Morningside Drive South Housing Issue Is Settled

One of Westport’s most controversial housing issues has apparently been settled.

With far less fanfare than it originally generated.

An email from Green’s Farms United says that last month, the developer and town negotiated a settlement about 20-26 Morningside Drive South. The property — directly opposite Greens Farms Elementary School, formerly owned by artists Walter and Naiad Einsel — was the site of a proposed 8-30g (affordable housing regulation) development.

The previously proposed development at 26 South Morningside Drive.

Green’s Farms United representatives — including an attorney, engineer and “GFU intervenors” — were then invited to meet with the town attorney and other officials to review the proposal. The GFU group provided input regarding the engineering and conservation easement landscape elements prior to the final agreement.

On May 23, GFU says, the settlement was approved by a judge. The 8-30g application was withdrawn the same day. (Click here for the full document.)

The Einsels’ house at 26 Morningside Drive South.

Key points from the settlement include:

  • The studio will be moved from 20 Morningside Drive South to the same lot as the historic home, which will remain where it currently is. Both buildings will be renovated, sold as one lot and considered the “new” historic district. GFU says the newly created historic district has greater legal protections under the settlement stipulation than the previous Einsel Historic District.
  • 26 Morningside Drive South will be subdivided into 3 lots. One is the Historic Home Studio; the 2 additional lots will have new homes.
  • The 2 center driveways will be next to each other in the location of the current driveway. They will be designed to look like one, giving the appearance of only 3 driveways on the property.
  • The 20 Morningside Drive South lot will have 1 new home.
  • The “Doll House” barn/shed located in the wetlands area will be removed.
  • Extensive planting will be done, with particular focus on the riparian buffer/wetlands areas abutting Muddy Brook
  • The developer is legally bound to adhere to the terms of the settlement stipulation, which will be enforced by the town and the court should any variance occur.

Green’s Farms United thanked supporters for their help during the long process.

19 responses to “Morningside Drive South Housing Issue Is Settled

  1. Arthur C Schoeller

    Greens Farms United deserves a ton of credit for this outcome as the developer came in with a 8-30g intensive development simply as a bargaining chip to get their way along with numerous additional lawsuits. The end result compromise is due to the efforts of GFU to get the support of the Town of Westport to defend the existing Historic District and resources. This is a great example of a grass roots organization rallying around a cause critical to the neighborhood and Historic Districts. Please visit their website and donate since they expended quite a sizeable amount in hiring attorneys and consultants in this defense.

    https://www.greensfarmsunited.com/

    Art Schoeller
    President
    Greens Farms Association

  2. John McCarthy

    Yes, this is what 8-30g was designed for…..to allow developers leverage over a town so that they can build whatever they want to build. Just like the developers did in our Gorham Avenue neighborhood many years ago. Anyone that thinks it is about providing more affordable housing is delusional.

    • John F. Suggs

      Yes John, Developers routinely do leverage 8-30g to get concessions that they would not otherwise receive. But in this case, the Developer had a secret weapon – the incompetence of Westport’s Historic District Commission (HDC). Those of us who watch the monthly antics on the HDC with any regularity were not at all surprised when a Judge summarily ruled in the Developer’s favor finding that the HDC “acted arbitrarily, capriciously and in abuse of its discretion in denying the plaintiff’s (Developer) application because its reasons for denial were not supported by substantial evidence and the absence of substantial evidence gives rise to the inescapable inference that its decision was the product of a predetermined course of action.”

      In essence, the HDC did not in good faith consider the application but instead had come to a predetermine decision to deny it. And in the doing, acted “arbitrarily, capriciously and in abuse of its discretion.”

      Arbitrary, Capricious and Abusive.

      That is why this “settlement” was ultimately foisted upon our neighborhood. With the current crop of HDC Commissioners ineptly led by its Chair Randy Henkels, “supposedly” preserving our local historic districts via arbitrary, capricious and abusive acts – who needs enemy’s? Or to paraphrase the classic Pogo Comic Strip “We have met the enemy (of historic preservation) and it is the current HDC.”

