[OPINION] Historic Importance Of South Morningside Is Huge

Between the ospreys and education issues, Westporters’ attention has recently been diverted from the long-running saga of Morningside Drive South. But the Historic District Commission meets Tuesday (Town Hall, 7 p.m.) to discuss a planned development there. “06880” reader Aurea de Souza writes:

Before Walter and Naiad Einsel bought their home and studio, 26 Morningside Drive South was the home of  Charles B. Sherwood. Yes, that’s the same Sherwood family remembered today through Sherwood Island State Park, the Sherwood Island Connector, even Sherwood Diner!

Charles B. Sherwood was given 7 acres of land by his father Walter in 1853.  That same year, he built his house. It was sold in 1864 to John B. Elwood, who owned it until 1920. The Einsels bought it in 1965, after vacationing in Westport for 4 years.

In 2005 the Einsels received a Preservation Award for their home. In 2007 their home and property were designated a Local Historic District.

The Einsels’ house on South Morningside Drive.

Anne Hamonet and her husband Alberto bought what used to be the barn of the Sherwood property in 2002. They have since restored it, respecting its historic value. Today their home is a Greens Farms sanctuary, cherished by the neighborhood.

The Hamonets raise chickens that run freely through the property. Anne brings fresh cage-free organic eggs to everyone at our neighborhood meetings. They also keep horses on the property. It’s almost like a movie set.

Because of the Hamonets, we all enjoy rooster and chicken noises, horses that can be seen from the street, and the beautifully restored barn.

This is what their bucolic backyard looks like today, right next to the proposed development.

This is an approximation of what it will be when the southwest block of the 16 3-bedroom, 32.5-foot high condos is built, just 15 feet from their fence.

The historic importance of 20-26 Morningside Drive south is huge for Westport.  It is about to be destroyed by a developer who purchased property in a historic district. He was well aware of the limitations, but is taking advantage of the 8-30g “affordable housing” statute which can take precedence over historic districts and flooding issues.

The homes will be built on top of wetland setbacks on already flood-prone Muddy Brook – which this week caused the collapse of Hillandale Road bridge.

There is also a safety issue. Westport requires a 400-foot distance from a school driveway for any driveway cutout. Plans for this development shows their driveway directly across from Greens Farms Elementary School.

The developer has presented drawings of the individual groups of homes, but at the Architecture Review Board hearing on March 26, failed to present any documentation on how it will look as a whole.

A Greens Farms United member who is an architect put all of their documentation together in a rough section of what it will actually look like (These do not account for any land modifications; it is simply an illustration of what has been made public).

The house in yellow is the current home, which the developer plans to transport to a new location much closer to the road.

Westport currently enjoys a 4-year moratorium on 8-30g developments, having met the state requirements. This proposal was submitted before the moratorium took effect.

39 responses to “[OPINION] Historic Importance Of South Morningside Is Huge

  1. John D McCarthy

    Would love to see the legal reason/precedent which leads to the conclusion that “8-30g takes precedence over historic districts.”

  2. Willy Maliszewski

    Agreed, historic importance. But it seems that hardly matters to those who changed the name of Sherwood Square to Sconset -a name that has more to do with Nantucket and nothing at all to do with Westport’s history. Other historic place names also have been changed. So don’t expect the right call from the next Historic Commission meeting.

    • Elisabeth McDowell

      The Historic District Commission has been fighting this idea from the start. For a whole year, they stood on their own, kuddos to them!

      • Aurea de Souza

        The Historic District Commission has been absolutelly incredible, so have other of our Town Commissions.

  3. What an appallingly cruel application. It’s not just an attack on Greens Farms, it’s a raised middle finger to the Westport RTM who created this and every other Local Historic District in the Town of Westport.

  4. Criminal.

  5. The precedent set by this project threatens every Historic District in the Town of Westport. A developer can walk in, acquire the properties and obliterate the district. That is what is going here and must be stopped.

    Art Schoeller
    President
    Greens Farms Association

  6. Cristina Negrin

    Just awful!

  7. Michelle Benner

    I hope this development is not allowed to happen. Everything about it sounds, looks and feels so wrong. Already, the many new dense developments along Post Road (and too close to Post Road, as well as the new one across Post Road from Greens Farms El) are eroding our town’s charm and character. How can a development like this be allowed to happen right across from an elementary school on one of the most important historical properties in Westport? I hope people on our town boards and in our government care enough to preserve this section of Westport for today’s elementary school children and future generations.

  8. Oh my gosh, don’t get me going on the ghastly degradation of our historic landscape. Like anything; once it’s gone, it’s gone forever. Our children’s children will be the ones who will have lost a treasure that’s being taken for granted by greed and its so-called benefits. There must a place for enterprise and forward thinking; no question. It’s vital. But also, there must always be a place for our sacred past — that which came before.

  9. Bart Shuldman

    “Build more…..build faster”…….State Rep Steinberg.

    And who did you vote for? Too funny.

