeting? Or did Mr. Stephens suggest a sense of the meeting vote and that didn’t happen?

    • He wanted a sense of the meeting, but it didn’t happen.

      • When the Chair of P&Z comes to the RTM meeting on the day of vote and says no way this location can be changed 35 YARDS even though it looks doable, do you think it would be opened up.? So P&Z Chairman what do you do about the sidewalks being in a different location?

    • Let’s be clear, then, that since the P&Z rejected a sense of the meeting, Mr. Stephens he is speaking on behalf of himself, and not the, P&Z. I don’t know how that gives him authority to offer a not-so-subtle suggestion that if the town reverses itself on location, the P&Z will find a way “be flexible” on the sidewalk issue. Does anyone else hear a threat here? Is this an appropriate way for town government, particularly its elected officials, to operate? I don’t think so.

      • Jessica The question is why is the sidewalk in a different location? how does that happen?

      • Jessica, to be responsible before judging Chip, as an RTM rep. did you taken the time to watch the archived video to educate yourself in the facts? It’s ironic NOW you voice your indignation about “inappropriate government behavior”, when you remained silent regarding this restroom’s non-existent authorizing resolution, the false minutes & cover-up they utilized, the multiple breaches of process and procedures used in order to order obtain approvals, PRC’s refusal to allow general public guidance, their closed door meetings and “secret” decision they still refuse to identify, their lack of transparency, the silencing and threats against residents, the “pre-meeting” and back dated approval decisions, and their unauthorized spending of $260,000 beyond their own public PRC resolution! Is THIS your appropriate way for Town government to operate? The fact is that the PRC intentionally violated the conditional P&Z approval they were given. Once again the PRC told the public one thing but did another – perhaps in the belief it is better to “beg forgiveness” than “ask permission” because the permission to build that far west had been expressly denied by the public and the P&Z. Is THAT the appropriate way you expect town government to operate? This is NOT a trivial thing. The PRC must be given a cease and desist order, just as you or I would for even an inch infraction, and be remanded back to the P&Z & the public to explain why this occurred – it was not a simple mistake. Chip & the P&Z were offering our town officials an olive branch to remedy the contentious divide this restroom proposal has created because the overwhelming majority of residents know there is a better way. If that collaborative invitation is refused it will reverberate in the memory of the town for a very long time.

  12. Arline Gertzoff

    Though I can live with the sidewalk on the northside of the loop rather than the south side I do wonder how that transpired.?
    In light of the many comments it is time for compromise .It sounds as though the now infamous bathrooms could be moved without going back to square one if Parks and Rec and Pand Zcan work together.
    Furthermore from the correspondence some feel the RTM does not always represent their constituents.Personal prejudices aside of the texts I received they were 10 to 1 against the bathroom project that passed Cost was the main point followed by proposed location.If we could compromise on the dog issue surely we can see the way to work together and find an equitable solution.Probably theNYT will see fit to have an article on Westport’s Million dollar beach bathrooms.Compromise would be a fitting gesture for the holiday season.

  13. Dan, as a 33 year resident of Westport I cannot imagine a MORE important issue facing the town than giving our residents the capability to decide what WE WANT our town to be & what WE WANT our money spent on – rather than having it continually imposed upon us by officials who are deaf and blind to our voices. This is just one more example of how election campaigns based on the rhetoric of “collaboration and transparency” have proven ineffective and unsuccessful in granting residents that self-determination. What began as a “perceived desire” for a restroom at South Beach has uncovered how many of our powerful officials will do almost anything to impose their will – even breaches of process and violations of procedures are acceptable and overlooked by those with the ability and desire to do so. The character and charm of Westport is the underpinning of who we are and THE REASON people live here. This is NOT Long Island. This IS Southern New England. Character and charm die by a thousand indelible cuts, each one building upon the other, until before you realize it what’s left is unrecognizable. The Cabiri bridge, marijuana dispensaries, Main Street retail, 8-30g developments, Coleytown mold – these all demand our officials take heed of what the RESIDENTS want. Feel good blogging our virtues is wonderful and important for a variety of reasons, not least of all to boost morale; however there is NO MORE IMPORTANT issue at hand than this one. This is not 1776 or 1969 – in 2018 there are sufficient technological means to directly involve the public in a substantive way that is convenient to their family responsibilities and career obligations. All it takes is the desire for that to happen – a desire that those with the “power” are disinclined to provide.

  14. I thought the south side walkway was for safety reasons so walkers would not need to walk across the road.

  15. Being in the Real Estate Development Business and familiar with construction costs it is hard to imagine that this building will cost this much to build.. Do the costs also include soft costs, site work and bringing utilities to site? I also read that they were hoping to start construction soon…winter conditions will add a premium ..and let’s not forget that this facility will be used for about only three months of the year.