    • Elizabeth Thibault

      I’ve been told by various legislators over the last several years that some in Hartford feel like that’s a feature of the law, not a bug. There’s a feeling that towns like Westport need to be punished. This disproportionately falls on the shoulders of prosperous towns along the “Gold Coast,” because developers don’t need this law to build “affordable” housing in towns without amenities and resources.

  3. Joshua Stein

    while i think the development company isnt in the best light for taking advantage of what they can per the existing law, something has to change. is there anything in the works to modify 8-30g? perhaps it simply needs to be adjusted to account for all affordable housing stock instead of a random cut-off year? if nothing is proposed to change the law, then its time to rally and get elected officials to understand its a problem and a priority to fix!

  4. Roseann Spengler

    Yay…………….. thanks for staying on it Judy. Great work.

    >

  5. Morley Boyd

    We’re celebrating the arrival of Dracula because we could have had Frankenstein? If you lower the bar enough, almost anything can be declared a success.

    Notwithstanding the fact that this is a less appalling outcome, it is unquestionably a major failure by the Westport Historic District Commission, a deeply dysfunctional local agency which routinely violates due process – to say nothing of its own regulations and procedures. Most of its members haven’t the slightest idea what their job is but appear quite certain that insulting and disparaging those they do not like (both on and off the public record) makes for good government.

    As an aside, I have no idea what is meant by a “new historic district”. It’s all the same historic district as before – only now it’s also a bloated McMansion reservation too.

    • Arthur C Schoeller

      I agree with Morley here on the “New Historic District” clarification. I have read the agreement a number of times and my interpretation is that the District is preserved, it’s just now a number of new homes will be in it instead of open space. The battle for awhile was succeeding to preserve open space due to its historic nature, but this was lost. Any changes to those new homes will still be subject to HDC Certificate of Approvals (COA). Buyers of these homes will need to be informed about their responsibilities since they will reside in a Historic District.

      • Morley Boyd

        Good point, Art. The new owners of those soon to be built houses will need to get a permit from the Westport Historic District Commission before making certain exterior changes. Won’t they be surprised to learn that the current Westport Historic District Commission, without any legal notice to the public, and in clear violation of its own published regulations, has begun requiring permits for the following nonsense: birdbaths, hummingbird feeders, statues, stakes and, my all time personal favorite, rocks. It’s more than arbitrary; it’s an astonishing abuse of power by a group of unelected political appointees. And it’s a slap in the face to those residents who cared enough to historically designate their properties for the benefit of the public.

        • John McCarthy

          Are current members of the HDC all residents of a local historic district as required? Isn’t that in the state statute in order to avoid these types of situations?

          • Morley Boyd

            Only two Commissioners are presently residents of Local Historic Districts. The others would mostly not know a historic district from a toaster oven. But that has not stopped them from secretly EXEMPTING at least five designated Local Historic Properties in Westport from regulation. The explanation: the property owners regulate themselves. Right. I’ve got all the emails – including the current Director of Planning and Zoning defending this completely improper procedure. Maybe the new homeowners in Morningside Gulch can figure out how to get that deal.

  6. What ever happened after the Partrick developer’s violation of his fill & retaining wall agreement a few years back? Do those agreements have any real enforcement teeth? – Chris Woods

  7. John F. Suggs

    I never thought I would live to see the day when, as a matter of conscience, I would advise anyone considering designating their home a Local Historic Property or their neighborhood a Local Historic District for the benefit of future generations – don’t do it. Yet that is where I sadly find myself at this juncture.

    For obtaining such a designation requires an owner to willingly place themselves and their property under the regulatory and enforcement arm of the HDC. Unfortunately, the current HDC, the original gang that couldn’t shoot straight, has repeatedly shown itself to be unworthy of such a generous gift. As the Judge so clearly stated in the Morningside Case, it has acted arbitrarily, capriciously and abusively.