    Bart Shuldman

  10. Karen Kramer

    We, as a town need to protect this historic district.
    This is a town problem, not just a Greens Farms concern. The builder, who does not appear to be maintaining the Sherwood/Ainsell home , now states that they will pick the home up and move it.!
    This could be the kiss of death for this beautiful home. What then , ? The developer says , whoops, sorry. !!!!
    That is a very real possibility.oh , by the way with their plan to pick the house up and just move this ‘beautiful. fragile , antique home to be used as a clubhouse, what are they doing to make this hone is ready for any move.?
    And who then will own ‘the antique clubhouse ‘ and who will maintain it? They want to remove it from the basement/foundation, isn’t that part of the historic district?
    We have to be concerned about 50 extra cars right across the street from our elementary school, which is on a residential street, already congested during school and sports events.. This elementary school is the home to children from district 1, 4, and 5.
    We need to protect and preserve our children.
    Karen Kramer RTM district 5

  11. Bettina Gangi

    Back in the day, I took the Mini-Bus tour of historic Westport. That’s when I really began to love this town…of course I had majored in history, American history and architecture being my favorites…and after fifty years of residence I am saddened by what has been happening in the last ten years or so. Referring to most of the previous comments,it seems I am not alone…please do not let the plan for the historic Sherwood property go forward.

  12. Nancy Cleveland

    Ironic is it not Mr.Shuldman.

  13. Why zero mention of Emil Fish (the buyer/developer)? He deserves being called out. http://www.fishenterprises.com

    • Bart Shuldman

      Joshua. Change the law and Emil goes away. Eep the law and Emil and his buddies stays. It is that easy and that straight forward. The law is on his side right now.

      Good luck. Elections matter.

  14. Saranda Berisa

    Omg, how sad. This predator building has got to be shut down in our bucolic town. Deplorable. This Government and its statutes in the state of Connecticut will be ruination of Fairfield county. VERY SHORT SIGHTED, and selfish.

    • Actually Saranda, this is a consequence of what happens when a town has been run on a short-sighted basis for decades.

      The reason 8-30g is available to the developer is because 30 years ago – yes THIRTY YEARS AGO – the State foresaw that the locals, teachers, policemen, town employees, would be priced out of their homes by developers.

      In order to preserve the local character of CT towns, and fearing that the towns would not do it themselves, they put in place a far-sighted plan that allowed for years of phase-in and, yes, carried a big penalty for those towns that didn’t think to the future, about the character of their towns.

      8-30g is an example of GOOD planning. Avoiding it for decades, in favor of McMansions that profit short term developers, has been an example of short-sighted, non-planning. This has been a well-known issue in front of town “leaders” for decades. Read the law and the subsequent reviews. It’s an example of good, far-sighted government. The situation today is a consequence of a government that failed to protect our town’s character.

      There are many more Einsel properties lost to developers over the years that no one cared enough about. To paraphrase a similar (but certainly more dire) complacency (but which is echoed currently in other milieus), “First they tore down an “old” house on the other side of town. Then they tore down one a few blocks away. Then they tore down own in my neighborhood….” – Chris Woods

      • There is a large number of “affordable” housing built before 1990. For example — Canal Park and The Saugatuck. Including them would bring the number much closer to the required 10%. However 8-30g states that affordable housing had to be built after 1990, which I think is blatantly unfair.

      • Bart Shuldman

        Chris-the only thing you need to blame the town is electing state legislators that refuse to reform 8-30g. Westport can do nothing to stop this. Nothing. Not until the legislation is changed, which westport has shown not to want to make that change.

      • Michael Calise

        Chris, this is now the second time I have seen your misguided comments.
        I will be nice and say there is a basis for what you are claiming but you completely misunderstand the inequity and stupidity of the current “solution”.

        • Michael, I am not saying it isn’t a bad situation. It obvilously is.

          What I am saying is that the law itself was forward thinking so that situations like this did not occur. Have you read the law and it’s review ten years after passing? It is an exemplar of good government because it tried to prevent this very situation. It is not the cause.

          It is not the law, it is the town that failed to protect their community. It is easy to blame the law. That’s what all the previous First Selectpersons would like you to do, rather than blame their own poor leadership. Did you see 8-30g addressed in the Town’s 2007 Plan for Conservation and Development? https://www.westportct.gov/index.aspx?page=71 15 years after it was passed? That is a planning process and document mandated by the state, to try and help towns plan well. One would think our elected officials would have dealt with that obvious threat then. How did that turn out?

          It’s so obviously distracting to get the mob to blame Hartford, when the blame is in Westport.

          • Bart Shuldman

            Chris—the only thing to blame is the law. No matter what any town leader can or could do, allowing a developer to skirt the local P&Z rules destroys, let me repeat destroys the very fabric of that town.

            Wake up. The law is destroying Westport one nail at a time.

