In 1973, the Planning & Zoning Commission offered a regulation to allow a senior living facility in town. It would have enabled older Westporters to stay close to friends, in the community they loved, after their children grew up and they wanted to downsize.
The RTM turned it down.
“We don’t need those old folks,” one member said. Nearly half a century, Julie Belaga — who chaired the P&Z back then — has not forgotten those words.
Belaga went on to serve in the Connecticut Legislature, run for governor, become New England director of the EPA, and earn an appointment by President Clinton to the Export-Import Bank.
She’s now 90 years old. A few months ago, she sold her Westport home. Her new residence is The Residence at Westport.
That’s our town’s only assisted living community. Located on the Post Road, opposite Greens Farms Elementary School and behind a new apartment building, it offers independent living, assisted living and memory care options.
It’s spacious, bright, warm and welcoming. Residents enjoy anytime dining (including a bistro and pub), salon, entertainment spaces, a fitness center, concierge service, even parking for electric vehicles.
It’s exactly what Belaga envisioned, as a 43-year-old in 1973. It only took 47 years to build.
Much has changed since the Nixon administration. Most “06880” readers have never heard of The Residence at Westport. It was presented, passed and built without a peep from anyone.
And when people learn about it — no matter how old or young — they love it.
Belaga — who is up on all the national and local news — nonetheless was one of many Westporters who did not know an assisted living community had come to her home town. After her husband Mike died, a realtor suggested she look at The Residence.
“My god!” Belaga thought when she walked in. “This is exactly what Westport needs.”
She and Mike moved from England to Berndale Road in 1965. They loved their house and neighborhood, but as they aged they needed a 1-level home. They found one on Newtown Turnpike. It had a waterfall and beautiful garden; they loved it too.
Yet as a widow, Belaga thought she would have to move to “someplace like Ridgefield.” Then she discovered The Residence.
She moved in 4 months ago, just after it opened. She’s been thrilled by the amenities, the great chefs, the “very accessible and kind staff” (they even hung all her pictures for her) — and unexpected delights, like being “where all the action is,” on the Post Road.
Friends live in nearby condo complexes. She still drives (“locally and not at night!” she says), and visits them easily.
Another joy: One of her neighbors is Ellie Dinitz. Her late husband Arthur served on the P&Z with Belaga.
One more surprise: “How did this happen without me knowing about it?” she asks.
“I was going to call (First Selectman) Jim Marpe and ask. That’s the last thing he needs. But I’m fascinated: How could this have been built without a brouhaha like in the ’70s?
“I love Westport, with all its quirks,” Belaga says. Speaking of both her town and her new home, she adds, “It is so satisfying to be part of a community that cares.”
Westport, she notes, is “enriched that people can make choices based on their needs, not on what others in town think they need.”
Meanwhile, Belaga continues to enrich all of us. The other day, she was asked to help on a project for the League of Conservation Voters. That’s fitting: Years ago, she helped start the organization.
“I live in a town I love. I have a great apartment. And my kids are grateful, because they don’t have to worry about me morning, noon and night,” Belaga says.
“How lucky can I be?”
(The Residence at Westport is at 1140 Post Road East. Click here for more details.)