    Knowing just how dysfunctional the HDC has become under Chair Randy Henkels, I can not ask any town resident to willingly submit their home to its pettiness and incoherence. And that is a real tragedy. Despite pleas by residents to, at long last, sack his HDC Chair appointee, our First Selectman stubbornly digs in and refuses to do the inevitable. And so the town’s taxpayers lose an expensive lawsuit because not only did the HDC Chair predetermine his Morningside decision but he had the audacity to announce it in a news story before even taking the vote!

    These are troubling days indeed for historic preservation in Westport. Still, until such time as the HDC undergoes a massive house cleaning, my advice to homeowners seeking to preserve their historic homes is this: Don’t Do It! This HDC does disregards due process and is arbitrary, capricious and abusive in its regulatory role. In short, it has ceased to be worthy of Westporters generosity. And that is the ultimate tragedy.

  8. Morley Boyd

    True HDC story and it was all caught on tape, with a room full of witnesses:

    Recently I appeared before the HDC for a permit for a little gravestone for a beloved pet who had passed (the HDC does not regulate rocks but it thinks it does and it has the power to levy fines and seize property so…). The HDC chair suddenly stopped the hearing and continued it to the following month. The reason? I needed to furnish proof that the land in my yard beneath the proposed gravestone was “consecrated ground”. I said, “OK, I’ll get it consecrated.” But when I contacted the town to obtain a list of government approved faith traditions that the HDC would accept to do the honors, an adult in the form of the Town Attorney stepped in to say, in effect, “never mind”. The next month, my gravestone was approved without further comment.

    • John McCarthy

      “government approved faith traditions” has there ever been a scarier phrase?

      • Morley Boyd

        I can think of one thing that’s possibly scarier: in March of last year the HDC used several uniformed police officers to intimidate residents at a public hearing. No one I know had ever seen anything quite like this before in Westport. The HDC Chair regularly tries to throw residents out of his hearings or otherwise stop them from speaking. It just happened again last Tuesday night. The irony is that the Commission had moments earlier attended a sort of “How not to abuse residents and run a proper meeting” type re-education seminar given by the Town Attorney.

  9. Werner Liepolt

    While I am grateful for Greens Farms United’s efforts and glad to hear a settlement was reached, I question how well the town commissions are performing. That we have a strong, coherent voice AS A TOWN on historic preservation issues is now and will be more vital as issues with state and federal agencies arise.

    What, for example, is the Historic District Commission doing to ensure that our historic preservation concerns are being addressed as CTDOT’s staff prepares the 106 review on the Cribari Bridge? If either by neglect or misstatement the WHDC jeopardizes our historic, residential neighborhoods, they will have let loose a Pandora’s box of ills.

  10. Jay Walshon MD FACEP

    As I’ve observed before, this is further evidence that Westport is in the midst of an identity crisis. Without an effective and truly REPRESENTATIVE RTM that provides the required checks and balances AND becomes the ensurance that the voices & desires of Westport’s taxpaying residents take precedence over outside influences/special interests/pet projects/cronyism, representative governence is a mere fantasy that gives away to political maneuvering and Town imposition.

    It is time for Westport’s residents to decide who we are and enforce that vision – but that takes work and a committment that I don’t think this newer generation of Westport’s residents is up for. They don’t understand that this is Southern New England. That the charm that brought them here is sacrificed to Long Island & NYC influences seems to be acceptable because that is their comfort zone.

    This is not a situation unique to our Town – and as others have understood, without serious forethought, community awareness, taxpayer oversight, resident committment, and ACTUAL representative leadership with ACCOUNTABILITY of officials, small town charms and historical values are forever lost and relegated to mere photo images.

  11. Jay Walshon MD FACEP

    Oh, and Westchester. Westport – Westchester now all the same – even shares the “West” so what’s the difference.