  16. Bonnie Bradley

    I’m exhausted by all this, and I haven’t even lived in Westport for 20 years.
    How do you people get yourselves into situations like this? (Is the boat still grounded on Saugatuck Shores?) OMG…

    As a mere observer, it appears that Westport’s citizens must not interact with their elected RTM members or town officials very often or with much passion on issues which are important to many of you. (Just saying, years ago, when the chips were down over the town’s purchase of Longshore vs. selling the land for housing development – more kids, more schools, more taxes! – the news sped through town like a comet. First Selectman Herb Baldwin and his cohorts immediately responded to the voice of Westport, spent what was then an unheard amount of money, and Longshore was ours. And, as it turned out, the voices raised and heard were right.

    Almost without exception the comments I’ve read have been reasonable and smart, some even brilliant. The town, from the RTM to the Selectmen, should respond and reconsider.

    To someone with no dog in this fight it’s difficult to comprehend how the unrealistic and ridiculous pipe dreams of a few overzealous designers and dreamers (Do I perceive a whiff of ” It’s Westport – they can afford anything.”?) prevail over common sense, fiscal reality and the sensibility of the townspeople themselves.

    Hope you guys prevail….

    • I live nearby (Norwalk) so I drove over to Harbor and Canal Rd area tonight (12/3) to see the new installation of the guardrails.
      Yes, both sailboats are still there. The big one at the Harbor Rd curve and the second one at Harbor Rd, Swallow Ln and Canal Rd. It’s wedged into the concrete section of the private sea wall.
      Now just my observations for the guardrails.
      Thankfully they don’t run along the whole length of Canal Rd. They’re just around an area where there’s a culvert (bridge) that was eroding and making the road narrower. Nicely done construction and widening of the road. I do agree they should have been brown or bronze colored steel to blend into the surrounding. Wood should have been the first choice. It will hold up better to flooding and sea salt. The extremes of living along the shore.

  17. Catherine Walsh

    Jessica Bram, there was no threat made by Chip Stephens last night. You completely misunderstood what was being done. It has been an ongoing frustration of the P&Z commission that we approve certain site plans and somehow another set of plans will get into the hands of the contractors- for both private and public jobs. This is what Chip was speaking to last night. The commission labored over the site plans and although we weren’t all happy with the outcome (myself) our approved site plan was not given to the contractor . The contractor dug a trench on the wrong side of the road. I understand Jim Marpe and others took corrective action this morning.

    The point Chip was making regarding the bathrooms is the point that I’ve made in public twice and so did Paul.. We are open to having Parks and Rec. come back to us for a new location and will do what we can to work with them as quickly as possible but that timeline could vary depending on all the moving pieces. . We are open to changing the site plan. It’s up to P&R come back to us and we’ll do the best we can to get it through the process as quickly as possible. Although a sense of the meeting wasn’t taken, you heard at least 4 commissioners say it was no issue to hear the application again. I will also say that all 7 commissioners would hear it again, because that is what we do every Thursday night. We don’t pick and choose what we want to hear. Make the ask and we’ll do it.

    Chip has done a remarkable job for the town for 7 years. He’s passionate about Westport and fights to get it done right. Jessica, you may not understand his style of communication, but Chip is one of the best P&Z commissioners ever. Westport is lucky to have Chip Stephens.

  18. Catherine Walsh

    PS…the town has new software on the way to eliminate the first issue above, but it will probably be 9 months or so before it’s up and running.

  19. Things “have a way of getting done” in Westport that have long baffled me. I remember working to stop the installation of synthetic turf fields at the schools over a decade ago. There were already plenty of indications that they were problematic from both a health and ecological standpoint, but they were “state of the art,” and that’s what we got. As for the South beach bathroom, not sure if the rumor I heard was true — that siting was done to favor homeowners across the road (whose view would have been imperiled) — but at this point I have very little faith that the system will work the way we’d like to think it does, for the greater good.

  20. Dava E. Waltzman, PhD

    Over and over again on November 13,2018 I heard RTM members justify their individual decisions to vote in favor of spending close to a million dollars in support of the South Beach restroom because the required Westport Constitutional “process” was followed. The process was not followed. On March 31, 2015 there was a P&R meeting that is archived in Town records and videos. There were seven issues slated to be discussed with the end goal being to resolve each as a means of then moving forward. This was the same meeting at which a restroom design was presented that offered separate female and male multiple stall facilities including ADA fixtures that would follow safety requirements and be completed at a meeting reasonable cost. As has been identified by Selectman Marpe (10/3/18) and Mr. Haberstroh (11/8/18) the resolution regarding South Beach sidewalks and restroom never happened; the vote was “skipped over.” Of considerable concrete is that the archived minutes of that meeting reveal that a motion was made by Mr. Iannone, seconded by Mr. Axthelm, and passed unanimously. Those official Town minutes were falsified; that vote never happened. The “process” was violated.