2 More P&Z Members Resign

Chip Stephens’ resignation last night from the Planning & Zoning Commission surprised many Westporters. The 3-term member — and native Westporter — has taken a new full-time job in Maine.

But his resignation was bracketed by 2 others. Al Gratrix resigned hours earlier, after 7 years as a full commissioner, and the past 4 as an alternate.

This afternoon, former chair and 13-year member Cathy Walsh submitted hers too. 

All 3 are Republicans. Jon Olefson is the lone Republican remaining, on what should be a 7-member board. By statute, the remaining commissioners choose the trio’s replacement. All must be registered Republicans.

Today, Stephens offers these tributes to his fellow former P&Z members. 

Al is the poster boy; the jack of all trades. He brought wisdom, understanding and service to the commission.

He knows the regulations and how they related to the applications at hand. He is well versed in all building technicalities, codes and everything else, and he gave his wisdom and guidance to all his fellow members.

From left: Al Gratrix, Cathy Walsh, Chip Stephens.

Additionally, he co-chaired the Enforcement Sub-Committee that dealt with all types of offenses and issues that went against the rules that 95 percent of time are followed, but when broken must be addressed, fixed or handed to lawyers.

Al also held a volunteer position on the Tree Board for 3 years. He earned expertise as a Trumbull firefighter and policeman, a part-time builder, and through various degrees in biochemistry and environmental biology.

Al initiated the Westport Evergreen Land Initiative, which helped create the beautiful Lillian Wadsworth Arboretum adjacent to Earthplace.

Al and his vast knowledge of planning, zoning, conversation and landscaping will be sorely missed by the commission, the staff and most of all Westport. Please thank Al for his service. And if you see his wife Nancy Austin around town, thank her for her patience and support of his time spent for our town.

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Cathy, meanwhile, was the non-partisan leader as chair, and even more so when not in her official role.

She is smart, savvy, and always had her say, win or lose (she did not lose very often).

She led the commission on town character, local land knowledge, landscaping and planning initiatives that faced almost every submission, study or issue that came up.

Cathy, along with Al, Jack Whittle and I, spearheaded the Save Baron’s South open space project. She created over 6 open space park designations, maintaining sparse valuable open land in Westport for all.

Cathy Walsh and Chip Stephens, at a Planning & Zoning Commission meeting.

She got her smarts and strengths from her upbringing in Pennsylvania steel country, and her hard-driving success trading steel as a profession.

Her local smarts come from her relationships and many friends in Westport and statewide. Fairness and firmness is always Cathy’s modus operandi.

Although she is thorough and fair in her deliberations and decisions, you don’t want to mess or cross Cathy.

On her soft side, Cathy is a huge proponent of outdoor dining and dancing events.

Cathy co-chaired the landscape committee with Al Gratrix, sat on the Downtown Plan Committee, the Saugatuck Transit District Plan Committee, and dozens of other plans and committees. She always won the most votes when she ran.

Westport will be hard pressed to replace Cathy. Hopefully she will stick around and help newbies as they come aboard. After all, she still has her full-time steel business, and 2 daughters and their 6 kids.

You better thank Cathy when you see her around town!

16 responses to “2 More P&Z Members Resign

  1. Bill Strittmatter

    Interesting that all three pulled the ripcord at once. I understand Mr Steven’s resignation but any insight n why the other two chose this particular time to step down?

  2. Not an April Fools Joke?

  3. Cornelia Fortier

    Thank you all for doing such great work for Westport.

  4. John F. Suggs

    “Don’t it always seem to go, that you don’t know what you’ve got till it’s gone.” This truly is the end of an era. Thank you Al, Cathy and Chip for your many years of service and hard work. All of us in Westport are in your debt.

  5. WoW! Their collective institutional memory is irreplaceable.
    This is devastating, and a sad day for Westport but with gratitude.
    The Mod Squad retires!.
    Good Luck to the three of you, and to the P&Z, you leave me reeling.

  6. P & Z is such an intricate and time-consuming responsibility. Ditto what John said re thanks for their many years of service and hard work.

  7. Pat & Tina Torraco

    Wow! Not sure what to say except thank you so much Cathy & Al . Bad news really does come in threes. You will be missed.

  8. Very bad day for Westport. This will leave a huge hole in P&Z with 3 extremely competent, hardworking and dedicated members leaving. Thank you all for your service and dedication to Westport!

  9. Carol Lupo-Simek

    Sad news indeed. Very big shoes to fill here. Thank you Chip, Cathy and Al for your dedication and service. You fought for Westport with real heart and will be sorely missed.

  10. Larry Weisman

    Even though I hardly ever agreed with any of these three on policy matters, and clashed with one or another of them in public on many occasions, I have the greatest respect and admiration for their commitment to the job as they saw it, and for the many hours they devoted to the often unrewarding service they rendered to the town.
    Even though they took pleasure in giving me a hard time, Chip, Cathy and Al should be appreciated as examples of the voluntary service upon which Westport relies.

    • Michael Calise

      When the fault lines in your idea’s are exposed and common sense prevails that is “taking pleasure in giving you a hard time” ???? Larry, I think an apology is due here.

    • Well, I’ll read this as a compliment to my friends Chip, Cathy and Al – so I will respond with appreciation. (I can confirm that they took no pleasure in working hard to maintain this Town’s character as represented in the Zoning regs that you worked so tirelessly to circumnavigate – they simply viewed that as their doing their job).

  11. Mark Bachmann

    There’s no information given on why all these people are leaving at the same time – it seems disturbing and a little strange. What’s the story here, Dan?

  12. Thank you Al and Cathy for your service to our Planning and Zoning Commission and our town. Well Said Chip…all three of you will be missed. I know you all will continue to be involved somewhere in our community.

  13. George Franciscovich

    I want to clarify one thing in your article–a common misconception is that these members must be replaced by Republicans–that is not the case. Under the Town Charter a single party can only have a simple majority, but it does not require vacancies to be replaced by a member of the same party-that has been the tradition but is not the law. Unaffiliated or minor party members could replace these members, just not a Democrat

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