            Bart Shuldman

            • So Bart, you are saying that:

              = The law was designed, thirty years ago to destroy Westport
              = Affordable housing is not something Westport ever wanted (so locals, police, teachers, town employees could live here, in Suagatuck, and on Hiawatha lane, and so Einsel’s property would be saved).
              = That Julia Bradley’s efforts to ensure folks had affordable places to live were misguided
              = The town leaders were correct in ignoring a state statute for 30 years

              I think the opposite:

              = Affordable housing is important and that the character of our towns has been the worse for it’s lack
              = Westport’s teachers, police and town employees should live here
              = A string of Selectpersons were derlict in their duty for ignoring the obvious and by “kicking the can down the road” instead of leading. It is their dereliction, not the law, that caused this problem.

              Only local leadership is the solution. You are not helping find an obvious solution (like other towns have done) by mis-directing blame on the sympton rather than the cause.

              • Bart Shuldman

                Chris-you are engaging in social engineering for your own opinion. You have decided where people should live whether they want to or not.

                Teachers or fireman can live anywhere. You cannot nor should you dictate where they should live. Nor can you decide the cost of where anyone should live.

                my guess teachers like being in Westport schools because of how they are respected and wanted and fireman like being in our town for the safety and respect Westport desires.

                You have decided to dictate. I have decided you are so wrong. You have decided it could be different. I have decided 8-30g is typical of wrong policy that is destroying what was once a town that is turning into a city.

  15. Mary Cookman Schmerker

    This is a travesty for so many reasons. To build on wet land set backs in an area that is flood prone, let alone flooded recently. There just aren’t appropriate words that could be published. That much concrete in a flood set back spells disaster. All of that before the area’s historic significance is addressed or the proximity to a school. This needs to be stopped before unsuspecting people buy and then have their homes are flooded in the next large storm. Be ware of big developers that are only interested in their own pocketbooks.

  16. Julie Fatherley

    Another example of how greed exceeds thought and preservation. Such a
    beautiful property and one that should not disappear into oblivion. I have been a friend of Naiad Einsel and enjoyed her meticulous management of that property until her death. One less open space in Westport and historically significant that should not disappear…Julie Fatherley

  17. There are 2 Hearings at Town Hall this week, please make every effort to attend and fight this.

    Historic District Commission Public Hearing – Tuesday, April 9th at 7pm. Room 201/201A
    The HDC will review the developer’s revised site plans that include moving the historic home off of its foundation to a lower point on the property.

    Conservation Commission Special Meeting, Public Hearing – Wednesday, April 10th at 7pm. Main Auditorium
    This is a continuation of the March Conservation Hearing. Einsel Historic District at 20-26 Morningside Drive South will be the only item on the agenda.

    If the 20-26 Morningside Drive Historic District is canceled from either agenda, GFU will inform you via email and post the cancelation on the website.

    Many thanks for your continued support – we are making progress!

  18. Werner Liepolt

    That these developers would desecrate not only the memory and heritage that Walter and Naiad Einsel imprinted on Westport is absolutely sickening.

    • Bart Shuldman

      Werner-blame a developer that has the legislation on his side? Really? Or blame the legislators who refuse to change the legislation that would end this madness?

  19. In all the blaming, let us not forget that someone had to sell this property to the developer…no sale, no 830g monster.
    The developer, after all, would not be in the business if he were not greedy, and opportunistic…that’s what developers have to be. The SELLER is the villiain here.

    • Bob Stalling

      Dan is right, we should pass a law that prevents people from selling their property to anyone who will pay the most for it…

  20. Elizabeth Thibault

    It’s also concerning, because all this rain water and runoff would go right into Muddy Brook, which already washed out part of a bridge on Hillendale earlier this month. The infrastructure in this area cannot support such an oversized development in this area. This is putting public safety at risk.

  21. Bart Shuldman

    Dan-the villain is the law. The villains are the legislators trying to engage in social engineering that has backfired completely.

    I bet we read more 06880 posts for years and years about this exact topic. Dan could probably tell us how many years this type of story has already. been posted

    The same people will post their disgust but do nothing to truly stop the villain, the legislation.

    • Bob Stalling

      You said it best when you said “elections matter”
      That’s the top and bottom line…

      • Can’t legislate conscience,Bob.
        So often, going for the highest price, though seemingly All American, is neither the moral or the socially responsible thing to do.

        • Bob Stalling

          So next time, you should use your conscience when you vote…maybe you can get a conscience law passed.

    • Dick Lowenstein

      This is a bipartisan problem maintained by the big-city Democrats (they all ready have enough affordable housing) and the upstate Republicans (they want to stick it to the Fairfield County towns. You work on the latter because if they flip, there are enough votes in both houses to amend the law.

  22. Karen Kramer

    The developer has had his representatives say that they will relocate the house .
    Pick it up and move it …really?
    Since they are Not maintaining it, chances are great , that the house would fall apart and the historic Sherwood home would be gone.
    And who will be responsible for this ‘clubhouse ‘ . Should it survive the move ? Is there any assurance that a small number of home owners will be willing to assume the cost of maintaining a 150 year old home ? Will the perspective buyers know and understand what they are getting into????
    Sadly, the developer also has no thought or care about the traffic debacle they will have caused in a residential area across from an elementary school.
    We must respect and protect the children
    Karen Kramer RTM district 5