The Residence: Westport’s Newest “Oldest” Gem

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.

Julie Belaga

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.”

The Residence at Westport.

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.

Dining at The Residence.

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.)

 

11 responses to “The Residence: Westport’s Newest “Oldest” Gem

  1. Julie Belaga is one of Westports – and Connecticuts great great treasures. She has served both with strength and compassion and one of the political greats of our era hands down.

  2. If the Residence at Westport is 25% as good as it looks from the outside and description herein, it, too, will become one of Westport’s and Connecticut’s great treasures…who even knew it was there?

  3. I must say I was completely unaware of it as well.

    And, for those who might not have seen Dan’s column some time back, there is a relatively unknown senior affordable housing complex with a part-time super at the old Saugatuck El that offers an in-town option for those who no longer want the responsibility of maintaining a house and yard.

  4. Jack Whittle and I co chaired the Senior Housing Subcommittee and wrote the legislation . We had at least 10 subcommittee meetings over a year and a half and listened to what you wanted. Paul Liebowitz, Chip Stephens, Alan Hodge, Andrea Verbe, David Lessing, and Al Gratrix were the commissioners who worked so well together and accomplished many things for the town without the usual outcrys and animosity. A final tweak of the regulation was needed and it too was done unanimously by the present commission. Mary Young and the staff should be recognized for all their hard work over the years in steerting this project to complettion. RTM member Kathy Talmadge also deserves credit for representing the neighbors interests over the course of about 7 years.

    Job well done all. A proud moment for us..

    Julie- I’m thrilled that you found a new home. I enjoyed our Covid talk that day at the senior center.

    • The full story of course is that a very organized group of Westport citizens pushed for the destruction of our open space gem Baron’s South by working non-stop to overturn the P& Z and modify its open space designation to allow a facility there. Cathy, Jack and other supportive P & Z members led the way to save Baron’s South. They insisted that there were many other Westport locations for Senior Living. They put in years of dedicated and focused work to prove their point and of course the results speak the truth. Barons North (Winslow Park) and Baron’s South are truly Westport’s Central Park! We have Cathy, Jack and that prior commission for saving it for us all.. It is important for us to remain diligent for its preservation for future generations.

  5. Glad Cathy chimed in here. This was something the P&Z worked very hard on to achieve. The RTM was well aware of it and backed it. There is actually an affordable housing component to it as well.

    There is another facility being considered on Post Rd West which will use the same zoning to allow it as well.

    It’s funny how so many say they knew nothing of it. There were so many questions as to what was all that building going on when it was under construction. Hard to miss it.

  6. Julie may be the poster girl for The Residence but recognize that this woman is 100% mainstream and not just “active”. People LISTEN to Julie Belaga. She is current, incisive and wise. Her contributions and involvement in many causes and organizations, including the Coalition for Westport, are highly valued.

  7. What an uplifting story. Welcome back home Mrs. Belaga! So happy for you and your family.

  8. The town has many reasons for respecting and loving Julie Belaga
    and she proves it every time we hear from her. A terrific woman. Ken Bernhard.

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